Only a few days remain to take in “Weapons of Mass Expression,” an exhibit of works by senior art majors at Fort Lewis College that will close Saturday.
In addition to its provocative title, the show stands apart for many reasons. Not long ago, this annual exhibit spilled over with hyper-realistic water colors, Western landscapes and handsome, if middle-of-the road ceramics. Often conventional, sometimes disappointing, occasionally weak in craftsmanship, the senior show was a ho-hum affair.
Well, something has changed, or we wouldn’t be looking at a polished exhibition of interesting, well-conceived and well-executed works of art this December. Lest you think this is a puff piece, not every work rises to a generally high standard. But the show is so superior to its predecessors that it calls for attention. I would mention every student artist in the show, but this is column, not a review. What could have changed in the last 17 years that I’ve viewed senior shows to make this year so vivid and connected to the times we live in?
A crop of exceptionally talented students? Possibly. A transformed faculty? Hmmm.
Over time, the Fort Lewis art faculty has changed a lot. Several new faculty members have joined the department in the last few years. As a group, they seem to have transformed the department. Less conservative, they are more demanding and adventurous. Add to that new gallery director Elizabeth Gand. She’s a fresh California breeze with a doctorate expected this May from Berkeley and experience as an assistant curator in photography at San Francisco’s MoMA. Gand has taken over the art gallery, making it a place for new work and challenging conversation.
Among the most intriguing works in the exhibit are Rachel Anderson’s perfectly titled “Swiss Army Table”; Garrett Etsitty’s sculptures and paintings plus one mysterious collage, “White Singer”; Norman Duhon’s large wall assemblage; Whitney Jones’ telescoping geometric sculpture and the huge freestanding “Turbine.”
Graphic works are particularly strong, reflecting the department’s new major in graphic design. Mock posters give an ironic twist to subjects as far afield as travel or patriotism. Jessy Fahrenz’s beautiful mesquite coffee table seems to be the only functional piece, but function is included. And lest you think beauty has been neglected amid all the sophisticated double entendres, take a long look at works by Stacey Waltzman and Sydney Akagi.
Waltzman’s ceramic works are elegant and understated. “Trees” is an elaborate grid of small ceramic tiles, 60 in all. Informed by an Asian aesthetic that is grounded in natural forms and a superb sense of taste, Waltzman’s piece hovers above “Tsunami,” a gorgeous green-glazed vessel with deeply carved waves encircling its body and delicate lip, turned out like a flower.
Akagi’s “White Room Chandelier” is a rococo fantasy made out of ordinary materials. Under a white ribbon tied above a disguised electrical fixture, white curlicues twirl around each other. Suspended in the air, it’s an 18th century French filigree done up by the most pedestrian materials – an illusion if there ever was one.
Kudos to the students and professors who inspire, push, pressure and challenge.
Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.