On October 20th, a few members of the museum staff went on a field trip. D.K. Sole writes about it.
Darren Johnson, the Gallery Services Coordinator for the Las Vegas-Clark County Library system, is here to show us his spaces. Not all cities have rooms reserved for art exhibitions in their libraries but we have — “How many?” we ask him. Twelve, he says. We visit the one at the Clark County Library branch first because it’s the closest. We won’t have time to see them all.
He tries to organize the exhibitions so that they match the other events in the branch, he explains, showing us the work of Greg Preston, a local photographer who has been making portraits of celebrities in comics and animation. The Las Vegas Comic Book Festival is scheduled at the same library branch on November 4th. Later in the day at Enterprise Library, Johnson will tell us that he decided to exhibit Sarah Petkus and Mark Koch’s Light Play here because the piece is neon and kinetic — “the robots,” he calls it — and this library building hosts DJ classes. It’s not always possible to match the art to the event, but he does it whenever he can.
Another library employee, recognizing him, urges him to make a studio visit to an artist who might be able to show in one of their galleries: “She is a Native American spirit performer and she does multimedia things …”
Is that how artists usually find themselves showing at the library galleries? Through studio visits? No: he says, they can submit a proposal themselves. He promises to send us a link to the guidelines. Entering the new Clark County Library computer lab we all look at Orlando Montenegro Cruz’s huge canvas Continuity Rhythm, 2010. The library system has its own collection of artwork, explains Johnson. Almost all of it is on display. We’ll see the storage room later. People’s heads are rearing up behind the regular shapes of the monitors. Regular and irregular forms, we notice; and throughout the bookshelves people are contrasted against the rectangular shapes of the books. The form of the rectangle runs through the building. Here is the shape of the canvas and the pedestal.
We drive on. The gallery at the West Las Vegas branch is full of Kip Miller’s surrealist paintings. “This was one of those times when the artist brought so much work that we couldn’t fit it all on the walls,” explains Johnson. He is modest about his role as a curator, saying that he more or less trusts the artist to bring him the right pieces for the show they want, but he also recounts a debate he had with Miller over whether the works should hang in chronological order or in thematic groups. At one point we ask him how many shows he hangs in the library galleries each year. About seventy-five to eighty, he replies thoughtfully. Once upon a time the library system held its own juried shows as well, but they were a lot of work to organize and the artists often forgot to pick up their art again afterwards. Now they sometimes host exhibitions of work that has already passed through the jury processes of Las Vegas’ regional art groups: the Las Vegas Artists Guild, the Las Vegas Woodturners, the Las Vegas Polymer Clay Guild, and a number of others, about fifteen in total.
The Polymer Clay Guild and the Woodturners are on display in high glass cases around the walls of an annex at Sahara West Library. Artists from Opportunity Village have the other annex. The room between them is showing Anthony Bondi. On the elevated balcony of a closed side room we discuss the chances of an artist residency. A door leads out to a narrow courtyard. In the other direction we’re shown the storage area where the off-display pieces of the library’s collection are maintained carefully in shelves, drawers, and racks. The racks are numbered one to eleven. Johnson pulls one of them out and a portrait of a woman’s head ballooning against a bright green background comes into view. This balloon stands displaced in mid air. A metal boy is lying on top of the flat files cabinet behind us. On the way out of the building we stop to say hello to two artists who have been looking at Bondi’s collages. One of them, Dave Mazur, is showing his paintings in the gallery at the Centennial Hills branch and we go there next to see them – a room of sunlit scenery watercolors, of mountains, trees, grass, sky, and burros standing by foliage. This building is LEED certified, says Johnson.
There must be a substantial number of Las Vegas artists who can say at any given moment, like Mazur, “I am showing at a library gallery,” and an even larger number who can say, “I have shown at a library gallery,” or “I will show at a library gallery.” Think of them all bound together through LVCCLD: it is amazing. Do other cities have this connection? A small boy strides into the gallery and makes a show of rushing around shouting “Boring, boring!” at everything without looking at it. His eye is on his mother outside. This is a performance of independence, like any act of criticism, though later he will learn not to be so transparent about his motives.
He has recognized the gallery as a place where something is being asked of him. This seems right. He knows that it wants a new kind of attention from him, something that is not the same as the attention he shows outside, in the corridor, in the carpark, or in the book-area of the library. Nor is it the attention of a classroom. His reaction to the demand must be complicated. By shouting, “Boring,” he is trying to make it as stupid as possible. Stupidity in this setting is defiance of the demand. Once he has pointed vigorously at all of the paintings he runs back to his mother as if he has come off a stage. Sometimes someone in the library system will try to close down a gallery space, says Johnson. They want to change it into an after-school homework room. He goes to meetings and defends the galleries. “I think it does something for the community. If [the libraries] become just a career center they lose that culture; they become a sad place.” He wonders if some of the rooms could be developed into “STEAM maker spaces, where you can make art and look at art too.” But the boy who shouted “Boring!” was already making something.
Now we are on the road again after visiting Lolita Develay’s paintings at West Charleston. It’s getting late. We need to be back at the museum. Everyone in the car is reluctant. There are still so many galleries we haven’t seen. “Do you have time for one quick little visit along the way?” Johnson proposes. “It’s the robots …”
Top: Johnson at Sahara West Library with The Art of Anthony Bondi.
Center: The Sahara West Gallery Services storage area.
Bottom: Johnson at Enterprise Library making an adjustment to Light Play by Sarah Petkus and Mark Koch.