Sometimes the Best Art is Accidental

Plural (Feb. 2 - May 12, 2018)

Barrick volunteer Michael Freborg — the author of those earlier reflections on our Preservation exhibition — has been thinking about Plural. He writes —

There is something tranquil about the sound of footsteps on wooden floors. I am seated at the other end of the East Gallery today. Casual visitors come and go, wandering reverently through the new exhibit with only an occasional soft mutter. Paintings and artwork are mounted everywhere. Some of them look literally good enough to eat. Paint-sculpted pieces of “laffy taffy” in bright, delicious colors are lined up vertically on the wall of the center gallery. The textured swaths of blue, green, orange, and purple with their white middle layers remind me of frosted cake. These freshly-baked sweets for the soul bring a smile to my face each time I walk by. On a small white pedestal to the right of my desk, chips and breakfast cereal have been perfectly replicated in intricate Native American beadwork. The artist has woven something from her own cultural heritage into common household goods. Even those shimmering glass beads look like rock candy to me.

Whenever I am working on an artist’s biography, I see the artist’s style in other works on display in the gallery. Rita Deanin Abbey uses geometric shapes to emphasize movement, color, and form. Examples of artists using this style can be seen throughout the exhibit. Inside the center gallery, one artist has converted a song into vertical bars using an acrylic rainbow of colors. The painting is small, but contrasts sharply with both its white frame and the white wall surrounding it. Mounted to the south of my desk is an illustration that is far more psychedelic. As viewers shift their gaze, its meandering lines sway back and forth, producing a dizzying, trance-like effect. Beside the entrance to the Braunstein Gallery is an incredible three-dimensional display made of eight jagged pieces jutting from the wall like shards of glass. The six fragments on the top have a ghastly, tormented face drawn on each of them. Broken mirrors are painted on the bottom two. Its shades of black and grey set a morbid tone as the artist delves into the multifaceted identities of human beings. Like Abbey, the artist uses color and form to create a certain mood. The three-dimensional fragments give it a sense of motion. And just as the artist of the “laffy taffy” uses bright colored paint layers to stimulate taste buds, the drab colors of this display evoke feelings of melancholy.

The standout piece of the exhibit is a makeshift mermaid outfit made of turquoise, silver, and pink cloth. The flamboyantly-dressed mannequin with its golden sea-crown casts a horned silhouette on the wall behind it. The more I stare at the figure’s shadow, the more it resembles something mythical. Sometimes the best art is accidental. The current exhibit is more colorful than the last, but I find myself more intrigued by the shadows cast by the intense lighting in the gallery. It seems like these dark shapes are an exhibit of their own. One thing is for sure. Art is everywhere. Even when it’s unintentional.


Top photograph, from r – l: Mikayla Whitmore, Laurens Tan, Tom Pfennerstall, Brent Holmes, and Jacqueline Ehlis. Bottom photograph: detail of Jacqueline Ehlis, Laffy Taffy: Grape, 2004. Photography by Mikayla Whitmore.

The artists whose work Michael describes are Jacqueline Ehlis (“textured swaths of blue, green, orange, and purple”), Noelle Garcia (“chips and breakfast cereal”), Tim Bavington (“converted a song into vertical bars”),  Julie Oppermann (“a dizzying, trance-like effect”), Daniel Samaniego (“eight jagged pieces jutting from the wall”), and Aaron Sheppard (“a makeshift mermaid outfit made of turquoise, silver, and pink cloth”).



chris coy

Chris Coy’s BARNRAZER, 2012 joined the Barrick Collection last week. Navigating a series of reciprocated connections between Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s rococo masterwork, The Swing, 1767, and the suggestive movement of two monstrous characters through a landscape of horror movie tropes and contemporary digital modeling, this film approaches its ideas with a sense of audacity that excites us.

Coy helped us celebrate the event by screening BARNRAZER in a public program that included Jon Rafman’s A Man Digging, 2013, and Ode to Seekers 2012, 2016 by Andrew Norman Wilson. Introducing the three films, he spoke about the connections he saw between them:

The thematic threads that wind through these works trace a type of collective anxiety; of shared non-historical traumas—whether it’s a man digging through the medium of memory in Max Payne video games, a pizza delivery intruder transgressing a family’s threshold, or a not-so-steadicam operator moving through an abandoned children’s wing of a New York psych ward there are implied negotiations of personal loss mapped onto a roving search for meaning (which sounds like such a tired existential trope – but one that we each have to work out ourselves with fear and trembling); A successful quest requires a necessary trespass… we become the very ghosts we fear. We dig (to borrow a phrase from the title to Jon Rafman’s piece).

“Stories”, like Rafman’s narrator suggests, become a type of shorthand, the scribbled map, a talisman held up to a universe that often feels indifferent to our existence. Like Keats, we write odes to Grecian urns as a way to explore the vibration of human moments frozen between life and not life; also known as ‘death’. John Keats’ poem, which was a reference for the work of Andrew Norman Wilson that we’re showing tonight, personifies the role of art in directing attention towards the power of intentional viewership. Our gaze, our ekphrastic expressions re-animate the cavorting figures of our respective urns and they fly from the shadows of their own automation like zombie mosquitos to suck the blood (and marrow) from our own meager tableaus. It reminds me of that now trite phrase/thought experiment : “if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” I think the answer could very well be, “It does. It is the sound of the universe.




“Do you have any artwork by women?” a visitor asked us the other day, and something the National Museum of Women in the Arts wrote in 2016 leapt into our minds. “Did you know,” said the museum, “that even though women make up 51% of visual artists today, in the U.S. only 5% of work on museum walls is by women? It is no surprise that if you ask someone to name five artists, they will likely list prominent male artists.” They went on to offer a small means of redress, namely the #5womenartists hashtag.

We’ve been using #5womenartists throughout Women’s History Month to tag pictures from our Plural show. So, for those of you who haven’t been on our Instagram (@unlvmuseum) recently, we offer this as a reprise of the past thirty or so days …





















Header image: Krystal Ramirez, I Want to See, 2017 (detail) (Photo by UNLV Photo Services/Josh Hawkins)  *  Elizabeth Blau, Redlining, 2012  *  Fay Ku, Harpy, 2013  *  Mikayla Whitmore, Its Teeth Are Soft, 2017  *  Wendy KveckLettuce-Eater (the devouration), 2007  *  Maureen Halligan, Frame of Reference, 2014   *  Andreana Donahue, Dowsing Rod (Missing Person), 2014  * Amy Yoes, 15.17, 2017  *  Mary Corey March, Identity Tapestry, 2017 (Photo by UNLV Photo Services/Josh Hawkins)  *  Audrey Barcio, Marking Through Time, 2015 (detail, showing the pink flourescent stripe at the back of the beveled frame)  *  Mary Warner, Disco Garden Two, 2013

What Did Art Make You Think About Today? (Telling Stories)



Michael Freborg has been researching artists at the Barrick for the past three months. He spent a lot of time at a desk in the (recently-deinstalled) Preservation exhibition, so we asked him what he thought about while he was sitting there. He considered the question for a while and gave us this.


As I sit working on my laptop, I find myself surrounded by creativity. Artwork in various forms is strategically placed throughout the sprawling museum hall. Giant photographs of pyramids and rotated land mass illustrations adorn the white walls of the East Gallery. On the other side, a strange-looking object made of wicker hangs beside a sketch of itself. Smooth marble blocks, slide projections, and monitors with videos playing on them are all within sight or earshot of me. In the Braunstein Gallery, wooden masks from 20th century Mexico rest behind glass. And in the West Gallery, a small ceramic dog from ancient Colima is displayed next to a row of large white rocks. The 2,200 year-old Mexican artifact almost seems out of place with the rest of the modern artwork. And I, myself, type words onto a white computer screen, hoping to fill my own canvas with a story. This is what art is to me – the use of a medium to tell a story about the world. It does not matter what your background is. Anyone can create art.

Mary Cady Johnson used a variety of mediums to depict the time period she lived in. She even combined words with illustrations to recreate Harvard Professor George Wald’s famous anti-Vietnam War speech. Johnson believed that all human beings have a creative spark in them. No matter what medium is used, people have always had a desire to express themselves, to tell stories, or to mimic the world in some way. Mediums allow us to do so. I share a certain sense of comradery with the sculptor of that Colima Dog. Though we are separated by two millennia, and use different mediums to tell our stories, we share that common spark of creativity that Johnson talked about. The mediums may change over time, but that human yearning to create will always be.


The photograph of work by Gala Porras-Kim, Max Hooper Schneider, Candice Lin, and Ian James in Preservation was taken by Mikayla Whitmore.