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Donna Beam’s ‘Diversified’ exhibit has standouts—but not enough of them

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Adam Morey’s “Zenith” is a prehistoric slab of a diorama, a hunk of visual perception culled from a vat of calcified gelatin.
Photo: Leila Navidi
Dawn-Michelle Baude

Three stars

Diversified Through September 21; Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. UNLV’s Donna Beam Gallery, 895-3893.

Adam Morey’s “Zenith” is a prehistoric slab of a diorama, a fossilized rectangle of extinct biology, a hunk of visual perception culled from a vat of calcified gelatin. Its 23.5-inch by 47.5-inch plexiglass and mylar form attaches to the wall of UNLV’s Donna Beam Gallery with parasitic inertia. It’s there to stay, maybe to come to life again during a radioactive thaw.

Like an uncanny specimen from a sci-fi movie, “Zenith” is all about latency—it’s an artwork that is about to happen. From one viewpoint, the bas-relief looks like a seascape coming into focus, from another, a cosmic map. Aim a flash at it and wham! New dimensions unfold. Lighting is a significant curatorial hurdle for “Zenith”: Too much and it loses intrigue, too little and it flattens.

Viewing conditions aren’t optimal in the Diversified exhibition, since Morey’s sculpture has to share exhibition space with more conventional work. The nine artists included in the show teach at the university, giving courses in drawing, art appreciation, 2D design and photography. Four graduated from UNLV. Artists understandably cleave to universities to earn a living, but the politics and bureaucracy of the academy rarely unleash the unpredictable, roiling energies of creative freedom. The Diversified exhibition has a safe, almost tamped-down feel, with some standout works.

Among other attention-getters is Susanne Forestieri’s “Pale Fire,” an appealing 30-inch by 40-inch abstract painting that seems somehow inverted. The deep blue middle ground recedes as the whitish top and bottom pop, and a luminous shape in the center funnels a gravity-defying white mass. Stormscape? Forget it. The loose brushwork, light impasto and color contrast are what give the picture plane verve.

Similarly, Elizabeth Blau’s 30-inch by 56-inch “Forestry” painting is full of movement—her windowpane of prismatic transparencies recall the Orphic Cubists, František Kupka and Sonia Delaunay. Lyrical points and curves, lines and planes divvy up Blau’s pictorial space. Spearmint comes to mind. The work can read like a frosty-green forest of Artic fractals jutting beneath a red sky cutout.

The best pieces in Diversified remind us that one legacy of Modernism is art that is more about “what might be happening” than “what is.” Interpretation moves from observation and appreciation of the materials to their potential stories (and back again). The key is having rich art objects for speculation that maintain “diverse” interests over time.

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