Recent Acquisitions’ finds continuity in a stunningly diverse curation

Estardas” by Justin Favela.
Dawn-Michelle Baude

Four and a half

Recent Acquisitions Through September 19; Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Barrick Museum, 702-895-3011.

Ah, the pitfalls of the group art exhibition! The goulash factor looms large. How could it not? Art is valued because it’s fiercely distinctive. So when you assemble works by radically different artists—an expressionist still life, say, by Marty Walsh, and a slick, post-conceptualist abstract by Yek—the risk of mishmash runs high. So how did UNLV’s Marjorie Barrick Museum create a coherent curatorial statement with the terrifically diverse Recent Acquisitions?

With a double-dose of quality—both in terms of the works themselves and their presentation. Collaboratively curated by UNLV Galleries staff and UNLV Galleries Advisory Board member Shannon McMackin, the exhibition features first-rate paintings, sculptures, photographs and videos by 32 artists connected to Las Vegas. From minimalism to remodernism, surrealism to pop, the show bops stylistically all over the place. But Recent Acquisitions also literally hangs together in a meaningful display that enhances both individual and collective presentation.

At the entrance, Nicolas Shake’s “Untitled,” a delicate Friendly Plastic cast of desert detritus with shovel and tire treads, greets visitors like a phantom semaphore, pointing the way from badlands to the treasures inside. Next, two striking paintings by Daniel Habegger—an artist we don’t see often enough—vie for attention. “Clearance” is a large-format abstract that literally glows, its luminosity seemingly vibrating from an ethereal grid. A ghostly fence? A virtual circuit board? Habegger’s smaller “Plaza Towers” also deftly manipulates light through a mesh of contrasts: black/white, vertical/horizontal, figure/ground.

As the show progresses, it multiplies affinities and techniques. Habegger’s architecture echoes across the room in Mark Brandvik’s portrait of the El Morocco hotel. Both futurist and retro, “Morocco II” features flirty, curvy arches and a saucy palm. Nearby, Danielle Kelly’s mixed-media “Blanket” bobs seductively in the spotlight—suspended on meat hooks, the three clothed anthropomorphic forms, outfitted in fringe and beads, relay narratives of power and submission while provoking both playfulness and unease. Do they want to be hugged or punched? “Blanket,” in turn, iterates the curved motif in Justin Favela’s adjacent “Estardas” sign. And the curves in Brent Sommerhauser’s mysterious, cosmological “Arch” drawing, which echoes in … which echoes in …

The continuity in the hanging is nothing short of stunning, given the challenge of finding the sweet spots for the following diametrically opposed styles and interests: Michael Reafsynder’s faux-naïve expressionist painting; Patricia Burns’ archival digital print of rebellious, cyborg lamps; Erin Stellmon’s deceptive mixed-media surrealist landscape; Brian Zimmerman’s withering chair sculpture; and Sam Davis’ pseudo-absurd collaged photo, among others.

Yet the works do more than successfully coexist in Recent Acquisitions. The exhibition emits a strong signal that this joint venture by the Las Vegas Art Museum and the Barrick is aimed at building a coherent permanent collection that does Las Vegas proud.

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