PROCESS UNLV Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art, through May 13.
Where would we be without the Barrick Museum? Its latest hit, Process, brings 10 artists—a mid-career group with a keen sense of artistic purpose—from Mark Moore Fine Art gallery based in Orange County to UNLV. Curated by former Mark Moore gallery director Matthew Gardocki and hung by Barrick interim director Alisha Kerlin and DK Sole, the show features 65 works of painting, photography, mixed media and sculpture that speak to current art world trends. It’s not just what you do: it’s also about how you do it.
Although artists have always been interested in how to make art—ancient Egyptian painters recording step-by-step frescoes, Renaissance sculptor Benvenuto Cellini revealing that urine is key to casting bronze—traces of process usually disappear in finished works. Not at the Barrick. Bleaching, masking, smashing, layering, cutting up and recycling elements of their art, the Process artists invite viewers to contemplate the relationship between the finished work and how it was made.
Lester Monzon’s small-format paintings are a standout. He begins by coating linen with gesso, sanding it smooth as skin. Then he lightly grids the surface, creating a visual netting or vintage TV test pattern. The strict graphic regularity of the background vividly contrasts with the loose surface layer, a cipher of gestural strokes made by brushes so loaded with prismatic color the paint seems wet. The tensions between restraint and freedom, intellect and emotion, are part of Monzon’s appeal. So is a nagging sense that the paintings depict something. City street? Topological map? Embedded in Monzon’s emotional, but precise, brushwork is a lush landscape of suggestion.
Chris Duncan’s art-making process veers in a different direction. For these large-format works, Duncan places fabric in the sun, letting light and time do their work. Months later, he obtains a bleached surface in which a printed image hovers on the verge of intelligibility. After stretching the fabric, Duncan applies glowing patches of cadmium using Old Master’s glazing techniques. It’s difficult to say whether these rectangular red forms are emerging or receding from the bleached ground, but there’s no uncertainly about their visual wallop. Their geometry splays across the fabric like emphatic hieroglyphics for the digital age.
Process is of the moment because our digital world is increasingly intangible. Kim Rugg’s dismembered U.S. postage stamps, Meghan Smythe’s shmushed ceramic heads, and Ryan Wallace’s accreted canvases bear witness to the physical act of art making. In doing so, these works offer subtle critique of the exponential algorithms usurping our search history, our jobs, and increasingly, our lives. The Process is, in fact, not to be missed.