The Barrick Museum’s ‘Preservation’ mounts a stunning visual defense against loss

“Monolith” by Adam Bateman, part of Preservation.
Photo: Mikayla Whitmore
Dawn-Michelle Baude

Four and a half stars

Preservation Through January 20; Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (Thursdays until 8 p.m.); Saturday, noon-5 p.m.; suggested $5 donation. Barrick Museum of Art, 702-895-3381.

Don those 3D glasses, step behind the curtain, and immerse yourself in Moritz Fehr’s Colosseum, an 11-minute stereoscopic video and sound installation featuring the grotesque gullet of an open-pit mine near Las Vegas. While the soundtrack hums, throbs and crackles, the viewer gradually descends down a spiraling gash to the toxic dregs puddling at the bottom. Colosseum, named after the actual mine, has a latent horror-movie feel. The sound of electromagnetic fields emitted by the artist’s computer points to the insatiable demand for electronic goods: every time a digital signal is sent or received, it’s dependent on metallic ore grievously extracted from the earth.

'Preservation' at Marjorie Barrick

Colosseum, showing through October 26 inside Grant Hall, is part of Preservation, one of the most ambitious, successful exhibitions at UNLV’s Barrick Museum to date—which is saying a lot. Curated by Aurora Tang, an LA-based independent curator and researcher, Preservation fetes the Barrick’s 50th anniversary. The clean, vibrant show includes photographs, sculptures, drawings, videos and slides. The 12 featured artists approach the “preservation” theme in markedly dissimilar ways, but they share the combat against loss—of ecosystems, of bioforms, of culture, of self. With so many ecologies at stake, the risk of moralizing runs high, and yet there’s nothing message-heavy in the exhibition. Each piece affably draws viewers into a world of insight and discovery.

Highlights include Adam Bateman’s “Monolith,” an 8-by-18-foot scale model of Arizona’s Glen Canyon Dam. The imposing concrete structure is weirdly defamilarized—a giant sculpture that is itself a miniature of the real thing. The warm materiality of the untreated concrete and the placid, curving form might give “Monolith” an almost comically protective feel, were it not for the allusion to the dam’s problematic role in reshaping the Western landscape.

Gala Porras-Kim’s 43-inch hanging sculpture is ethereal by comparison. A replica of an unidentified object in UCLA’s Fowler Museum, the straw sculpture conjures basket, balloon, net, and … jellyfish? Any potential utilitarian function takes a back seat to the object’s enchanting delicacy. Porras-Kim’s preservation efforts include a meticulous made-to-scale drawing that duplicates the replica, and the pedestal that accompanied the actual object in the Fowler Museum. Together, the replica, drawing and pedestal animate the identity of the Fowler holding while simultaneously usurping its originality.

Ocean Earth’s astonishing graphic works using waterways to reimagine national boundaries, Cayetano Ferrer’s marble/faux marble sculptures resonating as modernist consoles and Ian James’ quirky photographic study of pyramids and their questionable relationships to energy vortexes throughout the Southwest are among other must-sees on display. All in all, Preservation is an expertly curated and beautifully hung exhibit that does Las Vegas proud.

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