Clutching Toto, shoeless Dorothy wanders a landscape where purple frogs and blue seals roam gaily (and symmetrically) and an orange turtle whispers from above. A smiling puppy decked with a bindi peeks over the marker-drawn hillside, and all is well with the world.
It’s because of last summer’s Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection exhibit at the Barrick Museum that this nugget of goodness entered the canon of spontaneous 21st-century collage. In conjunction with the show, museum staff created an interactive space in the lobby, placing out materials that would encourage visitors to make collage works, taking inspiration from featured artist Stephen Antonakos.
But when the show came down, the ArtBar in the lobby did not. It became a reliable respite for UNLV students, children and adult visitors. Even professional exhibiting artists have sat down before the bins of paper scraps, bottle caps, stickers, blocks and plastic objects, creating works that eventually went into gallery shows.
“We have regulars that spend hours making [pieces], and sometimes they leave them with the museum on display or take them home,” says Alisha Kerlin, the museum’s collections manager. “Most people knock on the office door to show us what they’ve made.”
Mostly the pieces hang anonymously and salon style next to the ArtBar, allowing for an evolving display of personal narratives, pop-culture commentary, abstract tiny sculptures and themed works (ocean, Western, nature, etc.).
The stories and robust creations scream from the wall as charming, harrowing, humorous and lovely glimpses into the human spirit. What stands out is the level of detail and effort poured into them.
“My favorite story is probably the one about the dead hamster,” says DK Sole, a writer and artist who works part time at the museum. “A mother with three young daughters came in. I took them around the gallery and then they went to the ArtBar. The youngest one made a memorial to a hamster. Here was a cutout piece of brown felt, and that was the hamster; here was the hamster’s house, here was the hamster’s food, here was the hamster’s straw bed. Here was the hamster’s name in the top left-hand corner of the page.
“It was her clarity of purpose that struck me. She could tell me exactly what each thing was. The composition had been invented for a single unique reason: It had to display the life of this hamster.”
When the wall is full, staff will sort through the collages, take some down and add them back into the material station of the ArtBar, where guests dismantle them for materials or build right onto them—sending the original subject matter into an all-together different orbit.
Kerlin says some adults initially dismiss the ArtBar as a kid’s station, but eventually sit down and lose hours working on projects.
Or, as staffer Gabby Aguilar Bravo explains, “At first people kind of stare at it not knowing what’s going on. They’re trying to consume it visually. They’re hesitant, but they’re super-curious. Then it’s like a gravity that pulls them toward the material.”
ArtBar Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (Thursday until 8 p.m.); Saturday, noon-5 p.m.; free. Barrick Museum, 702-895-3011.