Just because (most) students went home doesn’t mean the University Galleries at Illinois State University are shut down for the summer. In fact, if you wait until fall to visit the galleries you’ll be missing no less than three very satisfying exhibitions.
“15,16,17,18: BHS Selects from the International Collection of Child Art”
University Galleries launched its inaugural Teen Arts group last year. The program provided Bloomington High School students with professional development opportunities in the visual arts, under the leadership of University Galleries’ director and chief curator, Kendra Paitz.
“15, 16, 17, 18: BHS Selects from the International Collection of Child Art” is the culminating project for the year-long program. In addition to curating 50 artworks from Milner Library’s International Collection of Child Art, the students handled every aspect of the exhibition’s development, from conceptualization all the way to installation. They also wrote illuminating notes on their reasoning for selecting each painting
The works were made by students from Thailand, Wales, Germany, Chile, Japan and the U.S., all of them between the ages of 15 and 18 (hence the title). But judging by the dark themes behind many of the paintings — loneliness, urban decay, intimations of violence and mental illness — these teen artists seem old beyond their years. And if this is just a sample of what the Milner Library’s International Collection of Child Art has to offer, I look forward to an opportunity to explore further.
“Katie Bell: Standing Arrangement”
Katie Bell is based in Brooklyn, but this exhibition is a homecoming of sorts, since she earned her bachelor’s from Knox College in Galesburg. She’s also a native Illinoisan, although not from the central part of the state, having been raised in Rockford by an interior designer and a historical home preservationist — a fascinating tidbit that shows how her upbringing informs her artistic practice.
Bell’s approach is to gather objects and arrange them into site-specific exhibitions. While her sources can range from scrapyards to Craigslist, WLGT reported that in this case, Bell and curator Jessica Bingham visited, by invitation of several “creative people” in the Bloomington-Normal area, homes and construction sites to select materials.
The results is an exercise in controlled chaos. It’s construction and deconstruction, movement and stasis, all at the same time. There’s a lot here — pillars, wood planks of various sizes and shapes, foam boards, rubber strips, fabric, rods, a faux marble wheel that looks like a kitchen rehab leftover, and much more — but not so much as to overwhelm the viewer. And while it may at first feel like you just walked into the aftermath of an explosion at someone’s studio, the placement of each object is very deliberate, as this making-of video shows:
You can walk around this expansive installation and take the time to appreciate each object on its own merits, or you can step back and try to take it all in at once, but one way or another, “Standing Arrangement” is blissfully free of the pretension that often marks projects of its kind. Bell doesn’t burden her work with grand conceptual ambitions, nor is she trying to make any overarching sociopolitical statement; this is art for art’s sake.
“Lens-Based: Recent Acquisitions to the Permanent Collection”
Last but not least is this selection of photographs and videos acquired by University Galleries since 2012. Ken Heyman took this striking black and white portrait of a Newark, New Jersey, beauty parlor owner in 1969.
Columbia College Chicago adjunct professor Cecil McDonald, Jr. spent seven years photographing people he described as “extraordinarily ordinary” in an effort to highlight what he described as “the individuality and full spectrum of humanity” of African-Americans. The resulting body of work was published as the 144-page book In the Company of Black, which also served as the title of an exhibition featuring selected photographs from the series at University Galleries last year. This photo, Ms. Greta, became part of the Permanent Collection.
Chrissy LaMaster received her MFA from ISU this year, and she already has a piece in the Permanent Collection — the self-portrait Success with Small Fruits.
Other highlights from the exhibition include selections from Danny Lyon’s 1966 Bike Riders series, for which he embedded himself with the Chicago Outlaws Motorcycle Club; Carrie Schneider’s 2011 Burning House (October, afternoon), part of a series for which he repeatedly built and burned down a small house on a rural Wisconsin island; and a series of videos made between 2001 to 2007 by retiring ISU School of Art video professor Scott Rankin.