Saturday, November 5, 2011

Terra Nova at the Racine Art Museum

Living in Wisconsin has its perks. Not only do we have wonderful fall foliage, but the Racine Art Museum is within driving distance for me. My husband and I took a day trip on our anniversary. It was well worth it.

The museum is a very modern sleek building full of light near Lake Michigan right on Main Street. Two other exhibits downstairs were also very inviting and interesting, but my goal was the upstairs. This is going to be a very subjective account of my impression of the Terra Nova exhibit and not meant to be an art criticism in any way. For those not familiar, Terra Nova is the first exhibit of its kind solely dedicated to the art and craft of polymer clay.

Even though the square footage was relatively small, the architecture was light and airy. This made the room seem very spacious. We spent about three hours all in all (with a lunch break) and I still did not want to leave. It was a spectacular experience. With only three other art lovers in the building, we had the playground to ourselves.

Entering from the elevator side, to the right and counter clockwise the show started out with the furniture display by Bishoff and Syron. This work was new to me and gave a whole new meaning to the word "veneer". The "do not touch" sign had to be ignored for a split second. Wink

The work of a chosen group of featured artists called "boundary breakers" was displayed in several show cases in the middle of the u-shaped room and on the walls. Supplemented with that, there were showcases and wall displays with one or two pieces by other artists from the museum's own and private collections.

It was absolutely spectacular to see works of so many wonderful artists in person. Even the best photography I have seen does not do them justice. The depth and the texture, the scale and the dimensionality cannot be conveyed in photos. The layers and shiny finish of Dustin's purses (not to be touched behind glass), the matte sheen of Dever's installations, the tiny detail in many of the beads and mosaics, the contrast of colors and textures, all this was a feast to behold.

Naturally, I have my favorites and preferences which will be different for every visitor, and there is certainly something for every taste. Some pieces I found a bit over the top but I certainly could appreciate them as art in their own right. Some work I simply did not understand. For example, I am not sure why PC would be the medium of choice in a picture which could just as well be painted.  The exhibit certainly served its function of attempting to expand my horizon.

Some of the smaller pieces like brooches were especially appealing to me because of their simpler shapes and focus on surface treatment - I find less is often more. Meanwhile, I would have liked to have seen a little less jewelry (there were so many necklaces!) and more sculptural work. I found the choice of artists a bit arbitrary and was missing some boundary breaking names I think should have been in the collection. I also wished I could have seen more work of those who only had one or two pieces represented. It must be hard to be a curator.

I learned how refined PC can be, and how the attention to the smallest detail is of the essence. I learned even more how free and boundless the medium is, how it can be combined with other materials, how it can be whimsical or serious, gaudy or precious, and most of all unexpected.

If you can't make it to Racine, I do recommend to get the book.

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