OMAHA -- There’s a fine contemporary art exhibition at the Joslyn Art Museum, a show that contains work in media from painting and sculpture to photography, ceramics, video, glass and textiles that effectively captures a slice of art of our time.
That work, however, isn’t from the hot new names working in New York or London.
It’s from 37 Nebraska artists selected for “Art Seen: A Juried Exhibition of Artists from Omaha to Lincoln,” and it illustrates one of the pivotal changes in the art world over the last couple of decades.
There is no longer any need to look only to art centers to find exemplary contemporary art or for artists to move there to get recognized.
The latter is evident by the gallery representation of the “Art Seen” artists, which includes not only Lincoln and Omaha galleries, but New York, Dallas and Miami.
And it also can be seen in other exhibitions from the artists, like “Realty--Reality,” the two-person show by Lincoln artists Nancy Friedemann and Charley Friedman that runs through Aug. 2 at the Neues Kunstforum in Cologne, Germany.
Fittingly, “Art Seen” includes Nebraska’s two most widely known artists, Omaha’s Jun Kaneko, who is represented by four small glazed ceramic paintings, and Lincoln’s Keith Jacobshagen, who has contributed a pair of new landscape paintings.
Those in “Art Seen” were selected from more than 200 submissions from Lincoln and Omaha area artists by jurors Karin Campbell, Joslyn’s Phil Willson curator of contemporary art; and Bill Arning, director of the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, who made 60 studio visits before choosing the artists.
They were selected with no regard to gender, age, media or exhibition theme. They were notified of their selection in January, providing time to create new work for the exhibition. Many did so but others contributed already completed recent work.
The oldest piece in the show is a 2008 photograph by Bradley Peters “Untitled (boys throwing light bulb),” which is shown with two more of his images, both from 2013, a triad that captures his staged photography that looks, to me, like stills from an indie movie. The vast majority of the remainder of the work is from 2014-2015.
Interestingly, the “Art Seen” juried process resulted in the selection of seven artists, including Peters, Friedemann and Friedman, who were included in “Greater Nebraska,” a 12-artist Lux Center for the Arts exhibition I co-curated with artist Craig Roper last year.
That, perhaps, reflects something of a consensus of artists doing the best work in the area. Or it could simply be that we all like the same things.
Like "Greater Nebraska," there's no discernible theme in "Art Seen." There are, however, some links that can easily be made in the Joslyn exhibition -- some encouraged by Campbell’s well-designed, clearly thought-out hanging of the show in the museum's spacious, high ceilinged temporary exhibition galleries.
There is, for example, a triad of work dealing with text that wraps around a gallery corner and continues down a wall. The majority of that space is taken up by “The Western Code,” a grouping of 49 colored pencil on paper drawings by Friedman that are stylized takeoffs on the letters and symbols found on a keyboard.
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Next to that installation hang two works by Matthew Sontheimer, a diptych and “An Awkward Ruling -- Stutter Included,” a mixed-media on paper piece that is covered with dense handwritten text, some blobs of black-and-red lines and arrows -- an exploration of written and visual communication.
Then comes a vitrine that contains three delicate works by Camille Hawbaker -- “Date Unknown, Black,” “Date Unknown, Green” and “Silence,” three pieces that were once written documents, taken from her journaling, that have had the works destroyed using a flammable printmaking liquid then stitched back together with thread -- reversing Sontheimer’s text-heavy process but making much the same point.
A similar grouping of work with an environmental theme is highlighted by large sculptures from two artists.
Jess Benjamin’s “Hoover Dam Inlet Towers” are nearly 7-foot-tall reproductions of the battered towers at the Nevada dam done in ceramics, while a giant white ear of corn, made from expanded polystyrene and fiberfill, sitting on a black surface made of recycled rubber tires, titled “Here & Now,” comes from Holly Kranker.
Both are aimed at commentary -- Benjamin's on the country’s escalating water crisis and Kranker’s on production agriculture, each made more specific by their artist-penned labels.
There are multiple examples of work that is concerned with identity. Those include Sarah Rowe’s appropriation of Native symbols in her paintings “Stake & Claim, Father Sky” and “Vertical Integration, Signal to,” with a Basquiat-like skull at its center.
Joy O. Ude’s “Omissions in Print” series looks at her identity and heritage through wall hangings and little dresses, the former with images of her grandfather and grandmother from Nigeria, the latter made of faded African wax cloth. “Impressions in Print” was shown last year at Lux. It is more powerful and evocative in its hanging here, with the dresses floated in front of the wall pieces.
Another artist who had a Lux show last year is Ying Zhu, who creates beautiful, subtle thought-provoking installations that are often rooted in her effort to navigate the culture of her native China and the U.S. For “Art Seen,” Zhu has created a delicate piece of thread, pins and tape. “Reading the movement of thoughts” goes high up a wall in a pattern with threads extending out from pins to form interlocked rings.
Mo Neal literally puts herself in her work, a pair of feminist-driven pieces -- a video called “Dollies” that is made up of old footage of a young Neal in a pretty white dress and her mother, clearly on the way to some important occasion, overlaid with the famous shot of Marilyn Monroe’s dress flying up. Next to it is “Swingers,” the 1956 communion dress attached to a wire, spinning and flying up courtesy of a fan below. It’s impossible to miss Neal’s point.
There are other connections that are purely stylistic, like a grouping of abstractions that includes Marjorie Mikasen’s hard-edged science-based pieces, a wall-sized painting by Kim Darling, who now has a show at Lux, that is filled with organic and realistic shapes and three small paintings from Aaron Holz, who usually shows portraits.
There is too much work in “Art Seen” to cover everything here. But I want to note Sarah Berkeley’s documentations of her performance “I Just Work Here,” a digital video of the artist dressed for business sitting at a desk and moving around in the middle of a stick-covered muddy field along with a large photo of her mud-encrusted, red high heels -- important for its inclusion as a medium and its content.
“Art Seen” is an exhibition in keeping with Joslyn tradition. The museum has held juried exhibitions since 1931, held regional biennials from the 1950s to 1988 and in the ‘90s organized three “Midlands Invitational” exhibitions -- of painting and sculpture, installation art and photography.
There are, Campbell told me, no plans to do another exhibition like “Art Seen” in the immediate future. In a few years, another such show would be more than welcome. If it occurs it will have a high bar to reach, set by “Art Seen,” the best contemporary art survey of Lincoln and Omaha in memory.