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Please Touch | Washington University Sculpture Area Art Show

The Rialto, 2500 Ohio (2.10.06)

It’s not easy being a young artist at Washington University. In addition to creating unified and relevant bodies of work, the students are expected to resolve the problem of finding, securing, and setting up exhibition spaces for group art shows. Considering the nonexistent budget for this requirement, creative thinking is paramount.

Hey, gang! Let’s hold a one-night art rave!

Luckily for them, Tim Ayres of the Rialto is a champion for the arts. Not only has he transformed the formerly derelict Panda Paint factory into an alternative studio/gallery space for artists, but he also is open-minded and openhearted to creative minds with specific ideas. The art rave, held Feb. 10, gave 18 undergrads an exhibition venue they are not likely to experience again soon. With a cavernous first floor offering tall ceilings and enormous rooms, the Rialto allowed for a sculptor’s most ambitious dreams with room enough to grow. The opportunity was not wasted.

While some pieces were puerile from idea to execution (yes some involved feces, and some involved penii…but hey, what is art school, but a place to grow, develop, and mature?), several were notable in their invitation for viewers to interact with them. Mark Bartholomew’s The Artist’s Catalogue of Visual Metaphors (2005), gave new meaning to the phrase “play on words.” His tidy arrangement of 36 identical antique boxes, neatly labeled with symbolically heavy words like “loss” and “memory,” begged for tactile engagement. While the prosaic contents seemed arbitrary—too many boxes held similar objects, like rocks, dirt, sand, and stones—the desire to rearrange their order was as compulsive as those ubiquitous magnet poems found on a thousand refrigerators. One could make a game of trying to guess what minute tangibles would signify “death,” “despair,” and “hope.”

Self-portraits are standard fare for art school; everybody has to do them as some point. Nic Albonico’s representation managed to elude the obvious with elegance. Unfinished Self Portrait (2006), though constructed of small wood blocks, each printed with a year from the life of the artist, ultimately grew into an undulating tower, rippling like a Gaudi facade made of sand.

Although it was tagged with the unfortunately long title One Gamete, Two Gamete...If You Would Like to Make a Donation, Please Inquire Within (2006), Natalie Toney’s gelatinous soup was one of the stronger pieces in the show. Nestled in their blanket of primordial goo, translucent eggs incubated, peacefully unaware of the dire instruments glistening in the drawers below. Sparing viewers overt explanations, Toney’s thoughtful work opens to a multiplicity of questions about medical ethics, procreation as a commodity, underfunded or undefined scientific experiments, etc. A longer viewing of this piece continued to deliver new hypotheses on meaning, all of which might be appropriate for discussion. To create art that elicits discourse is, in itself, quite the accomplishment.

The casually officious Michael Alm was a godsend for the show, fielding questions and graciously gathering information for those attendees who were not actually Wash U. students. Not content to merely be a participating artist (Historic Constraints: Contrapposto, 2006), he seemed to have done a great deal of the curatorial legwork for the show. (Surely, though, it was a collaborative effort.) In the postgraduate years, that type of administrative/organizational/gallery experience is exactly the sort that these artists will need in order to continue making art—and, more importantly, putting it out there.

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