If you think of art museums as places where curators hang works of art on walls and stop there, you haven't been to the Nevada Museum of Art on Reno recently.
In the entrance area is a wall hanging "Touching the Eye of the Storm" with blobs of black running around a circle. Visitors are encouraged to leave their smudge - a thumb print - on the hanging. Using soil pigments from the Great Basin, guests add thumb prints to the community work of art.
Then walk into the third-floor gallery where Chris Drury's "Mushrooms/Clouds" exhibit will be in place through Oct. 5. On one large wall you'll see the DNA map of an organism found at the Nevada Nuclear Test site. Spread out on the floor facing the wall are stones scattered about a heap of stones in the rough formation of an igloo. This is the "Life in a Field of Death" and the stone heap is titled "559 Shelter Stones."
Up on the rooftop is another Drury creation, the "Cloud Pool Chamber," logs stacked in a thick column with an entrance and a hand-carved granite pool reflects the clouds of the sky above. It was first built in Nevada City, Calif., by Drury and his assistant, then brought to Reno. The pool refers to Native Maidu grinding stones found nearby. Visitors can enter the structure and see the visions the pool creates.
Back on the third floor there is a painting of lines in a circle. It's part of the local organic works Drury creates - in this case touching the pattern on the white surface using dust collected from the museum's air conditioning system.
What the show is about is the relationship between people and lands. The logs were cut at Donner Park, diseased and of little use. But by bringing the local stone and wood to the museum Drury has attempted to show the relationship between place and people.
"'Mushrooms/Clouds' is an exhibition that embraces metaphor and analogy as tools for layering multiple meanings within the objects Chris Drury crates," says Ann Wolfe, curator of exhibitions and collections. "From mushroom spore prints to sculpture in the norm of a nuclear mushroom cloud, Drury make visible the subtle connections between the realms of science, culture, politics and the history of place."
How does that translate into art? Only the viewer can say. And to see Drury's show in all, you'll have to drive to the Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation. There Drury has placed "Winnemucca Whirlwind," a 300-foot diameter on what was once a lush wetlands used by American Indians until the late 1800s. The lake dried up after the U.S. Government project diverted its water for other uses. On Bureau of Land Management terrain, it symbolically reclaims the storied site for American Indians. To see "Winnemucca Whirlwind" you need to buy a $7 day-use permit from the Nixon store on the Paiute reservation. See www.nevadaart.org for directions.
The museum points out that for many years "Drury has been intrigued by the relationship between the destructive and regenerative processes that occur naturally in the environment as well as how humans work with and manipulate natural forces.
He works with natural materials such as plants, trees, mushrooms, water. The works included in "Mushrooms/Clouds" show the relationship between life and death as seen through the lenses of art, culture and science.
Drury has been living and experiencing the natural world of Nevada, and as he said before the show opened, "Nevada is mind-blowing. It's clear that people here live by their landscape." Drury, who lives in Great Britain, finds Nevada fascinating, but he doesn't want to live here.
Most of Drury's art is temporary; he feels that "the process of working with others to create the art is more important than the art itself."
One work that hangs in the main gallery is "Destroying Angel," a large scale installation that is made up of hundreds of strand of mono filament tied with bundles of sage. A nearby video captures the burning of sage and the smoke that it creates as in the Native American ceremony known as smudging. Drury sees a parallel between the nuclear bomb tests and the smoke from the sage.
I may not have explained clearly what Drury's art is all about. You'll have to see it yourself to capture all the threads and meaning involved. But, as Drury says, the "process is more important that the art."