Exhibits at NMA feature rusting anxieties of death and spine-tingling ceramics
September 5, 2004
During a tour of the Nevada Museum of Art’s new retrospective show of work by sculptor and UNR professor Robert Morrison, Amy Oppio of the museum set the scene as she stepped off the shiny freight elevator. A light clatter of metallic noise gave the floor an industrious feel.
“Much of Bob’s work – like hear the sounds right now? – It’s very much a sensory experience,” she said. “It’s about what you see, what you hear and what you smell. And we’ll get to smell in a minute.”
The racket was coming from several of Morrison’s steel sculptures, which are fitted with electrical wires and jittering metal noisemakers.
In the feature gallery, for example, 30 steel cots with fiberglass tops and metal pillows are arranged to look like a bright, sterile hospital ward. Thin, steel rods bounce on the beds, creating an anxious atmosphere of random, abrasive sound. Morrison created the piece, called “Tongues: the Half-Life of Morphine” (1987) while recuperating from a bone graft to repair a seriously broken leg.
The sound demands constant attention, suggesting a mind struggling with an idea or some other constant – like intense pain.
In the next room is the piece “O’Coeur” (1989). It’s a series of steel tubs with water in them – causing fluffy orange rust from the waterline down. The tubs are separated by wire mesh, and each is illuminated by a single light bulb.
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The installation pays homage to Jacques Louis David’s iconic painting, “The Death of Marat” (1793), which shows the French revolutionary in a sort of turban bleeding in a bathtub. The light bulbs above each of Morrison’s rusty basins seems to suggest the life light of a person who, if he or she were bathing, would be sitting where the bulbs hang. This, of course, raises modern-day concerns about electrocution in water.
While pondering this, viewers with a keen sense of smell will pick up a pungent, salty odor from the rusting baths.
According to the NMA press release, the piece “mirrors the artist’s personal anxieties of death and decay.”
This is the first comprehensive review of the local man’s 30-year career.
Morrison’s show, which includes several other steel sculptures as well as drawings, will be up through Oct. 31.
In case his anxieties are too much, another, more buoyant collection is “A Ceramic Continuum,” an exhibition from the Archie Bray Foundation. In 1951, Bray founded a nonprofit educational facility which has been home to some of the most respected potters and clay artists from around the world.
“I got spine tingles back there,” said Billy Collins of Minden after walking out of the show.
Look for the tiny, spectacularly detailed “Napoli” (1994) by Gail Bush. Nearby is Rosalie Wynkoop’s exquisitely colored piece “For the Bray: Celebrating 50 years” (1999).
These vessels are not your typical ceramics-class ash trays and clunky mugs. The collection includes work by Japan’s “living treasure” Shoji Hamada.
Anyone with the slightest interest in their own physical design will find Richard Notkin’s intriguingly accurate, albeit triangular, “Pyramidal Skull Teapot” (1981) remarkable.
The show is open through Nov. 7.
Galleries are open Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. Admission to the Nevada Museum of Art is free to members, $10 for adults, $8 for students and seniors.
If You Go
What: New exhibits at the Nevada Museum of Art, “Retrospective of Robert Morrison” and “A Ceramic Continuum, 50 Years of the Archie Bray Influence.”
When: Morrison through Oct. 31, Bray ceramics through Nov. 7. Galleries open 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
Where: 160 W. Liberty St., just off Virginia Street south of the Truckee River.
Cost: Admission is free to members, $10 for adults, $8 for students and seniors.