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Professors Get Tested

VCU art teachers show off their own work, with varying results


This year’s “Faculty Focus” showcases the work of nine faculty members from a variety of disciplines. It’s an exhibition thick in ideas — some complex, some half-baked. In a few cases, the ideas become diluted in execution. Fortunately, the exhibition is a collection of nine small shows; each artist is in individual gallery space so that an artist’s success or failure doesn’t impact viewing experiences in the next gallery.

Viewers entering the Anderson Gallery will find first “Shudder to Think,” an installation in two parts by Lynn Murphy. One part is a chest-high wood table covered with matronly figures made from polyurethane, all identical except for their color. The table top is mechanized to rhythmically shift back and forth laterally, apparently to stir the female forms which sit on half-spheres, but to no avail – the figures hardly move.

The other part is a series of name tags on which fears (such as public speaking, dating, pregnancy and growing old alone) are hand-printed. The tags stick to two walls facing the table and figures. “Shudder to Think” might be a humorous tonic if indeed the dozens of “aunties” really trembled. Instead, it’s a tremor waiting to happen.

Just around the corner is work by craft faculty member Jack Wax, who turns glass into an otherworldly sculpture medium. Here Wax’s sculpture isn’t easily understood as a body of work – each form is unique and disassociated from the others. Instead, Wax seems to intend to show off the degree to which the medium can be manipulated, disguised and altered.

Upstairs, sculpture department instructor Chuck Henry contributes the most complicated conceptual work. While his kaleidoscopic digital imagery is extraordinary to behold, Henry will daunt the viewer with an explanation involving geometry, the Great Pyramid, human anatomy, glass spheres, photography and computer modeling. Henry’s conceits possess a rare visual quality that suggest the years of mental backbends it took to make this work.

In another second floor gallery is the work of art foundations instructor Bill Fisher, who has cultivated a method of applying and then partly removing paint and wax to evoke memory and stream of consciousness. For years his paintings have been characterized by fluid, monochromatic passages where vestiges of words and numbers barely surface.

In his latest paintings, Fisher creates a strong ying-yang effect with bold, graphic elements that stand up to his dreamy fields. He’s always been good at creating illusions of time by burying bits of information in his layers of paint. But now, with strong geometries that act like visual speed bumps, the dialogue between faded and accessible memory is heatedly eye-grabbing.

The craft department’s William Hammersley builds sculptural furniture with both irreverence and craftsmanship. Often borrowing from tools and everyday objects for formal ideas, he composes each piece with a collection of disparate and unlikely wood forms. The angular seat of his large, three-legged chair titled “Nature Heals” is creased down the middle like an open book. Two vertical elements rise from the seat to act as back supports, one in the shape of an ax handle and the other in the shape of a farm tool. Whether or not Hammersly’s pieces are comfortable, they are structurally complex.

The conceptual and visual low point of this exhibition is art foundations professor Dan Smith’s “Man/Land: Extended Sites,” an installation of found objects, inane verbiage and scribblings generously described as “multi-media” by Anderson Gallery. Smith’s written introduction to his installation begins, “This temporary exhibition space is an eclectic sketch of Dansynthia, an art adventure integrating analytical and intuitive responses to specific geographic site visitations.” Beware: whenever the words “art” and “adventure” appear in the same sentence, run as fast as you can.

“Faculty Focus” also includes art education faculty member B. Stephen Carpenter II, whose assemblages deal with containment and value; the photography and film department’s Barbara Ames, whose color photographs feature known and unknown working women; and Robert Meganck, whose dense and potent illustrations prove prowess in concept and execution. S

“Faculty Focus runs through Dec. 14 at Anderson Gallery, 907« W. Franklin St.

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