Thoughts: Dubuque Museum of Art’s Latest Biennial Exhibition Aims to Capture 2020 | Characteristics

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Ever since men and women began to scratch and scribble on cave walls, humans have sought to make sense of their surroundings through expressive means.

Fast forward to 2020, and while the mediums behind such a pursuit may have evolved, that aspiration remains as intact as ever.

It’s transparent in the Dubuque Museum of Art’s latest biennial exhibition, which opened on June 26 in the Falb Family Gallery.

Comprising 55 creations, the various pieces highlight how the events of 2020 were experienced and interpreted by their 27 creators, a medley of local and regional talent who collectively tell the story of a pivotal year including a pandemic. world, heightened social awareness and a controversial election.

“That was the goal,” said Biennale juror Laura Burkhalter. “The approach behind it was to look for a job that said something about the crazy year we had and everything we had been through.”

Burkhalter has been the curator of the Des Moines Art Center since 2020. Previously, she served as the organization’s curatorial assistant for over 20 years after graduating from the University of Iowa with studies in English and in art history.

During his tenure, Burkhalter helped make Des Moines Art Center a hub for contemporary art, with exhibitions that featured the work of Yayoi Kusama, Andy Warhol, Henry Ossawa Tanner, and others. In addition, she has organized several major group exhibitions of international contemporary art, as well as the annual Iowa Artists’ Exhibition.

“Basically, I’ve spent the last 21 years looking at contemporary art and, the best part, working with artists who are alive and creating right now,” Burkhalter said. “I have spent a lot of time seeing how the work of artists creates a sense of community. One of my favorite things to do is spy on people in the gallery, watch their reaction to these artists and their work, and learn what art brought them here.

For the Dubuque Museum of Art Biennale, she screened more than 600 applications. Blind selections for the exhibition took place, meaning that Burkhalter was able to see the artwork, not the artist’s name or location.

“All of this work was not done at the same time,” she said. “But I was looking for artists who had something unique to say about the 2020 experience. It was a tough show to put on because you can only choose a limited number of pieces, and there were a lot of pieces. amazing work. But I think what has been reduced in the exhibition tells the story of the year and that people who see the work will get a sense of that story.

Louise Kames is one of two Dubuque artists whose work can be seen as part of the Biennale exhibition. It’s based on a series of photographs she took of stacks of sticks she discovered strategically placed around Mount Carmel.

“I began to document these little piles of sticks that I would find leading to the driveway at Mount Carmel, and what I found was that they were placed there by a sister who was in the early stages of dementia, ”Kames said. . “I interviewed her and she told me that as she walked around she would pick up sticks that she would find. I love rituals, and when I asked her why she did that she told me that she liked the floor … and that when she looked at the sticks, there was nothing she did. saw who was not beautiful.

This motivation became the title of the play, “I Can’t See Anything That Is Not Beautiful, Sails.” It features panels made from screen-printed photographs and the silk organza is ethereal in nature, displaying the stacks of sticks becoming slightly more veiled under the gaze of the beholder.

It’s a double meaning, Kames said, reflecting not only how one might become veiled while they are in the throes of dementia, but also how many may have lived through the past year.

“We were all veiled last year,” she said. “For me as an artist, I may be an introverted person by nature, but I’m not a hermit. I probably did more work last year because I was here in Dubuque the whole time.

Burkhart said a striking commonality in this year’s biennial submissions was how much was done by hand. Threads, wood, and pieces of fabric can be found woven into various pieces, in addition to more traditional mediums.

“I don’t want people to think it’s too tricky because it’s extremely detailed work,” Burkhalter said. “But it reflects very well the time we spent surrounded by what we had in our homes and what we could do with those materials. Artists were always looking for ways to create and work through their experience.

That and an abundant use of bright colors were also used to build “the skeleton” of the exhibit, Burkhalter said.

“I like the use of the comparison of colors – a fabric with maybe a sample of pink and a painting that uses a similar pink – so that those who see the exhibit can notice it while browsing the show,” said she declared. “There are a variety of works, but people won’t feel like there are two very different rooms from each other, next to each other. “

Held every two years, 2021 marks the ninth biennial of the museum, which kicked off the effort in 2003 as a competitive juryed exhibition to recognize emerging and established creators within a 200 mile radius of Dubuque.

“Think of it as a clock that stops every two years and asks, ‘What has changed? Dubuque Museum of Art curator Stacy Gage Peterson said. “We are especially grateful this year for continuing the tradition. Every artist who has submitted their work is to be commended. Their resilience and perseverance are deeply inspiring and appreciated.

Preparations for this year’s Biennale began in December 2020 with a call for nominations. The selected artists were announced on May 6.

Burkhalter said his biggest aspiration was for viewers to reflect on their own experience of 2020, as well as the role of contemporary art in humanizing the experience today.

“My hope is always that people who see contemporary art don’t see it as something that is ‘less’ than the work of more classic mediums that they are more used to seeing, like painting and sculpture,” Burkhalter said. “What I love about contemporary art is that it can be made of anything. When you consider this, the artist chose the material he made for a reason. So for some, maybe looking at contemporary art can remove the hierarchy on what real art is and allow people to see it objectively and as a gateway.

“I always tell people that they might not like every song they hear on the radio. But every time someone walks into a museum and finds one or even two things that they love in their own way, it can be a work of art.

In addition to the biennial exhibition – which will run until Sunday, October 31 – two additional exhibitions have opened in tandem. They include “Emotionscapes,” featuring paintings by Joyce Polance, and “The Day the Big Bad Wolf Got His Comeuppance,” a new children’s book and prints created by Arthur Geisert.

The museum’s opening hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. The museum is closed on Monday and Tuesday.

Admission is free for museum members and those 18 and under, $ 7 for adults, $ 6 for people 65 and over and $ 4 for students with ID

For more information, call 563-557-1851 or visit dbqart.org.


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