The tree jumps out. And the buildings. And the still life.
In the new show of 26 works by mixed-media artist Corrine Smith, these mundane objects are nearly shocking. Smith, who teaches design at Augustana College, said she encourages her students to think of shape for shape's sake, color for color's sake, and texture for texture's sake. "I'm very much a formalist in that way," she said last week. "Composition is a stickler for me."
Her painting for the past three decades has followed those rules with abstract, sophisticated treatments of the most basic rectangular and round forms. ("I don't think that I have exhausted those shapes yet," she said. "I'm not the least bit tired of them at all.")
So even though much of the work in the new show (which runs through April at MidCoast Gallery West in downtown Rock Island) fits comfortably in her pure-design aesthetic, something approaching representative painting -- in her Shelter series and in the tabletop still life The Blue Olive -- appears to represent a radical shift. Shelter #9 is clearly meant as a pair of buildings and a tree.
"That's all really new to me," she said of this transition.
Shelter Series #14 is not as easily identifiable, and Smith said the "buildings" can also be seen as two people. The tree is missing its crown. "I suppose I didn't put the little green top on there because it kind of freaked me out that I made a tree," she said.
The Figge Art Museum will soon open its Frank Lloyd Wright gallery, a collection of eight pieces showing the architect/designer's "Prairie" and "Usonian" styles, documenting his shift toward ever-simpler forms.
The Figge describes the gallery as "a significant group of Wright's works that provide a chronological overview of his decorative arts and furniture designs. Although Wright is a notable architect, he was also an innovative designer of art glass, domestic interiors and furnishings, an aspect of his career that is less well-known to the general public."
Below is an edited audio discussion about the new gallery. Participating are Figge Senior Curator Greg Gilbert and Figge Art Museum Director Sean O'Harrow; asking questions are River Cities' Reader Managing Editor Jeff Ignatius and Quad-City Times Entertainment Editor David Burke.
The centerpiece of the current two-person exhibit at Quad City Arts is a collection of four paintings recalling Peter Xiao's childhood in China.
From an artistic perspective, Xiao is rendering people more conventionally in terms of both figure and color, said Les Bell, the other artist in the show. In the past, he said, Xiao worked in a "cubistic" space, bending figures and objects and colors to meet the formal needs of the piece.
Bell called Xiao's use of color in these new works "smoldering," and said: "It's a much more complex level of narrative than I've ever seen in his work. ... I'm completely charmed by the drama of these scenes."
Bell also said that "you'd swear he was working from models to get these individual personalities."
But these works come from memory, and Xiao -- a professor at Augustana College -- said that "I sort of turned [auto]biographical for the first time. I always worked with the figure but was usually shy about putting myself there, because you want to be objective about things."
I've been thinking more than usual lately about the local art-gallery scene, for three reasons: a citywide open studio I attended earlier this summer in St. Louis with 151 venues; David Burke's September 13 column in the Quad-City Times in which he asked what's missing in the Quad Cities and suggested a gallery or two for the College Hill area currently under development; and a recent Quad Cities conference on networking among local art and cultural agencies.
I've called Davenport home since I moved from Washington, DC, 45 years ago, and as happy as I've been here, I've always missed a gallery scene.
The gallery I'm speaking of is a business that "represents" its artists, which is to say that the artists are chosen for the high quality of their work and according to a principled and focused policy - "young, emerging Midwest abstract painters," "modern and contemporary Expressionism," "21st Century works on paper," "the best in the two-state region," etc.
Furthermore, that's all they do. They don't sell frames. They don't sell supplies. They specialize. This is the sort of galleries that one finds in Minneapolis, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Tampa, but not here. I mention these cities because they're the same size as the Quad Cities.
The Figge Art Museum exhibit Paper Trail: A Decade of Acquisitions from the Walker Art Center (running through January 3) is "a very significant show" from "one of the premier contemporary-art museums in the United States," said Figge Executive Director Sean O'Harrow.
But it's clear that O'Harrow's interest in bringing the show here is not limited to its importance. After accessible exhibits featuring duck decoys and the work of John Bloom, O'Harrow is not shy about provoking people with Paper Trail: "This show is really meant to push people further to the other extreme. ... This show is really meant to push our audience. ... We as an institution have to do this."
Some content is politically aggressive, while other works will baffle audiences. One piece, for example, instructs its audience to put a provided sweater on in a certain way. And Laylah Ali's two untitled drawings will certainly prompt plenty to claim that their children could do that. Many people will love the show, O'Harrow said, and many will hate it.
A retrospective featuring the work of roughly 20 artists, Paper Trail was not meant as a traveling exhibition, but O'Harrow convinced the Minneapolis museum to let a scaled-down version come to the Quad Cities - at this point, its only destination.
Students, he said, "can see every big name [in the art world] in the last 20 years." For a lay audience, the biggest name is Raymond Pettibon, who provided the cover art for Sonic Youth's 1990 album Goo.
For more information about the Figge exhibit, click here.