by: McKay Stangler
The writer Annie Dillard has argued that the things we should pay the most attention to, whether in art or everyday life, are not the things that we make an effort to seize but rather the things that seize us: those sights and sounds that produce the doubletake, the second glance, the softly murmured, "well that's interesting".
It's a lovely sentiment to keep in mind as one explores an art museum or gallery, as I did last week at the Saint Louis Art Museum. I had gone during a free afternoon to see an old favorite, Picasso's Mandolin and Vase of Flowers, but found my attention arrested instead by a Giacometti sculpture just around the corner: Hands Holding the Void (Invisible Object). I don't normally go for the Swiss sculptor's emaciated works, and I can't even quite explain why this one so caught my eye, but there I was, rooted in place and head cocked, feeling something like total reevaluation of my prior opinions about Giacometti. The Picasso, though still beautiful, seemed somehow dim in comparison.
If you find yourself with a similarly free afternoon now through January 6, the Prairie Village Arts Council heartily encourages you to stop by the R.G. Endres Gallery at City Hall to see the current art on display by Jack Stemm, Anne Nye, and Grant Charpentier. The latter is a glass artist from Emporia and the former two are photographers, but all three seem to be masters of provoking the doubletake that causes you to see an old thing -- a familiar building, a wooden ship, an entomological form -- in a new light. The works of all three are excellent examples of Eliot's dictum that the "goal of all our exploring" will be to "arrive where we started/And know the place for the first time."
Stemm has a particular eye for majestic outdoor shots, as in Yosemite Tunnel View:
But his photos need not all be the sort of "majestic" we associate with Sierra Club calendars; his Symphony in the Flint Hills Cowboy is a sterling example of art which uses a figure to represent an idea or historical trope. In this case, the silhouetted figure is a stand-in for an entire American mythos. Stemm's Seeking Illumination likewise uses the solitary figure to embody a quest or search.
But Stemm's photos use solitude amid the masses, the way Caillebotte did in his urban series, rather than simply showcasing a disembodied individual.
Nye's Locked in Place is another example: what seems to be a simple depiction of a weathered bicycle comes to seem, after a few minutes, rather more a depiction of the wall behind the bicycle: the focus shifts, as you consider it, away from the primary object and toward the setting.
All told, the three artists whose work is showing through January 6 excel in a unifying way: by making us sit up a bit straighter, wondering how you had missed what they are making so very clear right now. It's a tough balancing act for an artist, placing the mundane in an entirely new context and framework, and all three handle it skillfully. Please visit this excellent collection soon!
Through January 8, 2023