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U. of I. art and design school to open exhibition space in Champaign

9/27/2010 | Sharita Forrest, Arts Editor | 217-244-1072;

[ Email | Share ] CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The School of Art + Design at the University of Illinois is opening an exhibition space called Figure One in downtown Champaign that will link creative activity on campus with the surrounding community.

The new exhibition space is funded in part by a gift from alumnus James Avery as a tribute to former art and design faculty member James Ross Shipley, also known as “Coach,” who Avery said had a significant influence on his life and career.

The director of Figure One is Jimmy Luu, a professor of graphic design in the school, which is a unit of the College of Fine and Applied Arts. An advisory board composed of four faculty members, a graduate student and an undergraduate student from FAA recommends policy and programming for the space.

 The name Figure One was chosen from suggestions submitted by art and design students at the board’s request. One thing that FAA is not calling it is a “gallery,” preferring instead the term “exhibition space.”

“Exhibition space suggests a more discipline-neutral and broader offering in terms of programming, does not signify strong ties to an art economy, and represents a conceptual break from the traditional art gallery model,” Luu said. “I am interested in challenging how creative work is typically presented.”

Figure One’s first two exhibitions – one featuring designs by alumni and one featuring student compositions – will open simultaneously.

“20/20” will exhibit pieces by alumni of the school’s metals program. The 23 alumni in the show represent more than a half-century of the program’s history and accomplishments as well as the breadth of innovative approaches the artists have to materials and craft. Noted jeweler and artist Arline Fisch, who graduated from the school in 1954, is among the alumni artists whose work will be included.

“10 to Watch” is a yearlong series of one-person shows that will introduce the public to intriguing student work that has caught the curatorial team’s eye and that the public will want to be aware of, Luu said. Curating the series with Luu are Jorge Lucero, a faculty member in FAA’s art education program, and Tumelo Mosaka, curator of contemporary art at Krannert Art Museum. The curatorial team is selecting pieces for the show through studio visits with students in the school.

“10 to Watch” and “20/20” will be on view through Oct. 30. Luu is arranging subsequent exhibitions but is not releasing details about them yet.

“If there is a theme for this first year, it’s that we want to connect students with the community through art and design,” Luu said. “All the exhibitions in some way create a dialogue between students and interesting people or organizations beyond the campus borders.”

The new exhibition space on Walnut Street in Champaign is part of a renaissance under way in the city’s downtown, an area being revitalized by a resurgence of commercial and residential activity.
“I think it’s a great thing for downtown Champaign,” Luu said. “There are a couple of art spaces beginning to establish presences there, and this is an opportunity for the School of Art + Design to be part of that conversation. The creative scene in Champaign and Urbana is growing, and we’re excited to be involved.”

Avery made a $1.5 million gift to the U. of I. to commemorate Shipley, who mentored Avery when he was a student in the industrial design program. A faculty member at Illinois for 38 years, Shipley retired as the head of the department of art, now called the School of Art + Design, in 1977. He died in 1990.

The gift established the James Avery Endowed Chair in the College of FAA, and a portion of it helped FAA create the exhibition space, which will display a plaque honoring Avery and Shipley.
Avery graduated from the U. of I. in 1946 and taught at the universities of Colorado, Iowa and Minnesota before establishing the James Avery Craftsman Inc. jewelry design/production company in Kerrville, Texas, in 1954. Begun on a workbench in a two-car garage with $250 in capital, the Christian-themed jewelry company grew into a multimillion-dollar corporation with 54 retail stores and five manufacturing plants by the end of 2009.

When Pope John Paul II visited San Antonio in September 1987, Avery was commissioned to design communion vessels that were used to celebrate a papal Mass, according to the company’s website.

An opening reception will be held 6-8 p.m. on Oct. 8 at Figure One, 116 N. Walnut St.

Hours for Figure One are yet to be decided.

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Editor's note:   Members of the media are invited to preview the exhibition space and its
opening shows during a private reception from 5-7 p.m. on Oct. 6.

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