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Multimedia exhibition explores concept of appearances

Melissa Mitchell, Arts Editor

Click photo to enlarge
Photo by Luke Batten and Jonathan Sadler
Big Ten Coed, Mask No. 3, 2003
40 x 30 inches
Ink-jet print
Courtesy of the artists and Bucket Rider Gallery, Chicago, Illinois

Released 10/9/2007

  First impressions and what actually lies beneath the surface – both architectural and human – is the theme of a new multimedia exhibition at the University of Illinois’ Krannert Art Museum.

On view Oct. 19 through Dec. 30, “Facades” explores the concept of appearances through the lens of 23 international artists who express their views using video, altered and unaltered photographs and digital images.

“I think we’re a society obsessed with our appearance and appearances,” said the museum’s visiting curator Judith Hoos Fox, who organized the exhibition with curatorial partner Ginger Gregg Duggan. Fox said they wanted to explore what’s behind the obsession by investigating “the relationships between the outside of a building and its interior, and between someone’s public face and the workings of his/her mind.”

“Architecture is all about facades,” she said. “Modernism is about skinning things down to essentials, and postmodernism is about building up facades.”

Of particular interest to the curators, she said, is that “an essential defining characteristic for architecture becomes a pejorative when used to describe people.”

Facades represented in the show range from a series of huge photographs by Chinese artist Huang Yan, featuring traditional Chinese landscape scenes painted, in mask-like manner, on a model’s face to Christopher Rauschenberg’s ink-jet prints that capture quirky-looking people outfitted in attire that literally puts their best faces forward and backward.

The exhibition includes work by U. of I. art and design professors Luke Batten (in collaboration with artistic partner Jonathan Sadler) and Joel Ross, and U. of I. alumnus Rick Valentin.

In Batten’s and Sadler’s large-scale in-jet prints from the series “Big 10 Coed,” the artists feature college-aged women amid campus backdrops, in seemingly innocuous poses – with a twist.

Click photo to enlarge
Photo by Huang Yan
Chinese Landscape: Face Painting, Summer, 2005
59 x 47 inches
Courtesy of Chinese Contemporary, New York

“They’re referencing the benign back-to-school fashion ads that we all know, from the magazines’ August issues ... in these retro, ’70s fashions,” Fox said.

“But, in having these young women wearing the balaclava mask that we associate with terrorists, all of a sudden this benign image becomes truly frightening.”

Ross’ color photograph of a barn, from which he has carved out 6-foot-tall letters spelling the phrase “everyday at six,” functions as conceptual art, Fox said. “It has to do with this ignominious history of ‘the sundown town,’ where apparently towns had a curfew where all black people had to be out of town by sundown.”

Other artists featured in the exhibition are Anna Nordquist Andersson, Janine Antoni, Vanessa Beecroft, Francis Cape, Jordi Colomer, Olafur Eliasson, Maria Friberg, Terrence Gower, IngridMwangiRobertHutter, Wendy Jacob, Robert Lazzarini, Inigo Manglano-Ovalle, Gordon Matta-Clark, Jillian McDonald, Do-Ho Suh and Michael Wolf.

To further explore the concept of the facade, the curators recruited U. of I. faculty members from various academic disciplines to write short essays that consider its meaning from the unique perspective of their respective fields. The essays will be available for the public to pick up, read and take home.
Contributors include Kathryn Anthony and Scott Murray, architecture; Dennis Baron, linguistics; Ramona Curry, English; David Goodman and Gary Xu, East Asian languages and cultures; Alejandro Lleras, psychology; and Ying-Yi Hong, business and psychology.

Also available will be a free, fully illustrated brochure that includes an exhibition checklist and conversation with the curators.

More information about the exhibition and a series of related programs, free and open to the public, can be found on the museum’s Web site.

Editor’s note: IngridMwangiRobertHutter is correct; the two collaborative artists have merged their names.