The court also includes textile and tactile works by Ann Hamilton, f’79; three oil paintings by retired University of Arkansas professor John L. Newman, d’75, g’82, depicting the safety and pleasures of front yards and front porches; and “Beyond the Wall,” an industrial felt piece by Marcie Miller Gross, f’82, inspired by a photograph she took while visiting the Berlin Wall Memorial.
The piece that Klocke singles out for attention, though, is in the center of the room: “grass/roots,” by Rena L. Detrixhe, c’13, a tender concoction of wheat sprouted into handmade cotton paper. At first glance, the fragile piece appears perfectly safe and secure in its glass case. There remains, however, an exterior force that concerns Klocke: light.
Because “grass/roots” is, technically, a work on paper, Klocke prefers to expose it to minimal light (5 to 7 “foot-candles” of illumination); robust oil paintings and a nearby sculpture, meanwhile, can handle four times as much (20 foot-candles).
The trick, then, comes not so much in the task of riding a scissor lift two stories high to set the lights (and returning to the floor to measure their output, repeating the process over and over again), but in the more subtle art of illuminating each piece according to its needs without creating a distraction for the space as a whole.
In other words, Klocke must design varied lighting zones within the same room without making it “look like a carnival ride.” He smiles and adds, “That gets kind of tricky, but the lighting issue is fun. I really enjoy it.”
Curator Susan Earle reports that “The Power of Place,” which runs through June 30, required more than two years of planning, dating back to her early ideas about how she might organize an exhibition of alumni art. She hopes other themes also considered will be used for future shows featuring different arrays of alumni artists.
“This was pretty compressed,” Earle says of the show’s two-year timeline. “I could have used more time for this, but only because I was pretty ambitious in trying to cast a wide net.”
“If you try to understand the power of place, there are a lot of pathways and byways to explore,” Cris Bruch says. “It’s a rewarding exhibition.”
Bruch, whose work had been unknown to the Spencer staff until Reece Hardy recently encountered his art in her travels, came to Lawrence from Vashon Island, Washington, long before “The Power of Place” opened, to see the space for himself. In addition to “Weathermap,” the exhibition includes his sculpture of a shrouded grain elevator titled “Weldona,” a maze of wood fencing titled “Pent,” and “Harbinger,” a tornado sculpture made with a thin, 500-foot-long strip of paper, which Klocke mounted to the Perkins Court’s ceiling.
“I love how vertical it is,” artist Lisa Grossman says of the exhibition. “They’ve got things way up on the wall, and they’ve got the cyclone hanging from the ceiling. It’s so cool. It’s very Kansas.”
Bruch says that after much reading and deep thought, he has come to view place “not as much about physical space as it is about what has happened over time.” The modern world’s “radical mobility” and the trend toward “sharecroppers” grinding out paychecks in today’s “gig economy” lead Bruch to an “uneasy recognition that something is about to disappear.” Anything that might disappear, he contends, gains status, and what is more fleeting yet substantive, especially in the riotous Great Plains, than weather?
With a timeline determined by working backward from Klocke’s installation schedule, each piece traveling to Lawrence had to be carefully crated, either by the artist or by professional art handlers. Shipping estimates and insurance had to be secured, and trucks scheduled so everything didn’t hit the Spencer loading dock at the same time.
The Spencer’s policy is to leave incoming artworks in their shipping crate for 24 hours, for acclimation, then move them into temporary storage or directly into a gallery.
As Communications Manager Elizabeth Kanost, c’09, j’09, g’14, began to write wall labels—which were particularly detailed for this exhibition, for background and context to explain the show’s variety of styles and ideas—Klocke and his assistants began their work in the galleries.
“My part in this whole play is to make sure things look as good as they can,” Klocke says. “The idea of trying to orchestrate the whole exhibit is always fun for me. You’ve got so many people, so much time, so much material, and you’re trying to put it all together.
“Then, after it’s all done, you look around and say, ‘Wait a minute, this could have looked entirely different if certain key moments in the beginning were flipped.’ Tweak one little thing and there’s a ripple effect on something else.”