The amount of color filling the gallery was unexpected — incongruous colors, bright primary colors that belong on a set of a ’90s children’s TV show. The multi-sculpture installations and the enormous murals on nearly every wall made for a, well, impressive first impression of Andrew Schoultz: In Process: Every Movement Counts, the immersive summer exhibit at UNLV’s Barrick Museum.
As I approached, my attention turned to the craftsmanship of the painted lines and the sculptures. They are freehanded and wonky. There are clear drips on the murals and visible glue and warping on the sculptures. Yet, any doubts around the imperfect technical aspects of the work are buried under the sheer amount of labor obviously expended to create them. That, in turn, weighed under the impermanence of the floor-to-ceiling murals that will inevitably be painted over at the end of the show.
The style, too, is questionable in a museum setting. A hand-painted brickwork illusion looks like something off of Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle album cover. The materials are clearly cheap, the symbols at times ham-fisted. Yet, yet … all those questionable choices could not only be disregarded, but work to fit a grand narrative.
The entry point of the show is the Infinity Plaza, with an installation that includes a mural and several sculptures. The largest of the sculptures in this arrangement is at the center, in the shape of an angular infinity sign with white dots on a field of dark blue identical to the center of the mural behind it. The pattern matches the pedestal, clearly hand-painted with white dots that often lack opacity, making the brushstrokes distinct. Orange and yellow sculptures are like benches shiny with resin, some of which give the illusion of melting. Their puddles don’t hide their production process, showing the creases of the plastic tarp under which the poured paint dried. I love them. They beg to be sat on. Their slightly imperfect craftsmanship makes it harder to resist. Other benches in various colors in front of other murals make it hard to distinguish which are places to rest and which are explicitly sculpture.
On the other side of the gallery are a series of paintings of war helmets hung on a backdrop painted in faux brick and stylized clouds that run the length of the entire wall. These sorts of details blur where a piece begins and leave little other choice than to consider several seemingly disjointed parts as a whole.
There are smaller standalone paintings, though, cleverly encased within the walls of the Barrick’s center gallery so as not to be dwarfed by the much larger murals and sculptures. Though the intricate paintings weren’t the broad strokes of the murals and graphic motifs outside, they were the codices to Schoultz’s visual language, as they contain many of the symbols depicted throughout the show
At first I loved the exhibition for everything but the subject matter and the symbols carrying them. I love the precarious tension between the unpolished techniques and the amount of detail and labor that both alludes to and justifies their rough execution. I am a sucker for the collision of high and low, so benches as sculptures and house paint as a viable medium just touche some art rebel nerve in me.
But the imbalanced Scales of Justice, the Shattered Map of the world, and the triad of gold-dripping U.S. flags are all conceptual clichés that don’t even belong in a high school art portfolio. Other motifs, like broken Greek vases and corroded war helmets, are a little more elegant — and they forced me to consider that perhaps I am missing a bigger picture.
I thought about the artist’s connection to murals, and then to the historical significance of murals as both a tool for populist ideology and state propaganda. Either way, historically murals are meant for a public, and therefore benefit from easily understood symbols carrying their message. Schoultz’ various repeated motifs include the eye on U.S. currency radiating a dizzying optical illusion of Moiré Experiment (8 Squares) and Spinning Eyes, as well as flying birds and prowling lions in the style of medieval illuminated manuscripts weaving throughout the pieces in the center gallery. He utilizes symbols from the subtle to the most ubiquitous to illustrate the highs and lows of war and culture undulating throughout the space, and materials that glean from the ephemera of street art a shattered epic on the rise and fall of civilization.
All photos: UNLV Creative Services | Lonnie Timmons III, Courtesy the UNLV Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art