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People, Places, and Things We Love About Las Vegas: In Praise of the Barrick Museum

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2019: What a year for the Barrick Museum of Art. Strong out of the gate with Axis Mundo, a widely acclaimed exhibit of queer Chicano art and artifacts, which has since toured internationally, the museum followed up with Sorry for the Mess, by Justin Favela and Ramiro Gomez. This justly praised exhibit brought into the gallery the lives, labor, and memories of working-class and immigrant Las Vegans in a bloom of multicultural energy. Thousands of local students toured the exhibit Connective Tissue by neuroscientist-turned-artist Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya, experiencing the intersection of art and science. Executive Director Alisha Kerlin — she saw the “interim” dropped from her title this year — says, “I was looking back and was, Oh, my God, we did all of that in one year! And it’s not even over.”

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As you look back, do you see any thread between those exhibits that speaks to what the Barrick’s mission is?

Yeah. We believe in what artists can do, what art can do for us, what it can say, and how it can help us articulate our world. And we are all about supporting that. Axis Mundo is a historical show, the first of its kind in the world. That show did so much, right? It’s traveling internationally, so it puts Las Vegas on the map — and, by the way, every time I talk to (the show’s organizers) they tell me we had the most visitors, more than any other venue. And they loved our opening, they felt more of a sense of community here, more than anywhere else.

It seems that with that show and Sorry for the Mess, in particular, there was an effort to represent groups of people who probably don’t see themselves in museums very often.

That’s intentional. One of the most, I think, disturbing and encouraging things we realized was that the last solo female art exhibition at the Barrick Museum was in the late 1980s. So, in 2018 we had our first solo exhibition by a woman (Tamar Ettun’s Jubilation Inflation) — and we weren’t really loud about that. I’d rather people look at the work itself instead of, Oh, it’s the first woman, or It’s the first Chicano show, or It’s the first show in Spanish and English, you know? It’s something we should have been doing for a long time, especially with UNLV being the most ethnically diverse campus in the country. So obviously there’s a lot to do, and a lot to catch up on.

You’ve done a number of shows that use the gallery space in what many might see as an atypical way.

What I’ve noticed is that a lot of people who enter our space — not everyone but a lot of people — it might be their first time (1) on a university campus, and (2) in an art museum, ever. So that’s a huge responsibility and privilege. So, for example, with the inflatables (Jubilation Inflation, again), come on in, have your first-time museum experience, and, yes, you can walk inside the sculpture.

And so we have a great opportunity to define and redefine what art can be. It can be painted on the wall, it can be something you walk into, it can be science, it can be interactive, it can be tires stacked up and piñatas everywhere. It can be queer Chicano artwork that existed as zines and postcards and things that couldn’t be shown when they were made.

I feel like we have enough room and enough time to show all kinds of work. I do think we have a lot of responsibility to allow all kinds of voices in. As we do that, you’re going to see all kinds of things you haven’t seen before, things you might not expect, things that haven’t been done before. It’s less in opposition to traditional kinds of work; it’s a matter of, like, handing the mic over.

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