Art is nothing without complexity.
You can draw multifaceted conclusions from even the simplest painting. A haiku can reduce one to tears, if done well. Last night’s opening reception at the Benton was no different. The two main fall season showcases opened to a sparkling and diverse crowd. One room contained scores of imaginative work from The University of Connecticut (UConn) faculty, while the other was composed of relics from the Vietnam War counterculture era. The Benton was able to mesh these two wildly different exhibits into an event I won’t forget.
The main room was lined wall to wall with art created by UConn professors. Some of my favorite works were made by Frank Noelker, an associate professor of art and quite a gifted photographer. His selected works were all of beautiful cattle. That’s it. Simplicity can be perfection. I couldn’t tell if they were the bovine that I’ve met near Horsebarn Hill, but they were beautiful nonetheless. I’m a sucker for cows, what can I say. As I walked around the room, I was accompanied by the consistent beat of 1960s folk songs performed by a live band, representing the alternative half of the evening.
The faculty art shown last night wasn’t all graceful like Professor Noelker’s cows. An artist named “Fred,” standing in for assistant professor of printmaking John O’Donnell (who couldn’t make it due to a prior arrangement), performed the latter’s performance art piece called “Rad Dudes.” Fred walked up to the stand dressed up as their character, “Skateboard Scott,” who looked like they could be the bassist in a ‘90s ska band. “Scott” noted, “‘Rad Dudes’ is a performance intended to walk the imaginary line that separates art and entertainment. This performance is intended to reduce a performance to three core components: spectacle, intimacy and the importance of receiving and opening a gift.” Two minutes later, I experienced all three of these qualities when Skateboard Scott themself walked up to me and other members in the audience and handed us packaged “Rad Dudes” cards from the early 1990s, all while singing some song about how rad he is. Art is great.
Art can also be provocative, and that was showcased in the exhibit, “What’s the Alternative? Art and Outrage of the 1960s Underground Press.” This exhibit was covered superbly by my colleague Alexis Taylor earlier this semester (http://dailycampus.com/stories/2018/8/27/benton-exhibition-doesnt-shy-away-from-controversy), but I was lucky enough to have a conversation with political cartoonist and artist Dwayne “Mr. Fish” Booth, the curator of “What’s the Alternative.” I asked Booth if art exhibits like his curation are especially important in our tense political climate.
“Absolutely.” Booth responded. “It’s exhibits like this that give people permission to speak with this kind of language. It demonstrates the thrill of radicalism. A lot of the stuff that we’re looking at in this exhibit are jokes and very inappropriate ways to engage with political conversation.”
Anne D’Alleva, the Dean of UConn’s School of Fine Arts, peppered in a prudent message for the dozens of undergraduates who braved the monsoon to experience the opening.
“This is your place. The Benton is yours. It belongs to you, and to enrich your lives. You are always welcome here, your ideas are always welcome here, and your presence is always welcome here,” D’Alleva said.
Both exhibits will remain at the Benton until October 14 – they are not to be missed.