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Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013

Art And Nature At The Portrait Society

Kevin Giese: Winter Chapel (4)

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Fifty-plus years ago as a teen seeking the “meaning of contentment,” I listened to Elvis wail “Crying in the Chapel” and decided it was strictly cornball. My mature preferences lead me to the spiritual highs discovered in woodlands. Such highs are also to be found in sculptures by Kevin Giese who, in 2011, tucked his work into the rolling landscape of the Lynden Sculpture Garden.

From Jan. 18-March 3, Giese commands the Winter Chapel (4) at the Portrait Society Gallery (207 E. Buffalo St., Suite 526), an installation to soothe away the winter months in Wisconsin. The concept of linking philosophy with nature is as old as the hills, but Giese’s work is eternally relevant. Linking art and nature in the Lynden landscape is one thing; making it work in a small interior space is another. Art educator Giese has solid concepts and understands that within each of us is a void waiting to be filled. People consistently ask him, “How did you do it?” and “What’s it about?” when they view his reconfigured “trees” with elegantly stitched skins of white birch bark rising from the concrete floor of the chapel he designed and built. On the other side of the curved chapel wall, elegant photographer John Ruebartsch’s three-minute video chronicles Giese’s process from start to finish, an excellent pairing for two who have long championed environmental causes.

In adjacent galleries, painter Shane Walsh uses colorful, abstract language to develop “The Available Language.”

In preparation for this review, I studied Peter Schjeldahl’s “Shapes of Things,” an article in the New Yorker’s Jan. 7 issue. He quotes Picasso’s argument against abstraction thusly: “All things appear to us in the form of figures. A person, an object, a circle are all figures.” But the point of Walsh’s dynamite work isn’t abstraction vs. figuration. Instead, it asks what happens when art leaves the studio: Is it less art or more art when exhibited in a gallery or a museum? And beyond that, what is it when it’s marketed like the Nike Swoosh or a Rembrandt image on a coffee cup? Walsh further explores the merchandising of art by inviting us to purchase from his own souvenirs in “The Store,” his great installation that is a bit like the Wal-Mart of art, placed in the midst of several rooms of his superior paintings.

To view Peter Schjeldahl’s article in full, visit: newyorker.com/arts/critics/artworld/ 2013/01/07/130107craw_artworld_schjeldahl#ixzz2HnyK7rf2.
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