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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Art Meets Nature at Alfons Gallery

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Alfons Gallery (1501 S. Layton Blvd.), run by the School Sisters of St. Francis, is the venue for Roy Staab’s photo exhibition “When Art Belongs in Nature,” open through Aug. 11. Staab, an artist noted for his elegant environmental installations, is, in my mind, also noted for his quirky, all-over-the-map-bordering-on-genius personality. That said, he sure knows how to produce tranquil art.

Indeed, Staab has been (literally) all over the map in his decades-long quest for sites to best ply his craft. His Zen-like zeal is often expressed in watery places where he shapes natural materials, such as his 2012 installation in the Little Lake at Lynden Sculpture Garden. Plato might disagree with Staab’s approach, as the philosopher felt that art copies nature, which itself is a copy of an “Ideal Form.” All of this copying, according to Plato, takes us ever farther from the “Truth.”

The large-scale photographs in this exhibition record Staab’s various global installations and Alfons Gallery is certainly worth the trip. Valerie Christell, herself an experienced artist, both directs and curates. I much prefer Staab’s site-specific work in its original form, copy of a copy or not, and documenting it via photographs detracts from the original concept. In the end though, the documentations are useful teaching tools for visitors unfamiliar with him. If you are in West Bend, you can also view one of his photographs at the sparkling new Museum of Wisconsin Art.

Somewhere in West Allis (the artist’s home base) is the drainage ditch he memorialized on YouTube. The 1-minute-24-second video “Algae In A Stream” makes a kind of sense if you consider Wisconsin’s earlier and seemingly endless rainstorms. Close one eye and the greenish-yellow hues roll by (is that a warbler I hear?), somewhat in the painterly mode of a Monet. If you think art belongs in nature, then you’ll like Staab’s photographs, but I prefer the not-fiddled-with algae in the drainage ditch. It is what it is. Plato might approve.