Week Fifty Two

Blindcritic. Feb. 2007 Art Scene Iowa

Posted in 2007 Archives by sarahbakerhansen on 13 February 2007


The opinion of the Blind Critic is to be an electric conduit for honest and forthright feet-to-the-fire gallery experiences. As information flows, the critics’ opinion generates interest or disinterest, validates or alters perceptions and glorifies or vilifies artists’ works and presenters’ exhibitions.



Gallery statement: The Bemis Underground is a basement level gallery space suited to present visual, audio, and performance art in an interactive environment dedicated to experimentation. Six curators, selected by jury, are allotted five weeks and a stipend to execute projects of their design. A new group of Project curators are selected every spring for the following year.

The show: “Bart Vargas: One Man’s Trash,” runs through Feb. 24. In some way the show is a survey of the work Vargas has done during the past few years. He focuses on a few key types of work — paintings, sculptural spheres, installations and his newest edition, dolls, all made of his own and other people’s discarded junk. He threw a few wild card elements into the show — for this viewer, the unexpected elements were the highlight. “Nuclear Winter” is one of the newest works in the show and its one that Vargas struggled with. Originally his thesis project, he abandoned the piece after deciding he didn’t like it, eventually creating “Nest” for his thesis. (“Nest” is a giant nest of coiled keyboards, cordless phones, cables, wires, and other old electronic junk that Vargas spent more than three years collecting. In the center sits a huge egg covered with discarded keyboard keys all in a muted shade of grayish white.) Nuclear Winter’s 111 paintings are all the same shape — hexagons — but of different thickness and different sizes. Each is intricately layered with stenciled snowflakes; The paint in some cases is carefully applied, in others, it was clearly sloshed on, splattered on or sprayed on. Approached as a whole, the piece is like visual candy. Even singularly, the works are a feast for the eyes.

The welcome: The Bemis Underground shows aren’t just an opening, they’re a packed out party. More than 400 made a stop in this show; this amount of people has become the norm and is what makes the often artistically challenging shows such fun to check out.

The accessibility: Vargas made the rounds during the crowded opening; members of the Bemis Center staff were on hand to answer questions and welcome visitors.

The ambiance: The space is a bit awkward and challenging to fill. Vargas does an excellent job of using every bit and using it well. He even fills a small back room with heaps of discarded junk, further playing on the title of the show.

The nosh: Beer and wine, gallery staples, were here, as were cheese and crackers. The highlight for me were tiny, liquor filled candies in flavors like Courvorsier.

The sale: The paintings didn’t have wall tags or prices; all of the work is for sale and a price list was available.

The final thought: This space continues to bring challenging work to a fresh, young crowd. As the seasons continue, the work only gets better.


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