Arts & Culture

Three new exhibits at Wichita Art Museum explore landscape

Stuart Allen takes a low-resolution approach to photography with works such as “Kansas/Sunset No. 1, 25 Pixels.”
Stuart Allen takes a low-resolution approach to photography with works such as “Kansas/Sunset No. 1, 25 Pixels.” Courtesy photo

Three new exhibitions at the Wichita Art Museum explore the concept of landscape in three distinct ways.

An offering from Liza Lou, known for large-scale pieces involving tiny glass beads, presents a shimmering golden wheat field made of 1 million strands of wire strung with beads and bundled into 2,000 shocks. Wichita native Stuart Allen’s photographs in “Kansas Low Resolution” zoom in to share a mere four or 49 pixels from a larger image, evoking just the essence of a place or scene. And with the sound installation “Prairie,” artist Shawn Decker contrasts soothing nature sounds such as crickets, wind and rain with the mechanical visuals of rods, wires, motors and speakers.

“All three of them are artists that are taking unique approaches to landscape in some way,” said Lisa Volpe, curator at the Wichita Art Museum.

Bead by bead

For the “Gather (one million)” wheat field sculpture and the three accompanying woven canvases, Liza Lou worked with women in rural South Africa to string the glass beads – approximately 9 million alone for the 12-by-12-foot field. She views her work as exhibiting the connection between hands and heart, labor and beauty – even though it also can be read literally as a landscape.

“It’s really a piece about gathering together as a community and making the work,” Lou said. “Whenever I see wheat fields, it’s such an evocative image – when we think of harvest, when we think of plenty – but there’s also always an incredible amount of labor.”

Volpe said museum visitors will be struck by the macro and micro views of “Gather (one million).”

“It’s just this stunning, absolutely beautiful vision of fall/autumn landscape,” she said.

The golden woven canvases created by Lou, Volpe said, are enhanced by the tiny imperfections resulting from the different artisans and even the sweat and oils their hands have left behind, changing the beads subtly.

“They remind you of patterns of nature,” Volpe said. “When you get close to them, you see they were all hand-sewn, hand-stitched glass beads.”

Down to the pixel

In this era of high-tech photography, cameras and phones boast their pixel count as selling points. Artist Stuart Allen says he is no Luddite, but his latest exhibit goes the opposite direction, presenting a series of 10 extremely low-resolution photographs.

“One of the things I’m curious about is at what point does a photo completely break down into abstraction?” Allen said.

Volpe noted that Allen’s pieces still demonstrate color, light and sense of place.

“He’s kind of testing the boundaries of landscape,” she said.

Allen first took this low-res approach using photos he took at the Sea of Cortez in Mexico and in Times Square in New York City. For this new Wichita exhibit, the East High graduate – who learned his craft in his photographer mom’s basement darkroom – turned to fun and nostalgic 1970s family photos, such as Cheney Lake with his brother and the family’s front yard during winter.

“In some ways, the source photograph matters less than what you do with it,” Allen said. “It kind of tweaks people’s ideas about what a photo is.”

He scanned those old images and then chose a few pixels to enlarge and highlight.

“They’re not manipulated; they’re not rearranged,” Allen said. “They’re a lot more closely related to color field painting. … They’re contemplative studies of landscapes, really.”

Rods and raindrops

Museumgoers will have a visual and auditory experience when they observe Shawn Decker’s “Prairie.” The sound installation shares an ever-changing and never repeating rotation of sounds of the prairie amid an extensive network of brass rods, wires, motors and speakers.

“He wants you to know that this sound is mechanically made,” Volpe said. “He is really thinking about this difference between nature and technology, art and science.”

Volpe noted that it is common today for people to use GPS on their phones to get to the place they want to go.

“A lot of people experience landscape through technology,” Volpe said. “All of these works talk about our ideal of nature. … What are the boundaries of an artistic landscape?”

If You Go

What: Three new exhibitions loosely based around the concept of landscape are featured at the Wichita Art Museum: Liza Lou’s “Gather (one million),” Stuart Allen’s “Kansas Low Resolution” and Shawn Decker’s “Prairie.”

When: Saturday through Sept. 13

Where: Wichita Art Museum, 1400 W. Museum Blvd. 316-268-4921

Hours: noon to 5 p.m. Sunday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday

Admission: $7 for adults, $5 for ages 60-plus, $3 for youth ages 5-17 and students with ID; free for children under 5. Admission is free on Saturdays.