Exploring the Bemis, new exhibit transforms gallery space

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January 11th, 2012

Omaha, NE – A new exhibit at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts has artists working within the gallery space to reinvent, highlight and transform it.

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“So we’re standing on the roof of the Bemis Center in January,” said Hesse McGraw, Chief Curator at the Bemis, as he looked over downtown Omaha with artist Jason Manley on an unseasonably warm January day.

“Yeah, it’s really nice. I’m not scared at all,” Manley said with a laugh.

Drawing by Jason Manley. Manley has built a similarly-designed installation on top of the Bemis Center building. (Photo courtesy Bemis)

Manley is in town from Los Angeles. He’s working on a large installation for the Bemis’ latest exhibit, Placemakers. It’s a play on commercial signage, with an open-ended, positive spin. The work is 3.5 foot tall red LED letters that will shine down onto the city, and spell out the word “Believe.”

“I just like the word as it relates to the intangible,” Manley said. “And also, I think that art in general requires this kind of leap of faith by the viewer.”

“Art is really nothing until somebody believes in it,” he added. “And a lot of things in life are like that.”

McGraw said what’s exciting about the piece, and the Placemakers exhibit, “is that the works really think about the building as a place. And the works transform one’s perception of this as a place.”

Anne Lindberg's work uses thousands of yards of thread to create a multi-dimensional piece with no clear beginning or end. (Photo courtesy Bemis)

The exhibit features the work of nine artists, who place their unique marks on the architecture and physical space of the Bemis Center’s sprawling warehouse-style gallery.

Seven of the pieces are commissioned works, and they range from photography to sculpture, installations to video. McGraw said each artist is attempting to transform the viewer’s experience or perception of the space. He pointed out a piece by artist Anne Lindberg of Kansas City, MO, which is constructed of thousands of yards of fine, rayon thread strung back and forth between two walls.

“The work creates a kind of ephemeral mass,” he said. “It’s actually very difficult to tell where it’s edges are, even what it’s comprised of. So it’s a piece that’s intensely perceptual. Its physicality is kind of unknowable.”

Letha Wilson has installed a large photographic work, intersected by a column in the Bemis' building. (Photo courtesy Bemis)

Around the corner is another installation: two pieces by artists Quynh Vantu of Richmond, VA. The first is a large white inflatable sphere. There will be nine of them in the gallery when the exhibit opens, and visitors will be able to move them around as they walk between them.

“Her second piece is literally a corridor of nine, double swinging doors,” McGraw said. Constructed within a hallway in the gallery, Vantu’s piece is exactly that: a narrow hallway that McGraw said the artist calls “a courtesy hallway.”

“The doors are narrow enough that if two people are approaching from opposite directions, one person has to step aside to allow the other to pass,” he said. It’s sort of a social experiment.

Downstairs is the Bemis Underground, a separate gallery, which will open its own exhibit this week. Transceiver: Drift Station explores a different, but related theme: a lack of physicality and space. The exhibit is filled with disembodied digital voices and images. (Click here to hear Bemis Underground Curator explain some of the pieces in the exhibit). Both exhibits open Friday, January 13.

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