Kiechel Showcases Work of UNL Art Students Who Didn’t Get Shows Because of Virus
- by L. Kent Wolgamott at the Lincoln Journal Star
A digital print accordion book of locomotives pulling coal hoppers runs down the center of Kiechel Fine Art. On one wall is a striking self-portrait in oil adorned with collaged paper bags and lights. On the other side, an astounding painting of a 1950s tablecloth shares a wall with charcoal drawings of hands holding a string.
Farther into the gallery stands a pair of 8-foot high wooden totems, and behind them, a brightly colored painting of ingredients ready to go into a hot pot.
The exhibition is called “Now” and appears to be some kind of contemporary art survey. Which it is. But it is contemporary art created by students and graduates from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s School of Art, Art History and Design.
The show came about when gallerist Buck Kiechel decided to postpone summer shows by Keith Jacobshagen and Eddie Dominguez, and had a gap in the gallery’s exhibition schedule.
Since UNL artists who were set to graduate in May didn’t get shows because of the coronavirus shutdown, Kiechel contacted UNL painting professor — and one of his exhibiting artists — Aaron Holz to quickly put together a show of student work.
Pulling a paper covered with names, asterisks and lines out of his pocket, Holz explained how the show came together:
“I drew up a list, sent out emails and waited to see who said ‘yes.’ It’s probably the dumbest curatorial premise ever, and the smartest, too.”
In the end, Holz got 24 artists, 22 who are current UNL art students or recent graduates, along with an incoming undergraduate — Pablo Souto, the son of school chair Francisco Souto, a 17-year-old who contributes some impressive portraits in graphite.
The artists were required to get their work to the gallery, provide images and details — titles, dimensions, materials, etc. — for each piece for listing on labels and the gallery’s website. “That’s where many of our collectors are seeing work now, during the coronavirus,” Kiechel said.
The work is varied, covering painting, drawing, sculpture and printmaking. There’s no photography or ceramics, so the show isn’t a survey of the entire art school production.
It does, however, showcase a couple dozen students whose work holds up well against that of established artists.
The first piece that caught my eye is Terry Ratzlaff’s “Five Diesel-Electric Locomotives and One Hundred and Twenty Four Empty Coal Hoppers,” a digital print accordion book that spreads the images of trains across both sides of the book, which stretches out beyond 10 feet atop a pedestal in the center of the gallery.
The self-portrait is from Kat Weiss, who grew up in Lincoln. Titled “If a black woman is afraid of the dark is she afraid of a shadow or herself,” the museum-quality piece is a doubled affair of the artist in her studio, sitting on a stool looking at the viewer with a self-portrait on an easel behind her, framed in light bulbs.
Chinese student Summer Xia is responsible for “Hot Pot,” the painting of the food and utensils used in a hot pot dinner. Xia has graduated and returned to China, leaving just “Hot Pot” behind.
The two sculptures, each titled “Like a Wet Fish Structure,” come from Shelby Freehling, who attached broken furniture and firewood to a wooden frame.
Perhaps the highest praise that can be given to “Now” is that it doesn’t look like a student show.
“They’re artists now,” Holz said. “They may not realize it now. But they’ll remember this show. For most of them, it’s their first show in a gallery, where work can sell, the first professional show of their careers.”