Monday, December 14, 2009

Family members branch out with Three Ways Different at Twist Art Gallery

December 13, 2009

Family members branch out with Three Ways Different at Twist Art Gallery

By MiChelle Jones
FOR THE TENNESSEAN

It's not immediately obvious what Dona Berotti's glass and copper sculptures, Cristina Viscu's graphite drawings and Rob McClurg's ceramic pods have in common. Yet Three Ways Different, on view at Twist Art Gallery through Dec. 26, not only works as a cohesive show, it's also one of the most interesting gallery exhibitions of the year.

The show's theme began taking shape four years ago, when husband-and-wife artists McClurg and Berotti became host parents to Viscu, a young artist from Moldova who was at the time an exchange student in Berotti's advanced placement art class at Hillwood High School. Viscu is now a junior at Watkins College of Art and Design, where McClurg is a sixth-year faculty member.

Pieces in an exhibition

"There was kind of a joke in the family that there was a Cris way, a Dona way and a Rob way, because we all thought very differently," Berotti says. For Father's Day, Berotti and Viscu presented McClurg with a card that said "way." "Then Cris came up with the title for the show, Three Ways Different, because we were all living in the same household, but we all perceive and work in different ways."

Close inspection of Berotti's glasswork reveals textures reminiscent of antique tin ceilings. Indeed, she uses ceiling material when constructing her molds. Viscu's snippets of portraits are at once exquisitely rendered and sketch-like.

For the past few years, McClurg has been making ceramic forms inspired by seeds. They vary in size (the largest are about 22 inches long by 11 inches wide) and the finishes range from smooth and shiny to rough and splotchy, painted to resemble natural clay. Some of the pieces resemble chess pieces, others bear a passing resemblance to sperm, and the largest forms are gourd-like and sometimes contain clay beads that rattle when shaken.

Happy accidents

The second room of Three Ways Different has a more spontaneous, experimental feel than the first. This is partly because while the artists had developed a loose plan for the first room, the second space was more of a work-in-progress during installation.

Two works in particular resulted from late-night improvisation: a piece combining elements of all their work and an interactive piece that took shape when they hung another glass sign — reading "What Are You Looking At?" — over a small settee found in the gallery.

"That happened at 2 o'clock in the morning," Berotti says, laughing. "The whole (idea) with that question was to deconstruct the scene. . . . Are you looking at the art? Are you looking at the person sitting on the couch? Is the person sitting on the couch part of the piece, which they do become. Then the piece becomes constantly changing, because someone new is sitting on the couch."

Berotti says the inclusion of the settee makes the piece, which felt incomplete on its own.

"That was just a very fortuitous thing . . . and apart from that, I will do that if I ever show that work again."

Partners in art

In contrast to the subtlety of that piece is the kinetic feel of the installation on the adjacent wall. McClurg's pods march diagonally toward the ceiling from a small heap on the floor. A glass baby bottle by Berotti is inverted over the pile, spilling copper wire intertwined with Berotti's own hair. Tiny snatches of Viscu's drawings are mixed in among the pods.

"We wanted to do a last piece that was all of us together — a collaborative piece," Berotti explains. "And also that happened late at night. That was actually the play part of the piece, the play part of the exhibition."

"Dona is the catalyst on that," McClurg says. "I would have just gladly closed the boxes back up and said, 'Look, I'm tired, I want to go home.' I did actually say that."

But Berotti prevailed, and the three played around with the arrangement. The following morning, just hours before the opening reception, Viscu and her roommate tweaked the pods so the curly ends were angled, creating the illusion of movement.

Though Berotti and McClurg have curated shows as a team and also worked together on pieces, Berotti describes this as their "first big, major collaboration." It is also an artistic expression of the bond they share with their former exchange student.

"We're still a family," Berotti says. "Even though Cris is not with us, she's still a part of our family."

Additional Facts
IF YOU GO
What: Three Ways Different, ceramics, glass and pencil on paper by Dona Berotti, Rob McClurg and Cristina Viscu
Where: Twist Art Gallery, Arcade No. 73
When: Through Dec. 26
Hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday–Friday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday
Admission: free
www.twistartgallery.com