Within the doors of UNLV’s Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art lies a painted cardboard installation reading “ESTARDAS,” featuring eye-catching purples, golds, cyans and pinks.
Just behind that installation, a photo of Michale Heizer’s “Double Negative: Sculpture in the Land,” hangs on the wall, depicting the empty space between two rock formations. Walk further into the room and one will immediately notice the collection of retro lunchboxes on display. Each one contains vintage items arranged as if the lunchboxes themselves were the ones behind the design. All of these works are part of the museum’s three new exhibits: “Modern Desert Markings: An Homage to Las Vegas Area Land Art,”; “Am I Your Type”; and “Crowd Burst.”
The new exhibits focus on different aspects of life and art in Las Vegas. “Modern Desert Markings” blends both historic and contemporary land art in its approach to revitalizing past works through the response of modern artists. “Am I Your Type” centers around the possibilities of text and typefaces through visual mediums. “Crowd Burst” is a mixed-media photographic installation to bring viewers into the space and environment of a Las Vegas crowd.
“Modern Desert Markings” is also co-produced by Nevadans for Cultural Preservation (NVFCP), an organization providing educational programs, outreach events and field projects to bring awareness to and preserve Nevada’s diverse culture and heritage. Katie Hoffman, president of NVFCP, co-curated the exhibit alongside Hikmet Sidney Loe.
“We initiated this exhibition in response to certain land artworks in the Las Vegas Valley becoming 50 years of age or older. That’s the mark off for what we would consider historic and preservable under historic preservation guidelines,” said Hoffman in response to the goal of the exhibit.
“What we were really trying to do here was not only acknowledge this historic art through the new body of work, but we’re also initiating a preservation process,” added Hoffman. With data gathered from visiting multiple historic art sites, those sites would then be added to the State Historic Preservation Office’s database. The database, which houses all of Nevada’s cultural resources, would ensure that the historic land art pieces remain a part of Nevada’s history. Additionally, the land art pieces in the database would also be taken into consideration for any potential land use decisions.
The exhibit highlights pieces of the past, like Heizer’s “Circular Surface Planar Displacement Drawing,” while bringing in new installations, like Jen Urso’s “What the Desert Already Has” (2023), which is a long-term, slow performance piece utilizing the growth of seeds intended to focus on the persistence of desert life. At the opening reception, a few of the seeds could already be seen sprouting up from the soil beneath the grow lights.
Conversely, “Am I Your Type” focuses on the prolific role of type and text within our lives, touching on its many possibilities through different visual mediums. Recognizing the herculean task of focusing on type as a whole, curator D.K. Sole decided to refocus on type within the context of Vegas, allowing local artists to express their take on the potential of typeface and text.
“One of the important things was showing all of the different things that type can do. I knew we couldn’t possibly talk about all of them because there are absolutely so many [possibilities], but I did set out to try and find as many different examples as I could. We have painted type, we have type that is backwards, we have type in the form of a legal document, we have type that is braille,” said Sole in response to the importance of the exhibit and the process of curating the different pieces.
When asked about the exhibit’s focus on Las Vegas type, Sole said, “The idea that type has been here [Las Vegas] for a long time and the idea that people have been using type in the different ways we might think of as contemporary. They’ve been doing this with type for many, many years. I very much wanted to include things like the one photograph of students at UNLV in 1970. I wanted that in there not just because it was an example of handwritten type, but I wanted to emphasize that type isn’t just about designers and artists and commercial use, it’s something that we do every day.”
As such, the exhibit features a plethora of text presented in different visual mediums. Mary Corey March’s “Identity Tapestry” is a vast, interconnected loom of colorful baskets and yarn, presenting various statements of identity to its viewer. The web-like structure of the piece lends itself to the idea of interconnectedness through life. The text presented goes beyond English, as Laurens Tan’s “Beng Beng” (2007) is a wall-mounted, strikingly red sculpture of fiberglass, acrylic, wood and metal parts resembling the Chinese characters for “beng beng,” the colloquial name of a three-wheeled taxi commonly seen in Beijing.
Keeping the focus on Vegas, “Crowd Burst” is an installation piece by artist Heather Protz. This exhibit, a part of Protz’s ongoing series “Turning the Tables: A View from the Street,” (2014 – present), combines photography and reflective material to draw viewers into the moments of a crowd living in Las Vegas.
“From the ordinary actions of the natives to the curiosity of the sightseer, this series examines the daily experience of people navigating a city,” stated Protz during the Lenscratch States Project in 2015.
The exhibits will be on display until July 8. Admission is free.