Monday, March 16, 2009

WALKABOUT: UVM's Davis Center

by Marc Awodey

Even though there has been all sorts of talk about weak economic conditions, the University of Vermont seems to have embarked on a building spree. Its Davis Center opened last year, and the architecturally interesting building serves as a UVM community center - and, by the way, a showcase for fine art. Both revolving shows and permanent installations can be found in the somewhat cavernous new building, if you spend some time walking around in it.

Finding all the art is a bit tricky, and items are often not labeled well. There is a huge painting, perhaps 6x10 feet, on canvas that’s not fully attributed, but the piece is a strong abstract expressionist utterance. Nearby is an untitled piece by a UVM class of 2010 student Sasha Fisher, done in a similar style, so Fisher is probably the artist of the monumental piece - but it would be nice to know for sure. Either way, since Fisher is a UVM student, it’s apparent that there’s a great art program on campus.

Another student work apparently won the commission recently advertised for a Davis Center atrium installation. Emergence is a hanging sculpture made up approximately 250 of hand blown tubes of colorful glass, by ‘09 student Ethan Bond-Watts. The artist said in a posted statement “Every piece is related to the next, but not identical to it.” The result is a canopy of colors and vermicular forms.
While student work is well represented, there’s also currently a show by Burlington painter Karen Dawson on view. Dawson’s bright and expressionistic landscapes are in a hallway upstairs from Fisher. The canvasses include unusual hues, such as hot pink and bright orange, utilized in Dawson’s creation of rolling skies and undulating forests.  Dawson is a UVM grad student in philosophy, however the space her exhibit appears in, isn't only for students.

The Chittenden Bank branch in the Davis center is another place to fine art. The oil and encaustic, soft edged painting of
James Vogler are currently display.  His pieces have subtle layers of color and slightly overlapped forms.
A statue from the 1989 Lamentations Group, by the late Vermont sculptor Judith Brown also appears in the Davis Center. Brown’s group of ghostlike female figures in flowing robes is a well-loved sculptural group; the pieces were not however well-suited to the elements. After appearing in several outdoor locations for about fifteen years, including the lawn at AVA Gallery, and UVM’s quadrangle near the Fleming museum, a restoration effort was begun to save the sculptures - which were on the verge of disintegration. It was, and remains, a controversial project as it’s been widely reported that the restoration cost is $20,000 a figure. Yet the same question - is it worth it - can be asked of practically every public art and architecture project.

Beneath the Davis center is a corridor passing under Main street, that has a wall of wide panels which glow in various hues; magenta, blue, yellow, green. It’s a pretty cool thing, like something seen at Disney World. But is there a point to it? Was it an expensive addition to the project? Is it considered “public art” or just decoration? Seems like art to me - even if it’s not supposed to be. We shouldn’t hang price tags off from everything. Just wander around in the Davis Center and enjoy the show.