KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Art is meant to be experienced. While the pandemic extinguished many opportunities to do that physically, Western Michigan University's Richmond Center for Visual Arts is ready to welcome visitors back in person.
"We're all kind of grieving a life that we don't have access to anymore," says Dr. Indra Lācis, director of exhibitions, who is excited to offer a space for art enthusiasts to see and experience art once again. The Richmond Center is employing a number of safety measures to mitigate spread of COVID-19, including enhanced cleaning, increased spacing between art pieces and a single-flow model for foot traffic.
The Richmond Center reopens to the public Tuesday, Jan. 19, featuring the work of Patrick D. Wilson, assistant professor of sculpture and integrated media. His work "Black Tent Transit" occupies the vast space of the Albertine Monroe-Brown Gallery. Fueled by a Faculty Research and Creative Activities Award, Wilson's sculpture draws on research into westward commercial and infrastructure development in predominantly Tibetan regions of China. The massive project took nearly two years to complete.
"I tried to create a space that's a little more hybrid—that's not necessarily stylistically even consistent with itself, that works in components of fiberglass and steel and wood and fabric in ways that are both abstract and representational—and creates a really mixed and rich viewing experience," Wilson says.
The piece was carefully planned and measured, first imagined as a small 3D model and then built in sections.
"I think about it like a very slow drawing. It takes me about 40 hours to make one line of wood," says Wilson. Unlike someone creating a smaller scale painting or drawing, Wilson couldn't see his vision as his work developed. It wasn't until the six large sections of his sculpture were installed in the gallery that he saw his creative vision come to life. "The translation from what you think it's going to be to what it ends up feeling like at full scale is quite a shift."
The final product is a large-scale artwork best experienced actively.
"For me, it's a successful piece if they feel really compelled to move in and explore it. Instead of sitting back with their arms crossed, they really want to walk through and maybe even sit down below some of the sections or move through and find their own views," Wilson says.
Historically, it's rare for faculty work to go on exhibition in the Monroe-Brown Gallery. The space is generally reserved for nationally or internationally touring shows, but the uncertainty of the pandemic led to cancellations and logistical challenges. So, the Richmond Center began looking inward, drawing on the rich University Art Collection and talented WMU faculty.
"We've really been starting to refocus on the University Art Collection in new ways," says Lācis. "We've been receiving a lot of new gifts, and we also turned to our faculty and staff and invited contributions. Patrick Wilson's sculpture is stunning and fits perfectly in our space."
The Richmond Center is also debuting some online previews of exhibitions that have been postponed, such as Mimi Kato's most recent body of work, "Wild Corporation," which was initially scheduled to go on display in December 2020. It's now slated to premiere in fall 2021.
"Academic institutions are rethinking who they are (during the pandemic) and so are museums, and we're both," says Lācis, pointing out how innovating and finding virtual avenues for exhibiting work has actually expanded the Richmond Center's reach over the past several months.
Wilson's exhibition runs from Tuesday, Jan. 19, through Saturday, Jan. 30. More information about the show and other exhibitions in the works at the Richmond Center is available online. The Monroe-Brown Gallery is open Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. The DeVries Student Gallery is open Monday, Tuesday and Friday during that same time period, as well as by appointment Wednesday and Thursday with the exhibiting artist.
For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.