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an introduction to contemporary art in r e n o n e v a d a


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CONTENTS jeff ALESSANDRELLI

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jen GRAHAM & sarah LILLEGARD

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kyle walker AKINS

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megan BERNER & jared STANLEY

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kaitlin BRYSON

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tanya GAYER

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alisha FUNKHOUSER

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dane HAMAN & spitting IMAGE

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ahren HERTEL

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j. DAMRON

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nick LARSEN

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michelle LASSALINE

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michelle LAXALT

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megan KAY

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jaxon NORTHON

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omar alan PIERCE

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emily ROGERS

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claire STEPHENS

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HOW TO BE F R O M Reno, Nevada » » Jeff Alessandrelli

Alleys into avenues, nothing into noise ordinances—what isn’t slow to grow? Still, building a city is not the same as—caress by biological caress— building a baby. Instead, you take what can only be envisioned and pray, one day, for smog and fluorescence to appear, for dirty, rarely working water fountains and too many streetlights to count. I was born in a place where, to declare his or her citizenry, every resident is required to strangle the blood out of a meat flower, to parse the difference between a moo and a moan. My city’s mayor is the shadow a tumbleweed imprints on a swiftly shifting landscape, our city council a distant mountain range pictured

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on a 5 cent picture postcard. Why? is a ruddy orchard where tombstones grow, blossom. When asked what he would save if his house were on fire, Jean Cocteau answered the fire. He lived in Reno his entire life without even realizing it. So ignorance, I’m told, is bliss. Wish— I was born in a city too big to be little, too little to be big. Walk with me for a while there. This world is verily soaked in reality. Stay. Stay.

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C U R AT O R I A L S TAT E M E N T

There is something unique and strange about the city of Reno. We are encased by mountains, bathed in sunshine, and covered in dust. It is both easy and impossible to be an artist living in Reno. The people of Reno have built an art community on their own, which supports itself and relies on no one else. In Reno we know how to survive without water, without nourishment, with nothing but our own will to create. The work being created here has a distinct quality and voice that seems far away from anything you’d find in a bigger city. The goal of this project is to begin to define that distinct quality and to serve as an introduction to the contemporary art of Reno, Nevada. As we dug deeper into the art being created here, it was easy to draw lines from one piece to the next. Though the work you’d find here isn’t so similar you could create some kind of ‘ism’ to define it, it is evident that there are common threads. There is somewhat of a palette, a sensibility, and themes that bring all of the work together. The process is instinctual and the palette is muted to some extent, as if each piece itself could not avoid the sun or the dust. Living in Reno, you feel far away from anything else. We deny our closeness to California, yet we are undeniably influenced by it. We explore, we discover, or we hide. We strive to find our sense of place in a city whose identity gets lost behind the shadow of

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gambling, of Las Vegas, of a history of shotgun weddings and divorces, of Burning Man. Much of the work we selected focuses on defining this sense of place outside of that shadow. The artists explore the city, the community, and the harsh nature that surrounds us. They work to better define who they are within this place, how they adapt, nest, and survive. They mark their territory and document their treks. They look up. They zoom in. They remember. In this exploration, many of the artists we selected are discovering their sense of place, but also their sense of self as derived from memories, myths, and visual records. They work to piece together the fragments of their past to document a personal history or to delve into a sense of nostalgia. They begin to materialize the mirage or to come to terms with memories lost. Not everyone or everything could survive in the desert. It’s windy, dry, and sunny all year. You feel closer to the sun than you should be. The endurance of nature is truly evident here, and this need to survive, insistence on thriving is mirrored in the lives of the artists who reside here. Hard work, practice, and a simple need to create work is the driving force. For some of us our work is our water.

Âť Âť jen GRAHAM & sarah LILLEGARD

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kyle walker AKINS November Summertime felt 2014

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L A K E LAHONTAN’S maritime c u l t u r e Lake Lahontan was at its maximum depth during the Pleistocene, a period which also saw a human settlement on a grand scale. Along with this settlement came advanced maritime activity. This of course, is completely untrue because there were no cities in Nevada during the Pleistocene, but who cares? We saw these glittering places, and came back to the future with these colorful flags to tell you about it. They are examples of flags which fluttered in the air over the many harbors, backwaters, fisheries, regattas and naval ships which plied Lahontan’s choppy waters, in war and peace, for some 200 years.

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The story of Lake Lahontan’s sailing culture has never been told before. Many people lived here, died here, fished here, hunted, danced, sang, picked their noses, and made cute leather shoes – this was not the bleak, inhospitable “wilderness” you might associate with the Great Interior Desert. There were so many people that you just simply couldn’t believe it. The ghost towns, (so-called because the sails of the many ships which sailed Lake Lahontan resembled ghosts floating above the surface of the water) were places of vibrant, diverse cultures. Some were dangerous places to raise families: in these places, death was worshiped, everyone carried a weapon, and you could be killed for saying hello to another person. Other cities were vaguely technocratic, almost clinical in their devotion to stability. Still others had easy-tomock dictators who fancied themselves Philosopher Kings. It was all over the map. The Lake, that is. The thing each of these cultures shared, beside their complete unreality, was water. The lake was the source of food, the means of communication, the place of recreation, and the means of transport. It was a fabulous dream, with megafauna. We hope that these flags will allow you to imagine what it must’ve been like to live in such utterly civilized times along now disappeared shores. What follows is meant as a short history of Lake Lahontan’s maritime culture in flags. Why? Because flags tell you very little about the actual culture of a place, and a whole lot about the ideals people have about their activities, conscious or otherwise. And of course there’s no reason to care about people’s daily lives, so instead of worrying about all that, we thought it would be nice to show you some colors.

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STANLEY & BERNER project managers 10


megan BERNER & jared STANLEY Lake Lahontan’s Maritime Legacy: A Vexillological History Fort Churchill Submarine Base fabric, thread, wind 2013

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FORT CHURCHILL SUBMARINE BASE The city-state of Fort Churchill was known for its gunboat diplomacy, and as a result did not have many allies around the lake. You would never, for example, find any Fort Churchill folk at the Annual Vya Regatta, where you would most surely see banners, guidons, and burgees from around Lake Lahontan. The Churchillans cultivated the perception that they were bloodthirsty villains. Paranoid and quite fearful, they lived behind large walls that isolated them from the region, which was home to many peace-loving peoples who just kind of laughed at the Fort Churchillans, and indeed at all city-states. These were fishing peoples. The Submarine Base at Fort Churchill is most famous for the so-called Squirrel Tail Affair. The Churchill base housed many Pack Rat Class Submarines, which the Churchillans used to harass the fleets of other cities along the coast. On the night of October 21st, 264, the submarine Squirrel Tail torpedoed and sank a whaler, the Old Yella Dog. When emissaries from Vya made an overland trip to discuss the sinking with the Fort Churchillans, they were taken hostage, and forced to sign documents handing over whaling (Ichthyosuaring?) rights along the southern Fjords of Lake Lahontan. Because of the Fort Churchillans’ ruthlessness, they were ousted from the Reno League, and though their whaling operation did increase, they were unable to conduct trade with cities to the north and east, and so became a regional power, dominating smaller cities like Berlin.

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megan BERNER & jared STANLEY Lake Lahontan’s Maritime Legacy: A Vexillological History Rawhide Shipping Company fabric, thread, wind 2013

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RAWHIDE

SHIPPING

COMPANY

Rawhide was founded by the Kievan Rus soon after the start of the Iconoclasm in Constantinople. This city was Prince Vladimir’s most distant fur trading outpost, though it would have been news to the people who lived here, for they had never heard of the Rus, Kiev, nor for that matter of the Pacific. Suppose for a moment it was true. The very idea that the Kievan Rus, descendants of the Vikings and the Varangian Guard, had any kind of homeland is an imaginative projection of the idea of a country onto some land. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The Rus got their butts whupped by the Mongols, but they had these wild looking wooden forts. Poison was a big part of diplomacy. Anyhow, communication between Rawhide and Kiev was intermittent. The trade lines lasted for a thousand years, until the Golden Horde set up a permanent Khanate in the Crimea and Transcaucasus. There was even a point when Mongke Khan persuaded Nestorian Christian Missionaries, traveling from Novgorod to Vladivostok en route to Sea Ranch and Rawhide, to send a letter to the Emir of Rawhide. Some portion of the text is quoted below: Men are irrational animals and the very elements which make up the world machine are united by a certain innate law after the manner of the celestial spirits, all of which we have divided into choirs in the enduring stability of peaceful order, and we are amazed that you have invaded many countries belonging to many separate peoples and are laying them waste in a horrible desolation. Cut it out. If you do not obey the commands of Heaven, and run counter to our orders, we shall know that you are our foe. And that’s gonna suck for you.

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kaitlin BRYSON The Virtue of Dissolution soil, clay, water, honey, gouache, pencil, gold leaf & paper installation & performance 2014

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I took some time but I am WRITING W I T H LO V E » »

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Tanya Gayer


For many years whenever a stranger asked where I was from I always responded that I was from Maryland. My family and I moved there from Nevada just before I became a teenager, so I felt that I could call it my home because I grew up there. I also reasoned that Maryland was neutral enough that people would not assume things about me because I was from there. But my response was a lie. I was born in Nevada, and my east coast sensibilities have long subsided since I moved back to Nevada after high school. Nevada generally lies under the radar for headliner contributions to art, education, or legitimate commerce, so I felt ashamed that I would not bring anything substantial the table if I stated where I was from originally. I struggled to find a way to give credit to both places when anybody asked where I am from, and only a year ago I devised a phrase to slightly appease my conscience: I was born in Nevada, raised in Maryland. Yet this phrase still does not ring quite true to me either. I think it is because this statement makes me feel disconnected from both places. My response makes me a transient instead of someone with a sense of belonging, even though I want to be true to all the places that I feel like I am from. What if all of the places I have traveled to can be where I am from as well? They have all contributed to my sense of who I am. If home is something that shaped who I have become, then Reno is home: it has established how I view my everyday environment and my interest in strong communal support. It was not until I moved away from Reno after college that I actually recognized how I am a Nevadan and how my community there established who I am today. Most of the artists I know in Reno have elected to stay there despite the seduction of bigger and more profitable art careers in larger cities. Now that I live 18


in a larger city myself I have a clearer perspective of how my Reno community was a support system that encourages people to stay because there is a sense of pride in contributing to its population and becoming interconnected with each other’s work. In my college days projects like the MidTown Artwalk and the Reno Bike Project were evolving, and the Holland Project was barely on the horizon. I sat in on board meetings for various art-related collectives, and I felt the disappointment of lack of funding and the need for bigger venues. These were entities that were responding to the needs of locals, and although now all of these non-profits and projects are thriving, they remain unrecognized outside of Reno. My present arguments for how they established the local arts in Reno and their impact on me exist because I grew up alongside these projects and saw them change the population’s awareness, as well as my own, of a better quality of life. Unlike any other city I have traveled to or lived in, Reno upholds this value of collaboration within a community to establish roots rather than forcing individuals to fit into a pre-existing ecosystem of the arts as other cities require. This collaborative interest is derived from the slower way of perceiving that is very specific to Reno’s arts. Reno is a city surrounded by expansive open space, and it takes a long time to learn how to absorb and love a vast landscape. I came to appreciate the way the light spans the mountains and the dull amber hues across the foothills. To know these parts of Reno I had to really look and become quiet. As I began making art in Reno, my process took on that same sense of slowing down my everyday actions, mirroring the way I had learned to appreciate the Nevadan landscape.

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My practice has become a performance of looking and being that has shaped the way I have developed my curatorial endeavors as well. My curatorial projects focus on building a conversation that not only surrounds artists’ work, but encompasses parts of their everyday life that contribute to their time in the studio. Instead of an intellectual showboating of theoretical and jargon-laden interests that often cloud a curator’s responsibilities, I circle back to the basic parameters of curating: the essential act of looking and being with artists and their work. By establishing this gradual relationship I feel that I am true to developing my curatorial practice, because it is the same relationship I benefit from in connection to the Nevadan landscape. In an article featured in Aljazeera, Sarah Kendzior described big name cities like San Francisco and London as places one lives where they are “born having arrived.” They are places where there is no freedom to fail, no freedom to experiment or have the space to develop a genuine relationship with the self and one’s work. I miss the support I both created and received from the arts community of Reno, because I know it gave me these freedoms. I no longer see success by the simple act of leaving a place like Reno, but a route to experience a new sense of growth and evaluate these freedoms again in a different setting. My community now is different in Oakland and I compare it all the time to what I had in Reno, yet I’m happy to be nostalgic for what I had, because I know I established a sense of well-being to take risks and thrive again in a separate community. I continue to struggle for a swift response when people ask where I am from in this new community, yet I know that when I say I am from Reno, I am being the most honest. 20


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alisha FUNKHOUSER Harvey’s photography, archival pigment print

17”x21” 2013

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alisha FUNKHOUSER A Little Horse photography, archival pigment print

17”x21” 2013

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alisha FUNKHOUSER Doublewide photography, archival pigment print

17”x21” 2013

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dane HAMAN untitled from Personal Effects Series photography, silver gelatin print

11”x14” 2011

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dane HAMAN Yuma AZ photography, silver gelatin print

11”x14” 2011

dane HAMAN & spitting IMAGE Stone Tomb super 8 film to video

film (link) 2013

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ahren HERTEL Hallow Ground oil on canvas

20”x 20” 2013

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LO CA L E: Micro Dialectics, Isolated Bliss, Bootstrap Culture

& Cosmopolitan A f f a i r s » »

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J. Damron


Let’s not forget about the origins of compelling art. Where it lies today is most likely out of immediate sight, yet it is in a wilderness of less competently bad art. It is not found among the skillfully mediocre smart art (trained vocabularies pleasing various sects of the same cloth in the art world slash academia, now a two headed sameness)… that has to be churned through in much the same manner within art spaces with relevant economy. Finding this compelling work, outside of these kinds of spaces and places, is albeit less sexy and doesn’t hold priori assumptions of importance. It can suck, it is awful, and these bad art encounters make evident the scarcity of the work of importance. It is even more punctuated. If a gallery exhibits well hung, strategically considered, professionally calculated art (let’s not presume art with ideas- in the current condition of the art industry), this art can be accepted, in total, much easier than equally less relevant small economy art or art with no role in an economy. This is brought to full attention every time student work is displayed in clean professional spaces- anywhere: big city, small town. It’s just easier for viewers to give time to the work. It’s still bad though. So, within this wilderness, whose art should we be looking at? Some indications this compelling art has been found, within the bad, is when you know you are not looking at a product of isolated bliss, art made by individuals who believe in their grandeur and are happy to produce work that seems to revel in its own naiveté. Effects of a critical dialogue, internal or external, are not missing in the work. Another indication is that the art (the artist may

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not know this) is seizing, or seemingly embodying, the cache of a still interesting bootstrap cultural landscape. You will not be looking at MFA trends in art making, smart making. Yet the art can be smart, savvy, engaged. These artists do know how to ride the horse of vitality and failure. They don’t make art that suggests they might know how to ride the horse, but rather art that avoids all possible suggestions they have contact with the horse, so as to not smell. The work smells… a little bit, at least. Can there be quality and critical mass coming out of micro dialectics? I know of two artists who participate and are pivot points in a micro dialectic. One went to graduate school, away from hometown. The other did not attend graduate school. At times it seems they are lovers, but that is only because what is being recognized is an intimate playful criticality that comes with two artists who know what’s out there- know what the options are, so to speak, beyond the backyard they grew up in. And they like the company of one who also, critically, knows the options. They are local artists, in the sense that they embrace the particularity of their place, in particular their small town. Their ambition for their art doesn’t preclude the value and level of participation in their place of origin. The micro dialectic that makes for better art in a kind of place, size of place, a non-art world locale, most likely won’t be found by the gate keepers (gallerist, curator, etc.) since most wouldn’t have the time or inclination to walk through the horse shit that surrounds it. However, in more populously fabulous places flooded with bad art- like that found

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in Los Angeles- present more desirable options for gatekeepers. It’s the cool factor. Not so much in the small, non-economy un-sexy locales where better art must be found over the course of a few years of paying very close attention. Much of this better art, easy to not encounter but worthy of sustained and critical, personal and sensual attention, is in part the result of the artist stepping away from the small place, mixing into a cosmopolitan history, and then stepping back

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into the locale. The cosmopolitan influence on an isolated critical discourse and resulting practice is invaluable. With proximity to a larger, more demanding, and more critically engaged forum, the art doesn’t suffer from isolated bliss. The artist more fully understands the micro dialectics endemic to the locale as well as those that feed off of larger, historically (read academically if you want) relevant dialectics hopefully relevant to sharp perceptions of what makes art worthy of our attention- even if today that often means very little within those exhibition spaces of art economy. Seeing this relevant art, worthy of attention, can extend to a thought process that questions the sustainability of the work within the locale. How do these artists find a way of extending their practice? Is it ok if not too many people see the work? Do they have a short life expectancy as artists making quality work? But it might also be important to ask whether or not these questions matter. Within a historical perspective and understanding of the origins of compelling art, can it be argued that the art has its life, however long it is? How does the artist sustain herself within any kind of economy that allows for continued development of the work? These questions about the current reality are not newly relevant questions by any means. The list of artists who created compelling art and created a place for themselves within an economy in the 1970’s who haven’t made much compelling work for 30 plus years, is long. Their model is irrelevant to artists today, yes, however it is worth being reminded: let’s celebrate these flashes within the locale now…

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nick LARSEN A Feeling With No Ceiling (Victory Lapse) sewn paper and fabric

30”x 30” 2014

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nick LARSEN A Feeling With No Ceiling (Rad Fails) sewn paper and fabric

30”x 30” 2014

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michelle LASSALINE Cow papier mache, acrylic, wire, string

2013

michelle LASSALINE Goat video (link) 2013

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michelle LAXALT Give and Take ceramic, underglaze, netting, fabric & wood

39”x 24”x 62” 2014

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Building a C U LT U R E » »

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Megan Kay


Building your own culture is all about potential and momentum. You have to see something in a place that inspires you to make it better, and then you have to keep on going when it seems like nothing is changing and that the potential you believed in hasn’t manifested into something real. Potential can also be toxic, especially in Reno. When you always have your eyes on the carrot being dangled in front of you, it’s easy to lose sight of how far you’ve traveled in pursuit of it. Reno has a strong culture, but not a strong cultural infrastructure. This has its advantages as well as its disadvantages. The culture here doesn’t depend on any one thing to survive, which makes it diverse and strong. This means that there is freedom and access to materials, space, and people. There is also freedom from criticism. Artists in Reno rarely get any feedback from their audience or peers. Without outside voices to guide them, Reno artists learn to listen to their gut instincts and hone their editing skills. This can be extremely discouraging for artists, though, never knowing if they are really connecting with their audience or even if their audience is actually in Reno. The curse of living in a town with “potential” is that even if it is realized, people have spent too much time working to look up and recognize it. People in Reno are so used to hearing that the culture here is almost worth caring about…but not quite. Artists here are undervalued. Omar Pierce was born and raised in the Reno area, and he feels like he has come to the end of his rope here. When I asked him why he felt this way, he responded, “Because it’s so obvious that we are not supposed to be here. It’s always been obvious…when you try to make a big mark it’s the most uphill battle ever, and then when you are all done only a small amount of people will ever

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notice it.” At some point it all comes back to potential. Is it a good enough reason to stay? Nick Larsen wrote in Banging a Dead Drum, “you either decide to sow your seeds somewhere else, or learn to subsist on a diet of good burritos and bleak truths.” Audiences in Reno don’t give feedback, because they aren’t used to it. Many artists see the lack of criticism in Reno as an advantage. Brad Bynum is the Arts and Culture Editor for the Reno News and Review. He has interviewed artists in Reno and all around Nevada. He thinks that the lack of art criticism in Reno is due to the libertarian “live and let live” history of Nevada. However, this lack of criticism doesn’t make for a better product. Bynum said, “People come here, and they can get away with being mediocre. If you can’t make it in California, then you come to a place like Nevada where there is less judgment and less criticism, and in a way that is liberating. But the down side of it is that it doesn’t foster a creative community that has a higher quality of work.” It is difficul ttointroduceartcriticismintothis environment, because where do you start? Is it fair to critique one show and not another? And most importantly, in an environment where people aren’t used to talking about art, there aren’t many people qualified to do it, and even if there were, the artists themselves aren’t used to it. Even amongst artists, it’s hard to give an honest critique. Jen Graham and her husband Ahren Hertel have both curated gallery spaces. Hertel ran the Chapterhouse Gallery, and Graham remembers how artists reacted to constructive criticism: “Even the smallest feedback like ‘you’re not ready for a solo show’…they can’t take it so they flip out and won’t ever come back.” These factors affect how we as a culture in Reno value our art and our artists. Sarah Lillegard,

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Director of the Holland Project Gallery, believes that the community in Reno doesn’t place enough value on art work. “I would like to see value placed on the artwork by purchasing artwork, because that is a huge deal. I always want to support the artists that I like.” For the most part people don’t feel that way in Reno. The creative community is small and tight-knit, and there exists what Bynum calls “cross pollination.” People feel like they are entitled to free artwork from their friends. They don’t believe that they should have to buy it. This affects how artists value their own work. Artist Tim Conder believes that this has a long-term effect on Reno artists. “I think that when you stay here, it totally devalues what you do…It’s just that your friends are basically telling you that you’re not worth shit.” Reno can be difficult and disappointing, but it’s also a constant source of inspiration. Artists here have a need to make it work for them and to tip the scales in their favor, but it’s hard to keep on going when it seems like the town you love is fighting against you and trying to cling on to old ways of survival that don’t work anymore. In the third installment of her self-published zine series These Here are Crazy Times, Sarah Lillegard wrote about what it’s like watching Reno change. “In a town built on neon lights, the casinos lose their glow after we plant our years down.” Artists who choose to live and work here aren’t just building a culture for themselves. They are recording their own history and defining what people here have always struggled to define: Reno’s voice.

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jaxon NORTHON Portrait of Ethan Indorf oil on canvas

36”x 60”

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omar alan PIERCE L’appel Du Vide IV pencil, ink & acrylic on wood

18”x 18” 2014

omar alan PIERCE My Love Is For Life ink & acrylic on cement

10”x 10” 2014

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emily ROGERS Fog pigment photographs

10”x10” / 10”x10” / 10”x12” 2014 50


emily ROGERS Michelle, Winter pigment photograph

10”x12.5” 2014

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emily ROGERS Amy, Fall pigment photograph

10”x12.5” 2011

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claire STEPHENS Root Study and GPS tracked line to Mt. Rose summit silver point on paper & silver line

2013

claire STEPHENS 39.5961,-120.0762 silver point on maple panel & found quartz

2013

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E X H I B I T I O N feb. 3-28, 2014 >> the holland project gallery >> 140 vesta st reno, nv P

H O T O artwork, cover + reno photos by nate clark page eleven by dane haman page nineteen by ahren hertel page thirty-six by jen graham LAYOUT + DESIGN by sarah lillegard

project + exhibition funded in part by nevada humanities & the national endowment for humanities

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Bathed in Sunshine, Covered in Dust  

: an introduction to contemporary art in Reno, NV