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Gallery Review | Tyler and Wallach provocatively examine notions of times past

Artists of SMFA thesis exhibit center on their grandmothers

Published: Monday, December 10, 2012

Updated: Monday, December 10, 2012 15:12

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Caroline Welch / The Tufts Daily

Tyler’s striking photographs depict scenes of North Dakotan landscapes.

There’s something amiss, something unseen. This, in short, is the gist of the MFA Thesis Exhibition open at the Koppelman Gallery at the Aidekman Arts Center through Dec. 16, featuring the work of SMFA dual−degree students K. Tyler and Rebecca Wallach.

The artists’ grandmothers inspired both artists’ exhibitions. Tyler’s grandmother’s home is the setting for her documentary landscapes, while the details and patterns of Wallach’s grandmother’s wardrobe influenced the intricacies of her drawings.

However, the two women could not have presented shows that are more disparate. Wallach’s work encompasses joyous depictions of senior citizens that seem to have much more soul than ink, graphite or gouache. On the other hand, Tyler presents a more introspective collection of photographed landscapes depicting a transitional period in a small Midwestern town.

Tyler’s “Sense of Place: Transitional Landscapes from the Evolving Plains” is a conceptual look into her grandmother’s hometown in North Dakota. After the Garrison Dam Project destroyed two nearby residential areas, New Town was established by those who were displaced from their homes. Since oil was discovered in the area, the town has undergone a major economic boost.

The history behind Tyler’s work is perhaps the most striking element to the exhibition. The best snapshots in the collection are those that portray the conflict between the quaint small town and its impending growth. One image, “House on HWY 23,” presents a truck towing a pre−made house to its final resting place.

Tyler’s pieces were beautifully shot, particularly the moments that featured the piercing light of dawn and its reflection on the green North Dakotan terrain.

In spite of the technical skill she clearly possesses, Tyler’s photographs were remarkably quiet. The message communicated in the artist’s statement can, at times, be lost on the viewer, as the pieces feel more like fleeting moments than concrete statements. Nevertheless, Tyler manages to capture haunting scenes that are quickly becoming scarce.

Wallach’s presentation, “Floating and Other Moments of Buoyancy,” is a loud, humorous illustrated series of almost elegiac senior citizens. Her drawings depict these individuals in moments of play in order to connect them to the idea of youth. Indeed, the playfulness is an attempt to reassert their belonging as part of society and alter how people view their elders.

Much like Tyler’s work, Wallach begins from an almost−political entry point. In her statement, Wallach explains that older individuals are often overlooked within our culture and tries to emphasize this societal problem through her art. As a result, her works almost feel like double entendres, paralleling her show’s title.

A stunning example is “Dinosaurs!,” a set of cut−out drawings mounted on a corner of the gallery, which shows a parade of elderly people dressed as the piece’s namesakes. At first glance, it is difficult to describe this piece as anything but cute. Yet, after a closer look, the other definitions of buoyant emerge.

As with the rest of Wallach’s work, the characters in “Dinosaurs!” have an almost ethereal quality. They could be your grandparents, or portraits of people long gone. Despite the liveliness captured in each image — from a group of women laughing around a game of mahjong to a group of senior citizen circus performers on a trapeze — there is a sense of sadness surrounding each of them.

Their palpable joy brings forth a sense of guilt, of a duty that’s been forgotten. Adding to this sense of responsibility is the stark realness of Wallach’s work. Her pictures are incredibly detailed, recalling the Japanese influences that she describes in her artist’s statement. Every wrinkle, strand of hair and clothing pattern was rendered with immense precision. The contrast between this serious meticulousness and the levity of the scenes is extremely effective.

While the Japanese inspiration worked well in Wallach’s level of detail, one could feel its presence in other, less comforting ways. Like characters out of a Hayao Miyazaki film, the subjects’ proportions were often skewed. Heads were slightly too large, arms a bit too short and fingers a bit too thick.

In many instances, this interplay of reality and proportion−skewing fantasy is very interesting. In “Everything Feels/May Actually Be Much Lighter,” a drawing of an adult swim class, the somewhat awkward proportions of the figures were reminiscent of those of a small child, again suggesting a connection to youth. Other times, though, the disproportional drawing seems like a possible mistake.

Tyler and Wallach both display immense skill. Their work is impressive in size and scale. If anything, viewers will leave Koppelman Gallery with the comfort of knowing that such skilled artists are capturing moments that often go unseen. Perhaps their future work will unmask more of society’s little treasures.

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