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New exhibition explores the relationships between people and the natural world
John Grade, Capacitor, 2013; flashspun high-density polyethylene fibers, light-emitting diodes, wood and mixed media; 20 x 30 x 35 ft. Commissioned by the John Michael Kohler Arts Center. John Grade is represented by Cynthia-Reeves, NY.

SHEBOYGAN, WI.- The John Michael Kohler Arts Center presents five enveloping, multisensory “landscapes” inspired by the changing relationships between humankind and the natural world in Uncommon Ground, an exciting new exhibition series on view through September 22.

Three large-scale works of art by artists John Grade of Washington, Lauren Fensterstock of Maine, and the New York-based team of Wade Kavanaugh and Stephen B. Nguyen were commissioned by the Arts Center especially for Uncommon Ground, in keeping with its role as a laboratory for the creation of new work and a forum for the exploration of ideas. Each of these gallery-size installations can be seen only during the exhibition’s run. The exhibitionalso presents photographic and ceramic works by Kate MacDowell (OR) and stainless steel sculptures by Carolyn Ottmers (IL).

Gallery visitors, like the commissioned artists, are asked to consider Aldo Leopold’s idea of a “land ethic.” In his renowned book The Sand County Almanac, the famed Wisconsin ecologist proposed that all elements of the natural world—the soils, waters, plants, and animals—be considered when making use of, or changes to, the land. He believed that people who closely observe the land gain a better appreciation for the connections all living things share.

For centuries, artists have observed nature and drawn inspiration from it. The artists included in Uncommon Ground continue that tradition. Their works illuminate the link between human existence and the larger natural world, and address such topics as climate change, species extinction, and the history of landscape design. Uncommon Ground affords viewers the opportunities both to experience the artists’ insights into that complex interaction and to contemplate their own relationship with nature.


John Grade: Capacitor
On view through Sept. 1, 2013

Capacitor explores an immediate and direct relationship with the natural world. This immense, 40- x 20- x 40-foot coil physically responds to information from weather sensors outside the Arts Center, slowly twisting and shifting to changes in wind direction and temperature. The giant, honeycomb-like structure is lit from within by light-emitting diodes that subtly change in brightness over the course of a day.

Grade has earned several grants and awards including an Artist Trust Foundation fellowship, an Andy Warhol Foundation Award and a Tiffany Foundation Award. In 2010, he won the prestigious Willard L. Metcalf Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York.

Lauren Fensterstock: Celebration of Formal Effects, Whether Natural or Artificial
On view through Aug. 18, 2013

Lauren Fensterstock’s Celebration of Formal Effects Whether Natural or Artificial is based upon the controlled aesthetic of European and Japanese garden design and the American lawn. It responds to the 19th-century Italianate house that is part of the Arts Center’s history and physical complex. Fensterstock’s inky black “gardens” of ornately quilled and cut paper forms appear expansive and thriving. Yet, from other vantage points, her gardens disintegrate into ruinous beds of crushed black charcoal.

Fensterstock was named Maine’s 2010 Visual Arts Fellow by the Maine Arts Commission. Her work has been exhibited throughout the US including exhibitions at Bowdoin College Museum of Art, ME; San Francisco Museum of Craft and Design, CA; Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, OR; and Dorsky Gallery, NY.

Wade Kavanaugh and Stephen B. Nguyen: Rush to Rest
On view through Sept. 22, 2013

Inspiration for the monumental Rush to Rest arose from the nearby landscape of the Lake Michigan shoreline—the ever-shifting dunes and the seasonal topography of ice. In lieu of wind and water, Kavanaugh and Nguyen’s process involved repeatedly creating, destroying and remaking their work in order to mimic the dynamic forces of nature surrounding the Arts Center.

Kavanaugh and Nguyen’s collaborative work has been exhibited at the Dumbo Arts Center, Brooklyn, NY; Suyama Space, Seattle, WA; The Lab at The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Victoria, BC; Islip Art Museum, Islip, NY; The Soap Factory, Minneapolis, MN; and Mass MOCA, North Adams, MA.


Kate MacDowell: Fragile Endurance
On view through Sept. 22, 2013

The Costa Rican golden toad and the passenger pigeon—both extinct species—serve as case studies for Kate MacDowell (OR) as she explores the notion that natural resources are, or ever were, inexhaustible. In Lost Tribe, a host of slip-cast, black toads surround a precious few, remaining bright-orange males. In Clay Pigeons, MacDowell draws connections between the terracotta “pigeons” used for target shooting and passenger pigeons, once an enormous North American migratory flock.

MacDowell’s work has been exhibited at the American Museum of Ceramic Art, Pomona, CA; Mindy Solomon Gallery, St. Petersburg, FL; Bellevue Arts Museum, Bellevue, WA; and The Galleries at Moore College of Art and Design, Philadelphia, PA.

Carolyn Ottmers: Splice
On view through Aug. 11, 2013

Drawing from both the natural landscape and the human-built world, Ottmer’s installation, Splice, forms a silvery canopy of hanging vines and branches in the Arts Center Atrium. Reflecting the artist’s interests in the diversity of nature and the industrial production of objects, these stainless steel creations are inspired by plant life that thrives, against all odds, in urban environments.

Ottmers’s work has been exhibited at Ironbridge Museum, Coalbrookdale, Great Britain; Laguna Gloria Art Museum, Austin, TX; Lincoln Park Conservatory, Chicago, IL; and the Walker Art Gallery, University of Nebraska, Kearney, NE. Recent commissions include Frederik Meijer Gardens, Grand Rapids, MI; the Ritz-Carlton Residences, Chicago, IL; and the City of Chicago.

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