“Built Environments,” Epsten Gallery

Immersive, multi-media installations respond to the light, planes, and architectural design of the Epsten Gallery space in the exhibit “Built Environments,” curated by the gallery’s director Heather Lustfeldt. The exhibit, part of the “Every Street is Charlotte Street” exhibition series in honor of the Charlotte Street Foundation’s 20th anniversary, highlights past Charlotte Street Award winners Ricky Allman, Jorge García Almodóvar, Anthony Baab, Ke-Sook Lee and Judi Ross and their creative concepts of structure and space.

Though diverse generationally, conceptually, and artistically, the exhibit highlights serious, provocative, and sometimes playful correlations found in each of the artists’ creative visions. It also invites conversations about the way we respond to structures and space in our own external and internal environments.

In her contemplative installation, “if the earth trembles,” Judi Ross creates a bed of glazed earthenware sea urchins, sheltered and safeguarded by a poetic wave of shimmering red fabric. Throughout her work, Ross considers the notions of beauty in current art, while at the same time responding to the loss of our intimate human connection with nature. A multi-sensory installation, “if the earth trembles” includes a soundtrack of waves, wind instruments, and whale calls, along with a rippling light display that takes the viewer to a place where that intimate connection with nature is reestablished, even if just for the moment.

Ke-Sook Lee uses exquisitely embroidered vintage linens, sewn by previous generations of women in her family, to create the light, ethereal installation, “Burst to Bloom.” Arts, crafts, and materials from the realm of homemaking become poignant threads that connect Lee to memories and experiences of past struggles, challenges, and suppression experienced by women in her family.  Lee weaves these reminders of the past into an effervescent installation that symbolizes an interior environment where the past is accepted, personal growth occurs, the present is embraced, and the future is light.

Where Lee’s work is focused on family, Ricky Allman’s installation looks to the global future of humanity and asks the question, “What will the world look like when it is even further ensconced in digital technology?” In response, Allman incorporates paint, sculpture, drawing, and site-specific elements to propose his visual theory about how the world will exist and thrive when artificial intelligence and digital technology is deeply integrated into all our work and living spaces. Fire and whimsy, along with destruction and hope, exist side by side in this world in which Allman deftly uses the continuum of art, space, and environment to express his message.

A structural minimalist, Jorge García Almodóvar found the Epsten space an ideal vehicle for revisiting the precise, geometric grid—a frequent theme in his work. In his installation, “LEVEL (BE-017),” Almodóvar builds on the gallery’s vertical and horizontal planes through a rhythmic expression that simultaneously recalls Rothko, Bauhaus architecture, and experimental jazz. Functioning as sculpture and painting, textured slabs of layered white birch, encaustic coated black, and highly reflective black Plexiglas participate in a precise but lively composition that subtly, yet powerfully, connects with the gallery’s positive and negative spaces.

Intricate, mosaic-like patterns made from permanent ink and markers mask, (yet don’t), the impermanency of the cardboard product boxes from which Anthony Baab has assembled his installation, “Cover the Earth IV.” Baab has a created an installation in which the assembly of cardboard boxes, positioned in tentative layers, one on top of the other, evokes the playfulness of a child’s homemade fort.

However, through his subtle (yet not) references about commercialism, consumerism, and mass-production, Baab conveys an underlying message about society’s impermanent environments and structures that belies the installation’s lighthearted visage.

“Built Environments” continues at the Epsten Gallery, 5500 W. 123rd St., Overland Park, through Jan. 21. Hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday. For more information (913) 266-8414 or www.epstengallery.org

Anne Marie Hunter

Anne Marie Hunter is a writer and photographer who holds a B.S. in speech and art history from Northwestern University and a M.A. in Art Education from Southern Oregon University. Her work includes newspaper, magazine and corporate photography and writing assignments and projects. You can view and read her work at annemariehunter.com.

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