By Jacob Beach
1977 was the last time Barry Gunderson had an exhibit on the Ohio Wesleyan campus. Gunderson is a sculptor from Minnesota and has been working for Kenyon College since 1974 as a professor of sculpting. The exhibit itself showcases five different series that Gunderson has been working on throughout his career. The names of these series are “Dirt”, “Liverpool”, “Versailles”, “UMOs” and “Head Cases.” Each one has a different story to tell and uses different techniques.
“All art on display have to relate to the classroom and art department,” said Justin Kronewetter, director of Ross Art Museum. “Barry is all 3D work. His work relates to one of the areas of the art department and campus programming.”
The first series on display when entering the Ross Art Museum are Gunderson’s “UMOs.”
This acronym stands for Useless Metal Objects. According to Gunderson, the pieces are a series of 50 welded and painted aluminum sculptures that “are not useless at all.”
“I love the power I have to manipulate this lightweight, yet strong material into whatever form I need,” he said.
Gunderson uses several techniques of “grinding, mark-making and adding paint.… Pattern making and surface details are vital.”
According to Gunderson, this is the very first time that he has seen all his UMOs in one place since he began sculpting them five years ago. Kronewetter said he’s pleased to offer Gunderson the opportunity to show his entire collection at the Ross.
“I am happy to provide him enough space in a professional venue so that he can show off his work all together.”
Surrounding the UMOs is a series called “Head Cases,” which are wooden faces and heads that depict, according to Gunderson, “the worries and thoughts that interrupt that full night’s sleep.”
The middle room of the art gallery contains the series called “Dirt,” which “explores the abstract patterns of plowing, tilling, seeding and growing.”
This series stems from Gunderson’s Minnesota upbringing and is influenced largely by the work of painter Grant Wood. “I work from both memory and imagination,” Gunderson said. “…Every time I go home we drive through the farmlands in the northwest and certain patterns just stick in my head.”
In the back room of the museum is the final series being shown at Ohio Wesleyan, “Liverpool.”
Gunderson produced the project—a series is based on his fascination with terrace houses—during his sabbatical in 2005.
“I quickly became interested in those long strings of houses where individual owners assert their individuality with distinct divisions of color, pattern and building material even when the structural integrity is disrupted,” he said.
Gunderson said he finds his art and work to be relaxing and therapeutic, but stressful at times.
“I work all the time except in class time, I am one of those guys that is not happy when I am not in the studio; my wife knows I get cranky when I am out of the studio for a couple of days, and it is rare not to see me in there,” he said.
The exhibit’s design was envisioned and set up as a collaborative effort between Gunderson, Kronewetter and his studio design class.
Kronewetter went to Gunderson’s house to see the collection before setting it up. “Justin had a vision,” Gunderson said. “They came to my house, I showed them my collection and they collected it and arranged a beautiful exhibit, in my opinion.” It takes an average of 10 days to set up an exhibit, according to Kronewetter. He said a “workforce” of 12 students was instrumental in preparing the show.
“The gallery couldn’t exist without them,” he said. “The students are in charge of moving sculpture stands, pulling nails, patching nail holes and loading the truck and trailer.”
Kronewetter said he thinks viewers of exhibits often don’t realize the work that goes into putting them together.
“A lot of people think exhibits seem like apples falling off a tree—they just appear,” he said. “Most people walk through that door, they had an enjoyable experience, but had no idea what it took to just get the musicians, prepare the food or cleaning.
“A majority of the students will never visit Ross their entire college career and it is a shame because not only does their money help pay for exhibits, they are missing out on a whole dimension,” Kronewetter said.
Gunderson said art is a valuable position in today’s society but he is still concerned where its future lies. “Art shares our vision of the world in such a way that the people that don’t do art can appreciate things around them,” he said. “Art is valuable. I am fearful where the country is going. Kids are not being served art, and our curriculum is suffering.”
According to Kronewetter, you don’t necessarily have to go to the Ross Art Museum to enlighten yourself.
“Read a good book, listen to a symphony, have an enjoyable enlightening experience,” he said. “It is a dimension of the college experience that most students are missing.”
Many of Gunderson’s larger works can be found at a number of other universities and locations throughout the United States and in New Zealand.