Exhibit challenges notion of art as purely decorative

What's over your sofa?

That's an easy question to answer.


Specials to the Journal-World

"Wallpaper Wish," by Great Bend native Bruce Helander

Why is it there?

That's a tougher question and the one being asked by a new exhibit, "A Painting for Over the Sofa (That's Not Necessarily a Painting)," at the Spencer Museum of Art.

The traveling exhibition was organized by the Bernice Steinbaum Gallery in Miami.

In the exhibit's catalog, Steinbaum says she got the idea because clients were always asking her for something they could hang over their sofa. She says the work of art became a secondary choice dictated by the furniture to surround it.

A group of 18 artists was asked to create works addressing the notion of a painting for over the sofa.

Susan Earle, director of European and American art at the Spencer, thought the show would be interesting for both students and the community.

"The idea is kind of clever and humorous," Earle says. "It gets you thinking about what you live with in your home. It's not just decoration. It says something about who you are."

Inflatable sofas are scattered throughout the gallery, anchoring the art and at the same time inviting visitors to make themselves at home.

"The sofas being inflated kind of makes fun of the whole idea. When you think of them being inflated, it sort of inflates the importance of the whole thing, which then deflates the importance," Earle says.

Now, instead of the sofa occupying the most important position in the room, the art takes center stage.

"Because it is kind of funny to think of these plastic inflated sofas, it draws attention to the art itself and the issues that the art raises," Earle says.

Not every work is a painting. The artists use various mediums to further play with the notion of art for over the sofa. Sculpture, photography, mirrors and paintings all have a place in the exhibit, and they address topics ranging from self-reflection to death.

Bruce Helander, a Great Bend native, contributed a paper collage called "Wallpaper Wish."

"(His collage) is a nice kind of play on bringing together all sorts of different things that you might want to see on your wall, in one piece," Earle says.

The exhibit will be on display through June 20 in the Kress Gallery. Earle will give a Tour du Jour at 12:15 p.m. Thursday.

Earle is also planning a Stop Day party in conjunction with the exhibit. It will be from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. May 13.

The Spencer hopes to make museum parties a regular event at the beginning and end of each school year. Admission will be free to all Kansas University students. Free food and prizes will be available, and KJHK DJs will spin music.


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