Visiting the art gallery on the second floor of the Illinois State Museum is comparable to discovering a cookie factory in your neighbor’s garage, two doors away. It may be the best-kept secret in central Illinois, thanks in part to the much greater fame of the museum’s outstanding natural-history collection.
ISM’s gallery currently features two exhibitions: Carolyn Plochmann’s Between Two Worlds” and A Tone Poem in Photographs and Verse, the work of 42 photographers displayed with poetry.
First, Carolyn Plochmann. Born in Toledo but a southern Illinois resident since 1949, the 78-year-old Plochmann is an art ventriloquist whose “voice” seems to emanate from where she is not.
“She is much better known in New York City because she has shown primarily there,” says Kent Smith, ISM director of art. (Kennedy Galleries Inc. has represented Plochmann for the past 30 years.)
Smith credits Debra K. Tayes, assistant curator of fine art at ISM’s Southern Illinois Art Gallery, with pulling the show together and encouraging Plochmann to show her work: “We knew we wanted to present her work, but it was not a given that she [Plochmann] would agree.
Most of the Plochmann paintings on display are from the last five years and have not gone to public or private collections yet. They include still-lifes and shadowbox effects, some of which imply narratives without telling a story. Some are reactions to political events, including “The Invasion of Kuwait,” which graced the cover of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
“Our intention here is to show an overview of what the artist has achieved and what is being done now,” Smith says. “Carolyn focuses a great deal of her energy on creating her work, and to have accomplished this body of work is amazing. There are elements in these paintings that have been part of her painting vocabulary for the past 30 years: the figures and the way in which they are dressed. She adds layers of paint and sometimes takes them away to reveal what’s beneath the surface. It’s part of her process of coming to terms with ‘the true thing.’ She is mindful of Meister Eckhart, who said, ‘Only the hand that erases can write the true thing.’ ”
“The fact she lives in southern Illinois, in a country setting, gives her the peace and ‘apartness’ to devote the time she needs to the painting,” Smith says. “In that sense, the paintings are very much derived from her place in the world. It also has to do with her richly embellished imaginative life that is fed by the university community — friends and students from distant countries attending school in Carbondale who make it a world community, in a sense.” Eastern and Hebrew symbols, evident in many paintings, demonstrate influences from beyond the land of corn and coal.
The second ISM exhibit, A Tone Poem in Photographs and Verse, is a compendium of about 80 mostly contemporary black-and-white photographs arranged with poems that share thematic elements. Judith Burson Lloyd, based with the ISM Chicago Gallery, curated the show. Photographers include Denise Abbott, Debra Friedman, Duane Powell, and Springfield’s own Steve Ritchie. The 17 poets include Emily Dickinson, Stanley Kunitz, Octavio Paz, Gary Snyder, and Walt Whitman.
“Years ago I selected several poems for a display which was never produced, but I kept them on hand,” Lloyd says. “In 2003, I revived the concept and made several trips to Springfield to select pictures appropriate for the nest egg of poems already on hand and for an expanded display.” More than 2,000 photographs are held in the ISM collection. “The photographs, for the most part, were chosen first, but I consider the poems equal elements in the display.” The result opened to the public for the first time in Chicago in 2003.
Both shows run through Feb. 27.
In other art news:
¥ The work of 12 seniors from the Springfield campus of Robert Morris College was featured at a reception and showing Feb. 1 at the Hoogland Center for the Arts. “The goal was to demonstrate the students’ knowledge of composition but also technical skills,” says Patrick Anderson, a part-time instructor who arranged the event. “It was a great opportunity for the students to not only show off their work to Springfield but to be exposed to a larger metropolitan community where many of them hope to continue their careers in visual arts.”
¥ From the UIS Visual Arts Gallery comes news of Merge, a joint display by internationally known photographers Bea Nettles and Fern Logan. The show, marking both Black History Month and Women’s Heritage Month, runs Feb. 14–March 10. An artists’ reception, scheduled for 5: 30-7:30 p.m. March 3, will feature a presentation by UIS professor and poet Marcellus Leonard and a musical interlude by UIS alumna Denise Yates. For more information, call Emily Laverty at 217-206-6506.