American painter, Robert Henri said “A work of art is the trace of a magnificent struggle.”
Three struggles – bearing witness to Earth’s melting glaciers, navigating the isolating and disorienting experience of a global pandemic, and trying to assert one’s Indigenous identity within modern society — will soon come to artistic light.
Known for curating innovative exhibitions and forging connections between artists, art and the community, the Holter Museum of Art sets the bar for itself stunningly high with its newest art collections.
On Friday, Jan. 19, from 6-8 p.m. the Holter will host a grand opening reception for three new exhibitions.
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Explore the intersection of art and science with “The Last Glacier,” accompanied by an artist talk by Ian van Coller. In “Co-Flourish” see the collective works of over 30 artists once separated by the pandemic but brought together by a desire for collaboration and creative expression. And witness the monumental yet deeply personal paintings of Sean Chandler in “The One Defined to Be No One.”
While the artists, mediums and themes of each exhibit stand unique, their shared depictions of “magnificent struggles” are the threads that subtly stitch them into artistic union.
“The Last Glacier: Images of Our Changing Landscape”
Majestic mountains rise up against the azure backdrop of Montana’s Big Sky. White blankets of snow, once pulled up to the highest peaks, appear to shrink and slide downward and off the page. Even with just one glance, the images simultaneously depict both beauty and loss.
“The Last Glacier” collective, led by visual artists Todd Anderson, Bruce Crownover and Ian van Coller, is an ongoing art and science initiative documenting the effects of climate change on glaciers throughout the world.
It all began in 2009 when artist Todd Anderson invited friends and fellow artists Crownover and van Coller to hike together through Glacier National Park and document its rapidly retreating glaciers.
As described in a statement on the website for the “Last Glacier” project, “The experiences of hiking, seeing, and touching were transformative to the artists. Glaciers, one of the mightiest forces of the natural world, revealed themselves as fragile and more responsive to human impacts than ever imagined.”
“We have had the privilege to travel to places that most people will never be able to visit,” said van Coller. “Our art is a small attempt to take folks along for the journey, and in the process, hopefully get more people to care about those places.”
Over the past decade or so, the project has since expanded to working with scientific collaborators on convergent research projects in differing parts of the planet including Iceland, Tanzania and Colorado. Forthcoming projects already underway focus on the Canadian Arctic, deserts of Utah, Rwenzori Mountains of Uganda, and ice coring in Antarctica.
“The Last Glacier” includes 34 original artworks including color photographs of glaciers by Montana artist Ian van Coller, colorful woodcut prints of glaciers using traditional Japanese style printmaking techniques by South Carolina artist Todd Anderson, and woodcut prints and watercolors by artist and master printer Bruce Crownover from Wisconsin.
Along with the opening of “The Last Glacier” exhibit at the Holter on Jan. 19, van Coller will also be on-site at 6:30 p.m. to discuss his work in the group exhibition.
“I hope that our work brings some empathy and understanding of the natural world,” said van Coller. “There is still hope and much that can be done to save the beautiful things that exist in the world.”
From the global COVID-19 pandemic to worldwide protests against racialized violence, environmental vulnerabilities and growing disparities between the wealthy and the poor, we all faced new and overwhelming challenges in 2020. “Co-Flourish” was born from those challenges.
This multimedia exhibit features work by over 30 artists from Montana and beyond who participated in the 2020 Open AIR Residency Program. Based in Missoula, the program connects artists from all disciplines and origins, with culturally, historically and ecologically significant locations, through collaborative partnerships in Montana.
The pieces created for “Co-Flourish” were created in response to the isolation and lost opportunities many artists experienced during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Each work seems to ponder what it means for each of the artists to be connected to creativity, place and community at a time when they were seemingly separated from everything else.
“I really think the idea of having collaborative artworks done from miles away is really interesting,” said Gianna Sherman, curator for the Holter Museum of Art. “It was a good thing because everyone felt so isolated, but they were able to collaborate with people to produce art.”
The exhibit features a wide variety of mediums that offer something for everyone.
“There’s quilts, wooden and acrylic sculptures, there’s one that’s strictly audio, there’s a poem,” said Sherman. “There’s two videos — they sent us a TV to plug in,” said Sherman.
“There’s this one particular piece called ‘Labor’ that I really, really like,” said Sherman. “It’s plexiglass that looks like a dollar bill and then under it is a receipt that has been stitched what looks like thousands of times. It’s really beautiful, delicate work.”
During a time of global crisis, the artists who contributed to “Co-Flourish” rose to the occasion to try and convey the emotional rollercoaster that was 2020 in a way that goes beyond what can be read in newspapers or books or watched on television.
“The One Defined to Be No One”
Dripping in vibrant hues of red, yellow, blue and orange, each art piece on the wall appears larger and more complex than the one before it. Ancient symbols, bold patterns and mysterious figures seem to intersect and overflow about the canvas. The more one stares at the colors and designs, the more clarity is achieved in the stories they tell.
The Holter Museum of Art’s third new exhibit opening on Jan. 19 is a deeply personal collection and the first solo exhibition by artist Sean Chandler. An Aaniiih person, or belonging to the White Clay People, Chandler heralds from Glendive.
Having spent his life straddling the dichotomy of two cultures, the work in his exhibit seeks to breathe new life into the culture of the White Clay People.
“With this work, I wanted to go more in depth in showing how Indigenous people were controlled and set up to only achieve so little in American society … and myself personally, how I was defined to be no one,” Chandler said.
The impact each of his paintings has on viewers is immediate.
“Sean Chandler’s exhibit is very visually striking to me,” said Sherman. “His smallest piece is entitled his ‘Self Portrait.’ I found it very beautiful which is why I’ve made it the centerpiece of the show. It’s very powerful. It’s the smallest one amongst all these monumental works and I think it’s very powerful that it’s considered his self-portrait.”
In his artist statement for the exhibit, Chandler said “Chaotic and unanswered as a painting may seem, it confirms the disorder and grim questions created by complicated relationships between two worldviews — Indigenous and non-Indigenous. Maybe it’s peace that is sought out for balance.”
In addition to the opening of Chandler’s exhibit on Jan. 19, he will give an artist talk about his current exhibition at the Holter on Saturday, Jan. 27, at 6:30 p.m.
“I hope that people who view this work will see that I am genuine in what I express,” said Chandler. “That these are my thoughts on experiences that I have had living as me – Sean, living as an Indian person within mainstream society.”
With three new exhibits opening at the Holter as well as several new staff members, 2024 is set to be a defining year for the museum.
“I think the Holter is going through a metamorphosis,” Sherman said. “There’s an almost entirely new staff, three brand new exhibits, and we’re starting to charge admission. We’re going through a lot of changes here. But I think it feels like a new life has been breathed into it.”
“I hope to inspire curiosity about art and the reasons why we do it and the comfort that it can bring,” said Sherman.
Lacey Middlestead is a Carroll College graduate and has been freelance writing for the past 14 years for the Independent Record, various regional publications, and local marketing agencies. Contact her at laceymiddlestead.com.