Students, faculty, staff, and visitors might be familiar with some parts of Pittsburg State’s permanent art collection, as individual works are displayed across campus, but they likely are not aware of the full scope of it. A new exhibition, “Abstractions from the PSU Permanent Collection,” in the University Gallery in Porter Hall, will provide a glimpse into what the university’s art collection has to offer. It will be on view through Nov. 20 and is open to the public.
“The work is coming from the PSU permanent collection,” said James Oliver, chair of the art department at Pittsburg State. “The permanent collection includes works that are permanently displayed around campus–some in the Bicknell center and other buildings on campus–but we also hold quite a number of pieces that are consistently in Porter Hall and in the back of the gallery.”
The collection has works dating back to the 1940’s to some contemporary works, in all genres and media. Oliver said the artworks do not attempt to represent an accurate depiction of visual reality, but rather they distill it to shapes, colors, forms and gestural marks as a visual vocabulary highlighting relationships and process within the works.
“The work is quite interesting…it includes a variety of media, both drawing and painting, as well as prints, all of which we offer as courses in our department,” Oliver said. “The ‘Abstractions from the PSU Permanent Collection’ exhibit…is all geometric and organic abstractions that are part of that collection, all of which are former faculty, former graduate students, or friends of the University that have worked in the collection.”
The exhibit was born from the COVID-19 pandemic, as the participating artists were unable to retrieve their works after the shutdown. Oliver said no contemporary artist wants to have their work where they know where it is, but they can’t really access it, and they also want it to be seen.
“We had visiting artists last year, like we traditionally do, and many of those artists that were showing last year were unable to get their work back after we exhibited (it),” said Oliver. “Likewise, since the buildings on the campus were closed March until pretty much June, we had no visitors to the gallery, and no one got to see that work. So, in order to not have visiting artists’ work being held in the building and possibly not being seen, we chose to show a few exhibits from the permanent collection of holdings that we have in the department for the university.”
Oliver said, they are trying to make the best of a bad situation.
“I think we’re making lemonade out of lemons with the exhibition,” Oliver said. “It’s been fortunate that we’re going forward with face to face, and the gallery (and) university (are) open. With the hope that we would remain open, but the fear that we would potentially have to be online and not very many visitors would be visiting the gallery, we chose to…show from the (permanent) collections. That way we hold the work, and if it does not get seen we could leave the work up a longer time.”
Oliver said the art department traditionally host visiting artists from around the country that come to do workshops and lectures. With social distancing and the restrictions on large gatherings of people being together, they did not want to have the potential of having visiting artists not to be able to come and show their works.
“Traditionally we solicit artists or invite artists to come, and to some degree it’s part of our curriculum, because we use the gallery in the department as a teaching tool,” Oliver said.
The art department will continue to use the gallery as a teaching tool with this exhibition. Oliver hopes the department may have exhibitions that are curated from the collection again in the future.
“Our major goal is to get right back on track with visiting artists from around the country,” Oliver said. “Our students prefer it when the artists are here (and) they are able to meet with them in person and ask direct questions. So, we didn’t really want to do visiting artist lectures via zoom, because a lot of times those lectures are talks within the gallery with the work itself.”
The gallery is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For more information, contact the Department of Art at 620-235-4302.