Iregret not having gotten to the Lilley Museum sooner. (It’s been a hectic summer.) The current exhibition Oh, Joy! The Collection of Margo Piscevich opened in June and closes tomorrow, and I wish I’d relayed this thought while you still had ample time to see it.
One delightful thing about being part of the Northern Nevada art community—particularly (but not exclusively) the part of it that orbits around the University of Nevada, Reno—is watching a decades-long conversation unfold among generations of artists in the form of sculptures, paintings, and prints. Teachers, students, and mentors have been learning each other’s techniques, riffing off each other’s aesthetics, and inspiring each other for generations. Take retired professor Michael Sarich. His elegantly brash mashups of Mickey Mouse, devil girls, Virgin Marys, and other pop-culture icons staked their claim in the hearts of local art lovers in the 80s and never lost their grip. Meanwhile, his proteges—and their proteges—continue to pay homage to his style as they carry forth their own practices. In most UNR student exhibitions in recent years, there’ve been visible traces of Sarich’s lineage. Same goes for other former instructors like Jim McCormick, Robert Morrison, Edw Martinez, and Walt McNamara.
When Margo Piscevich, a Reno attorney, set out to collect artworks, her goal wasn’t to document the art faculty’s lineage. It was simply to collect the work that speaks to her. Lucky for us, it also turns out that Oh, Joy! is a substantial and representative snapshot of this long-running conversation between generations of UNR artists.
The collection includes works by all of the above-mentioned professors plus a few other locals (such as Nancy Peppin), landscape painters from places like Elko County (Ron Arthaud) and Tahoe (Phyllis Shafer), and a handful of prominent national artists including Rudy Autio, Andy Warhol, and Jaune Quick-To-See Smith (whose retrospective at the Whitney closes this Sunday).
The juxtapositions of local and national work don’t come off as a cheap tactic to legitimize Nevada art. It’s more like this show is asserting that all of these artists are participating in the same ongoing conversations whether they’re in a major art hub or a smallish Western city. Bulbous ceramic works on adjacent pedestals by Autio and Sarich make it look as if they might as well have been college roommates. (According to UNR’s Austin Pratt, they did actually know each other back in the 80s in Montana.)
If you’re already familiar with the UNR-centered art scene, this show might hit you like it hit me: It feels nostalgic, fresh and urgent all at the same time—urgent because it’s a moment-in-time snapshot of a particular era of beloved professors, their peers, and the wider art world that’s informed them.
If you’re new in town (or new to the art world or new to the UNR community), I recommend getting a good look at this exhibition. The names and images you’ll encounter have laid that groundwork for a conversation that still continues. When, in the future, you see Richard Jackson’s ceramic skull heads in Midtown bars or Austin Pratt’s paintings in a gallery, or work by any number of recent, current, or future students, they might seem a little more like family after you’ve soaked in Piscevich’s collection.
I can’t think of a show that’s connected the past and the present of Reno art as intimately and lovingly as this one has. It’s an exquisitely rare treat. And this is your only chance to see it. There’s no catalog. The show isn’t traveling, and it’s not online. Again, my bad on the timing, but if you’re able, I’d cancel today or tomorrow’s lunch plans and make a beeline.
Oh, Joy! The Collection of Margo Piscevich is on view at the Lilley Museum of Art at UNR through tomorrow, Aug. 12. Friday and Saturday hours are noon-4 pm. Admission is always free.
Fall semester has not yet begun, so parking in the metered spaces on the ground floor of the Whelan Garage on Virginia Street is unusually easy at the moment.
Photos: Kris Vagner