Follow up note from Mel Andringa

Here's a peek at a note Mel Andringa, the Producing Director of CSPS, sent to his friends who couldn't make it to the opening for VOOM.

A couple weeks ago, Bob Wilson came to Eastern Iowa to give a talk and attend the opening of an exhibition of his VOOM Video Portraits at the University of Iowa, Museum of Art in Iowa City and at CSPS in Cedar Rapids.

He flew in from Warsaw, Poland on Wednesday evening and came straight to CSPS to oversee the installation of his work here. Although his producer/collaborator Noah Khoshbin, Matthew Shattuck of VOOM, and Joe Conway, had been laying out the show for several weeks and Noah had even flown to Europe to discuss the plan, there were some last minute changes that kept us busy all day Thursday darkening the galleries, and reinforcing walls to support the 200lb HD plasma video screens (65” diagonal.) Once we’d covered all the windows with lightweight plywood there were lots of light leaks and it’s a good thing the lights are off because the place is kept dark by miles of gaffers tape.

On Thursday evening, Bob gave a lecture with slides at EC Mabie Theater, where in 1970 Deafman Glance was first presented. The place was nearly full of students, teachers and the general public. RW didn’t disappoint and gave a nearly 2 hour-long master class in stage presence for actors; directing and writing tips for theater professionals; and anecdotes for the rest of us. He showed PowerPoint slides of his early productions and drew diagrams of them on an easel, paying particular attention to his Iowa connections. Reporters were there from the Des Moines Register and the Wall Street Journal, so you can probably get a critical view of the performance.

The next day, he returned to Cedar Rapids to have a “Conversation” with one of the directors of Legion Arts (Mel Andringa.) I tried to keep the conversation focused on Bob’s visual art, but it was quite as wide-ranging as Bob’s multidisciplinary interests. Sue Sheehy another ‘Byrd’ from the old days was in the audience and nicely chimed in her own two-bits when the subject turned to the time when Bob had a company of collaborators in New York. About 120 people attended and we received many compliments on the format and content of the discussion. (I fretted for days with the stage picture, two chairs like in ‘Stalin’, a tree stump for ‘Civil Wars’, and especially the lighting, as we all know Bob is impossible to match in that realm.)

A reception followed with wine and cheese and grapes, and Bob seemed genuinely impressed with the interests expressed about his work by our ‘Average Joe’ audience. There’s not much pretense at CSPS, and although the work was challenging to some it wasn’t intimidating and clear opinions were expressed. Two grown men who had been apes in ‘Deafman’ as children told Bob how that experience has been critical to their understanding of the potential of art. One mother wrote me the next day complaining that she was disappointed on behalf of her 14 year-old, with the number of works on display at CSPS, and Bob’s ‘monotone’ delivery. We went back and forth about what role her expectations played in her disappointment, and I think we came to understand each other’s positions without prejudice.

Then it was downstream again for an incredible buffet dinner with salmon, chicken and coconut ginger sauce, mushroom ragout on polenta, caviar and designer potato chips. Bob said a few words to the Museum’s donors about how when he first went to Paris the press thought that he was from Iowa because his press materials were full of references to his Iowa experience. As a result, he said he felt like the UI show was a homecoming. The installation in Iowa City has over 40 video screens and each one is given lots of space. Nearly the entire permanent collection has been put in storage for the duration and the lights are so low the fire marshal gave the installation extra attention. I have to say that it was very difficult to get an experience of the work at the opening with nearly 500 people attending. It’s hard to go through the exhibition with even one other person, as everyone’s attention span is different and the works don’t easily reward passing glances. They respond to study and patience, and they require a considerable investment of time. The guards must be challenged by the constant audio environment emanating from the pieces in the museum. I know there were times I missed the quiet respite from the outside world that the museum space usually provides. Those caveats aside, it’s a stunning, at times comic and moving show that is not to be missed.

Sue and John Herbert and I had the privilege of having Bob walk us through a few of the pieces and recount the story of their creation. By the end of the night, I was passing stories along to friends and people who wondered why I rated attention. Sue stayed the night at CSPS and the next day (Saturday, February 2nd) was her 67th birthday. But she couldn’t stay long as there was a snowstorm approaching and her sister who had generously driven two hours to pick her up wanted to get home before the worst of it. Pity, because no sooner did she get off than Bob showed up with a pot of pink azaleas for the birthday girl. We spent some time looking at a recent batch of jigsaw art in my studio and then he was off again.

Nearly 400 people came to CSPS in the first week of the exhibition, classes, audiences for music events and people who read about it in the paper saw the work and came away with an idea of the expanded boundaries portraiture in the 21st century may contain.

Mel Andringa
Producing Director
Legion Arts
1103 Third St SE
Cedar Rapids, IA 52401

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