The past will resurface as Montana Museum of Art & Culture showcases artworks this summer that range from whimsical to deeply contemplative.
The exhibitions, “Richard Buswell: What They Left Behind” and “James Todd: Looney Toones,” will be on display from Thursday, June 8, to Saturday, Sept. 9, in the Paxson and Meloy galleries of the Performing Arts and Radio/Television Center at the University of Montana.
Fourth-generation Montanan Buswell’s newest body of work features close-cropped photographs that capture the effects of time on the shapes, shades and patterns in ghost towns, frontier homesteads and other settlement sites.
Such works as his 2013 “Mine Bits” distill the formal qualities of disused or decrepit objects, dwelling on the play of light between undulating figures and a black background. In this case, the dulled steel of tools from the state’s mineral extraction boom a century ago vanishes into the background, evoking the transitory nature of human memory and the inevitable lapse of what was once modern.
Buswell’s fifth major exhibition of photographs to date, “What They Left Behind,” compiles 8-by-10-inch prints shot between 2012 and 2015 on 35 mm film, the former physician’s signature medium.
George Miles, a curator at Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, described Buswell’s work in his catalog essay.
“Despite their connection to objects from Montana’s past, Buswell’s explorations of form and tone are, in an important sense, ahistorical,” Miles wrote. “But those objects are not timeless. As captured by Buswell, their surfaces exhibit their histories and prophesy their futures.”
Todd’s “Looney Toones” is the product of a deeply personal rediscovery of his younger self through the record of his own artistic output. Upon his 2000 retirement from teaching at UM, Todd’s mother paid him a visit bearing a collection of drawings he had made between ages 5 and 8. He had not seen the drawings in over 50 years.
The fluid lines of his pencil drawings of American GI’s returning from war in Europe, cowboys in a shootout or a visit to the dentist seem to greet the artist – now in his 70s – across the years.
In this exhibition, he re-interprets his childhood drawings through woodcut printing, the medium for which he perhaps is best known today. By his own description, Todd decided early in his career not to confine his creative work to any particular approach or aesthetic philosophy.
By any measure, “Looney Toones” is the triumphant result of that decision, exemplifying his own definition of the modern artist, “whose expression could grow and change along with the course of the artist’s life experiences and interests.”
Each drawing accompanies a contemporary print that, while based closely on the original, embodies the intervening decades by embellishing or reimagining the child’s experience. Todd has given expression to the essentially modern human experience of encountering one’s own past across decades through both memory and creativity.
An exhibition catalog, published by University of New Mexico Press and including essays by George Miles, William Robertson Coe, the Curator at the Yale University Collection of Western Americana, and Victoria Rowe Berry, Oklahoma State University Museum of Art director, will accompany Buswell’s photographs.
A full-color catalog with complete illustrations of Todd’s “Looney Toones” also will be available in the MMAC galleries.
Both exhibitions open with a public reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, June 8, in the PAR/TV Center. A presentation by Buswell will take place in the Masquer Theatre at 6 p.m. Further programming includes a tour led by MMAC Curator of Art Jeremy Canwell at 5 p.m. Thursday, June 22.
Featured artist tours with Todd will take place from 5:15 to 6 p.m. Thursday, July 6, and from 5:30 to 6:15 p.m.Thursday, Sept. 7.
MMAC’s summer gallery hours are from noon to 3 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, and from noon to 6 p.m. Friday. The museum is closed Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and UM holidays.
The museum is open to the public with a suggested $5 donation. For more information call 406-243-2019.