Tilting the Basin Realigns Contemporary Art in Nevada


From the Sky Plaza atop the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno, a panoramic view unfolds across to the Carson Range in the distance. Against this dramatic backdrop, an elegantly attired fox figure mingles with the curators, artists and guests of the newly opened Tilting the Basin exhibition. Thirty-five artists from across the State of Nevada feature in the show that aims to bridge “what some consider to be a divide between northern and southern Nevada communities”.


A number of recent smaller-scale projects have been developed with similar intentions. In 2010 the ‘Geographical Divides: Finding Common Ground’ print exchange curated by Anne Hoff and Candace Nicol brought together 16 artists working throughout Nevada. In 2013 along with five other Las Vegas-based artists, I made my first journey to Reno to participate in the interactive performance event The Traveling Miracle Show

Encouraging cultural exchange is a large component of Tilting the Basin. A number of the southern Nevada artists are scheduled to host talks, workshops and interactive events in Reno and Carson City over the duration of the show. Then in 2017, a reprised version of the exhibition will take place in Las Vegas, offering similar opportunities for the visiting northern artists.

The Trevor Paglen Orbital Reflector suspended above Tilting the Basin opening reception guests in the Donald W. Reynolds Grand Hall .

The Trevor Paglen Orbital Reflector suspended above Tilting the Basin opening reception guests in the Donald W. Reynolds Grand Hall .

Are there definitive connections in the work being produced across such a large State with a very divided population? Co-curators Nevada Museum of Art Curatorial Director and Curator of Contemporary Art JoAnne Northrup and art advisor Michele Quinn, of MCQ Fine Art Advisory in Las Vegas have visited more than fifty artist studios in the process of putting together the show. They do not see a singular aesthetic permeating artists’ work, but conclude “The distinct personality of Nevada, informed equally by nature and culture, has seeped into the work in the exhibition.”

During a panel discussion with a number of the focus artists, Northrup and Quinn ask questions designed to further explore how the nature and culture of Nevada influence their work. Both Katie Lewis and Rachel Stiff working at opposite ends of the State, talk about the meditative experience gained when taking walks through the wide open spaces that becomes an important aspect of their work process. Brent Sommerhauser sees his experience creating props for Cirque du Soleil as having a close connection to how he works in his own studio and Justin Favela describes his fun-loving fiesta works as being cultural interventions within the framework of white-dominated institutions.

Work by Brent Sommerhauser in Tilting the Basin.

Work by Brent Sommerhauser in Tilting the Basin.

In my own travels through Nevada I have seen the casino culture, the spectacular desert environment and the large-scale land art projects it contains as constant elements in both the north and south. However I’ve experienced some real cultural differences too.  On my first trip north to Reno, I was immediately seduced by the slower-paced pedestrian and bicycle-friendly river city with its abundance of character buildings and pervasive sense of community.

My second visit only reinforces those initial impressions. An invitation extended to the visiting artists to attend an after-party at a nearby studio complex offers opportunities for further connections to be forged. The friendly welcome, nearby racks of recycled bicycles and best of all – the spacious and affordable workspace - are all appreciated and commented on by the Las Vegas artists. I recall David Ryan’s remarks at the close of the panel discussion, “Look out Reno – we’re all moving here!” 

Tilting the Basin runs August 5 - October 23, 2016 and features Chris Bauder, Megan Berner, Rebekah Bogard, Mark Brandvik, Galen Brown, Erik Burke, JW Caldwell, Nate Clark, Timothy Conder, Matthew Couper, Joseph DeLappe, Gig Depio, Russell Dudley, Jeffrey Erickson, Justin Favela, Jen Graham, Sush Machida Gaikotsu, Ahren Hertel, Brent Holmes, Katty Hoover, Shawn Hummel, Eunkang Koh, Wendy Kveck, Nick Larson, Katie Lewis, Sarah Lillegard, Omar Pierce, Krystal Ramirez, JK Russ, David Ryan, David Sanchez Burr, Sean Slattery, Brent Sommerhauser, Rachel Stiff.