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Delta, then and now 

Arts Center exhibits offer the big picture in regional art.

1958 WINNER
  • 1958 WINNER

From abstract expressionist oils to chunks of stone suspended by wires, the Arkansas Arts Center pretty well covers the regional art scene, contemporary and historic, with its 50th annual “Delta Exhibition” and Delta retrospective “50/50.” The latter is the zinger, featuring some of the best of the “Delta” since its debut in 1958, works gleaned from the Arts Center's collection and private hands both.

Though the 2007 Delta includes what have to be the biggest installation pieces ever — a collection of giant, curving antique window frames joined together at angles, Greely Myatt gone 3D, and the aforementioned rocks suspended from guy wires by Memphis artist Mike Dudkin-Berlant — it is “50/50” that has the monumental feel.

Robert Bailey's beach scene in deeply saturated blocks of reds, pinks and blues, the first-place prize winner in 1958, wasn't an avant-garde painting for the time. Jackson Pollock's dripped abstract revelations were a decade in the past when Bailey, from Kansas City at the time, was making his gentle “The Beach at Arrabida.” But Bailey was appreciated then, and will be now, for his mastery of color and composition.

The winners trend along national lines, moving from abstract expressionism, both soaked and layered, to the return to the figurative and the rise of installation art. Along the way are a stylized landscape by Townsend Wolfe (1963, now hanging in a gallery named for the long-time Arts Center director), the giant figurative polymer-on-wood “Cinzano” by Sammy Peters (1967), a large geometric piece by Tarrence D. Corbin (1975), a window and clapboard study by Al Allen (1984), a multimedia collage by Robert Reep (1989), a self-portrait by a young Kevin Kresse (1991) and an installation piece involving string hanging from a wire by Jean Flint (1996).

The exhibit brochure gives a brief history of the Delta in all its manifestations. A list of all Delta jurors is posted (which includes 2007 juror James Surls, whose own wood sculpture was a Grand Award winner in 1973).

The 2007 Delta — hung in the atrium as well as the Jeannette Rockefeller Gallery outside the Wolfe gallery — is, like its most recent predecessors, an eclectic assemblage of the conceptual, photographic, ironic and bizarre. Into that last category falls Tulsa artist Joni Younkins-Herzog's “Lust and Anxiety,” two large red tongues with legs and big toes squaring off. It's the kind of piece that people who look at a lot of art call “fun.”

The year's Grand Award went to a conceptual piece, “World Map,” in which the continents and oceans are defined by hundreds of tiny plastic toy soldiers, by Andy Magee of St. Louis, a Pocahontas native.

Myatt's window-frame installation, “Here and There,” which appears to be propped up by crutches, repeats the love of the arc found in some of his two-dimensional work. Its corner placement is a little smothering (if a piece that is mostly air can be smothered), but maybe the Memphis artist intended it that way.

Conceptual artist and former Delta Grand Award winner John Salvest of Jonesboro stacks used soaps in a ceramic soap dish for a work that's graceful and surprisingly beautiful, thanks to the pillow shapes and soft colors of the soap.

Representational work is in the minority here; in that genre, Little Rock's Ariston S. Jacks' “Tri-Triptych” is worth a study: Nine small pen and ink panels depict African American figures, aliens and scenery in a complex, cartoonish style that marries R Crumb and John Biggers.

Mixed media gets a good workout here: See “Colonial is Good Bread” by V.L. Cox of North Little Rock, who has placed an old screen door, bread advertisement and all, atop her life-size image of a black woman, so that she peers through the screen.

Fifteen of the 61 pieces in the show are photographs; Benjamin Krain's “Gaza Beach” is a standout, just what you'd expect from this local photographer:.

Both exhibits run through Jan. 20.

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