IN HER ARTIST’S STATEMENT, Erin Stellmon explains her new exhibit is not about “one city … but the homogenization of many,” which turns out to be an accurate assessment of the monotone flavor of this show. It presents a series of collage works using repetitive decorative patterns and textiles, architectural components — and a rampant rehashing of themes and visuals from Stellmon’s previous exhibit, Reign of Glass, three years ago. An obvious sequel, Reinventing the West doesn’t present new thoughts or expand her scope of vision; it simply regurgitates and reorganizes visuals from before.
For example, we find her reusing the analog television “white noise” pattern that featured prominently in Reign, piling it under a work titled “The Ogden.” Used previously to comment powerfully on the end of analog television, here the white noise seems a less-pointed reference to the rubble of the past upon which the present is built.
Several panels reprise Reign’s theme of plant life. “Desert Bloom,” an angular form built from clustered casinos, condos and red-leafed abstractions, harkens back to Stellmon’s piece “Repeater,” in which spikey neon tubing took the form of sagebrush. The viewer’s easy realization that the structured blossom is made from buildings barely triggers a reaction, except perhaps that the shape is overwhelmed by a busy black floral pattern behind it. “Turbine” portrays trees, cliffs and bits of machinery arranged in pinwheel formations peppered with white-glitter polka dots. The piece may possibly reference plans for green-energy industries to come to Las Vegas, but does so in a vague, predictable, unimaginative form. The third panel in the trio, “The Meadows” is a lumpy island plastered with maps from Idaho, Texas, Oregon and some from Italy, surrounded by towering hotels. It states the obvious — Las Vegas is a desert melting-pot, with dashes of Europe and other locales — without adding more to that conversation.
For an artist who, in the past, has provided a variety of complex, free-form, playful, semi-violent collage structures to revert to the ease and convenience of a rectangular canvas is surprising, commercial in tone and verges upon laziness. The intricate collage structures of her previous work showed both form and content boldly occupying space, representing delightfully garish, thorny fictional casinos. Subdued against backgrounds of patterned fabric, collaged segments of raised neon piping, hotels, windows and blocks of cement struggle against decorative subjugation. The images feel like two-dimensional design exercises. And closer examination of such works as “Greek Diner,” “Dynasty” and “Run to the Hills” reveals disappointing craftsmanship, with bleeding, uneven paint edges or bits of fraying string troubling the viewing experience.
The highly decorative forms fail to comment — negatively or positively — on the preservation or destruction of the Western landscapes Stellmon claims interest in. Rather, they assume apathetic, benignly ornamental stances. Stellmon plunders architectural treasures and cankers with a willing eagerness equal to the alleged developers accused of foisting architectural blights upon Western cities.
Her stated concerns about homogenization fall victim to the evident pleasure she takes in endlessly reconfiguring the same sets of architectural elements (both historical and new). In “Paradise,” we encounter strips of ornate cement from a suburban neighborhood dotted with green hedges and raised clouds (reused from Reign) arbitrarily arranged on the quizzical backdrop of 18th-century French toile fabric. The premise seems to be dumping themed visual ingredients into a pot, hoping to produce a chemical reaction — but in this case the mixture has fizzled. Similar flat reactions transpire in “Geneology,” “Rejoice” and “Mt. Charleston.” Her blandly assembled pieces and decorative tactics result in a homogenous, repetitive series poorly echoing her previous work — prompting us to ask: Is Stellmon just going through the motions?