Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

Defining Play at the Sears Art Museum

According to Sears Gallery curator, Kathy Cieslewicz, the idea for the exhibit Go Out and Play, currently on display until November 11, came to fruition in conversation with several of the artists involved about how they believe the nature of “play” has changed over the years.

The phrase “go out and play” refers to the oft repeated admonition to children to go play outside, something many of the artists feel is being lost as children spend more time playing indoors on electronic gaming devices.

Go Out and Play does illustrate a timeline of the shift in the way we play over the last century. It is believed that play has altered from mainly an exploratory game relying on imagination and generic items found around the house or out of doors, as in Dan Lewis’ “The Climbing Tree” and Arlene Braithwaite’s “Primal Pinyon Playground,” to play with specific toys, as in Katrina Berg’s “Big Twin’s Dump Truck” to more scripted play, as in Dan Whalen’s playful installation where a toy Ewok is pinned like a furry Gulliver by tiny Lego© Storm Troopers.

Children’s play also invites an examination of sociocultural nuances, as in Stephanie Bulloch’s painting “Mom’s Swim Team” where the comical expressions of the children showing their discomfort at having to sit next to a swimmer of the opposite gender is at once amusing and fascinating, especially in the context provided by the artist’s statement, explaining that the team’s events were divided by gender, with the girls participating in water ballet. This is also one of a few paintings in Go Out and Play to explore the idea of competitive sports as play.

There are several perspectives on the purpose of play within the exhibit. Some, as in Daren Wilding’s “Siblings,” and Miriam Rawson’s “Little Quilters,” show play as an enjoyable but purposeful training camp for the next generation. Others, as Larry Winborg’s painting “Once Upon a Time,” of the artist as a pirate-hatted youth drifting about on a pond in a homemade raft, depict play as an end in itself.

One dialogue missing from Go Out and Play is that of the electronic game-playing generation that the bulk of the exhibit cited in a running visual commentary. James Lanier, for one, declared in an artist statement next to his painting “Hide and Seek Let’s Play” that Hide and Seek is “one of those outside games before every child owned a cell phone.” What “play” actually looks like to a cell-phone owning, tablet-playing child might have been a very interesting component to add.

All in all, Go Out and Play effectively and pleasantly transports the viewer back to childhood, leading to introspection and nostalgia for time spent doing “what a body is not obliged to do,” to quote the character Tom Sawyer’s universal definition of play.

Go Out and Play! is at Sears Art Museum on the campus of Dixie State University in St. George through November 11.

Alisha Tolman Burton has been an independent graphic design and marketing consultant since 2008, and utilizes social media heavily for online marketing strategy, particularly for non-profit projects, such as Art On Main and the Art Around the Corner Foundation.

Tagged as:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *