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A robe hanging from the ceiling.

"Hommage a Marcel Proust" by University sculpture professor Wayne Potratz.

Going beyond their comfort zone

By Pauline Oo

September 25, 2007

Last February, University sculpture professor Tom Lane snapped a few pictures of the I-35W bridge--just to try out his digital camera. Little did he know that he would be pulling out those photos a year-and-a-half later for "Out of the Comfort Zone," an exhibit that required him to submit artwork outside his normal modus operandi, and in memory of the collapsed bridge's 13 victims. The photos show the bridge before, and also after, it fell.

"All our tenure-track art faculty are participating in this exhibit [that runs through Thursday, October 4, at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery on the West Bank Arts Quarter in Minneapolis]," says Nick Shank, gallery director. "The concept--in which faculty present work outside their usual media--has never been done before. Wayne Potratz came up with the idea."

Potratz, who teaches cast metal sculpture at the U, decided that it was time to spice up the faculty show because the annual exhibits were becoming mirror images of each other year after year. He brought up the idea at a faculty-staff meeting, and the rest, as they say, is history. "Out of the Comfort Zone" is the first faculty show in the Nash Gallery since it was relocated to the new art building (Regis Center for the Art), which opened in 2003.

Like his colleague Lane, Potratz took the exhibit as an opportunity to show off his skills in photography. His piece de resistance is a robe printed with repeated images of himself as a fisherman with his catch and what looks like random names: Levi Strauss, Dewey, Foucault, Benjamin, etc. The artwork, a homage to Marcel Proust, also comes with a larger-than-life sized barcode tag that reads, "A work of art that parades its connection to some theory, is like a garment with its price tag still attached."

Diane Katsiaficas, David Feinberg, and Gary Hallman are also among the 25 faculty involved with this most unusual University exhibit. Katsiaficas, an artist known for drawings, dug her fingers into dirt to make nine earthenware bowls. Feinberg, an associate professor of drawing and painting, experimented with heat transfer on cotton T-shirts. Hallman, a photography expert, turned his attention to black ink drawing on paper.

"Out of the Comfort Zone" is pure delight to the senses. If the many pieces in it don't make you laugh or smile, they will certainly make you ponder or frown.

The only thing missing at the exhibit is a notation on each placard of the professor's expertise or the medium he or she typically works with. That bit of information--of knowing that someone who builds with his hands is equally adept at creating with a paintbrush, for example--would only serve to double your appreciation of the works.

The Katherine E. Nash Gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Admission is free.