Art Notes: Gerald Auten’s Drawings Pose Questions About Seeing

  • Gerald "Jerry" Auten, artist and head of Dartmouth Studio Art exhibitions program, points out the anatomy of his 1992 piece, "Nuclear Waste Repository for the Mall in Washington DC," at his gallery exhibit at Duckworth Museum on Monday, May 15, 2017, in Meriden, N.H. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Gerald "Jerry" Auten, artist and head of Dartmouth Studio Art exhibitions program, at his gallery exhibit at Duckworth Museum on Monday, May 15, 2017, in Meriden, N.H. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Gerald "Jerry" Auten, artist and head of Dartmouth Studio Art exhibitions program, explains his 2017 piece, "7. Secrets," at his gallery exhibit at Duckworth Museum on Monday, May 15, 2017, in Meriden, N.H. The piece sits on the floor of the exhibit under glass and is composed of cut-up museum announcements colored in with sharpie. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, May 25, 2017

Gerald Auten, the director of the Studio Art Exhibition Program at Dartmouth College and a senior lecturer in studio art, grew up in the flat farmlands of western Iowa, without any particular exposure to art. As a freshman at the University of Iowa, though, he had a chance but decisive encounter.

Wandering through the university museum, he spotted a small painting, Natura Morte, by Giorgio Morandi, the 20th-century Italian master of still lifes. Four objects — hard to tell exactly what they are: maybe a carafe, maybe a candle, jars — are arranged together on a flat surface, against the backdrop of what might be a wall. The white, cream, taupe and beige colors seem to seep into each other and into the space behind them.

What is the relation of the objects to one another, and to us? What is Morandi, who painted in a ghost of a signature on the bottom left hand corner, telling us about time and permanence? Where does one space begin and another end?

The mystery of it stopped Auten in his tracks.

“The hair on the back of my neck stood up. It still remains one of my favorite paintings,” Auten said in an interview at the Aidron Duckworth Museum in Meriden, where he is exhibiting older and recent works on paper in the show “geraldautenpower.”

Auten uses the simplest of materials, graphite pencil, Sharpie markers and paper to make his drawings, which are part architectural drawing, part science-fiction and fantasy.

In his meticulously rendered drawings, most of which were made in the early 1990s, Auten asks us to consider how a culture memorializes itself, and which objects serve as unwitting markers of a civilization.

One drawing, executed with the precision of an architectural blueprint, shows a nuclear waste repository in the shape of a ziggurat on the Mall in Washington, D.C.  In another series, an obelisk in a mall parking lot also functions as a surveillance camera.

Auten’s original goal was to be a dentist: steady work, decent hours, good pay. Morandi changed that. In his sophomore year at Iowa, Auten told his parents there’d been a change in plans. He was going into art or architecture instead. It wasn’t entirely out of left field: as a kid he loved to build things and to figure out how the playgrounds, schools and buildings around him were constructed.

“I think they wanted a free dentist but they were very supportive,” Auten said with a laugh, somewhere between a sputter and a snicker, that sounds as if it had been dreamed up by Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.

Auten’s irreverence belies a wired intensity that emerges when he talks about some of the artists and architects he most admires: the Iowa-trained, Los Angeles-based sculptor Charles Ray and architect Louis Kahn, whose library at Phillips Exeter Academy Auten has visited numerous times, often with Dartmouth students.

Auten earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in drawing and painting from the University of Iowa. While there he met the painter Ben Frank Moss, who became a mentor, and who later moved to Dartmouth to teach. Auten earned an M.F.A. in 1986 from Washington University in St. Louis. His wife, Sue Lennon, was in nursing school in Iowa and their son, Walt, was born in 1985. They moved to Solon, Iowa, where they rented an old bank building. Their home was upstairs, and his studio was downstairs.

In the interest of earning a living, Auten fell back on the trade he’d learned from his father: extermination. For three years Auten had a thriving business in Jerry’s Pest Control, ridding Solon and surrounding Johnson County of vermin and insects. (Some of his Dartmouth colleagues call him for advice on how to eliminate pests, he said, miming someone speaking sotto voce into a phone.)

After his wife graduated from nursing school they moved to Milwaukee, where he received a master’s in architecture. Moss eventually lured Auten to Dartmouth to teach in 1993, and Auten became director of the exhibition program two years later.

“I love working with artists and exhibitions. We go to their studios to talk about what they want to do and it’s always rewarding,” Auten said.

There are two relatively recent works in the show that Auten has positioned on the floor. At first glance, they seem utterly and unrelievedly black. As you bend over to get a closer look you can see that Auten has scratched words into the dense, shiny, onyx surface, which he made using a Sharpie that he ran back and forth across the paper over and over and over. Words and marks aren’t just incised into the blackness, but also scratched over or erased.

“There’s a lot that’s hidden,” Auten said. “I’m doing work that requires people to pay attention.”

He watched people at the exhibition’s opening reception as they walked around the works on the floor.

“It gets you to look at something differently, when it’s on the floor. You lean over and you see yourself. There’s so much we’re processing. I think it causes you to pay attention in a different way, like looking into a well,” he said.

What Auten would like to do in the future is to cast heavy glass that he could place three or four feet above the works on the floor, or works like them, so that the viewer has to really look hard to discern what is going on. Even better if he can find older glass, the kind that often has ripples or waves in it and that has a clarity and translucency that modern glass lacks.

“Humans are so optically sophisticated: you know how humans pick up on the smallest details?” he said. “But how much can we really see and pay attention to?”

“geraldautenpower” continues at the Aidron Duckworth Museum in Meriden through June 8. “Healing Arts: Painting & Poetry,” by Aidron Duckworth is on view through July 23.

Openings and Receptions

“The Syrian Experience as Art,” a traveling exhibition of work by 11 Syrian artists reflecting on their country’s civil war and refugee crisis, opens Friday evening at ArtisTree Gallery in South Pomfret with a reception from 5:30 to 7:30. Former Rutland Mayor Christopher Louris will speak at the reception.

The Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish opens for the season this weekend. Its premier show this spring in the Picture Gallery is an exhibit of work by Brooklyn artist Katie Bell, who was a 2016 Saint-Gaudens Fellow. Bell, who grew up in Illinois, makes large-scale, multi-media constructions. The show opens Saturday, and there will be a reception on June 24, from 4:30 to 6 p.m.; Bell will give a talk at 5 p.m. The exhibition continues through July 16.

Call for Entries

The AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon will present the biennial Juried Summer Exhibition beginning July 14 and running through Aug. 23. The Juried Summer Exhibition was an annual fixture at the gallery from 1993 through 2013 when the decision was made to make it a biennial exhibition. Entries for this year’s exhibition are currently being accepted through June 1. For a description of the criteria for entries, go to ava.org.


Arabella, Windsor. The gallery exhibits works by local artists and artisans in a variety of media.

BigTown Gallery, Rochester, Vt. An exhibition of photographs by Rosamond Purcell, the Boston writer and photographer, runs through July 29. Prints and sculpture by the late Hugh Townley are on view through Sept. 10.

Chandler Gallery, Randolph. “These Green Mountains,” an exhibition of work by Vermont artists and artisans, runs through June 17.

Center for the Arts, Lake Sunapee. The CFA sponsors three exhibitions throughout the Lake Sunapee region. An exhibition of landscape photography by James Mudie and photographs of flowers by Richard Gulezian is on view at the Lake Sunapee Bank’s micro gallery. Mary Beth Westward exhibits landscapes at Whipple Hall in New London. The second annual Center for the Arts exhibition, featuring oil, watercolor and acrylic paintings, as well as drawings and mixed media, is on view at the New London Inn. All three shows end July 29.

Cider Hill Art Gallery, Windsor. Cider Hill is open for the season with exhibitions of sculpture, painting and environmental installations by Steven Proctor, Herb Ferris, Gary Haven Smith, the Mythmakers and Gary Milek.

Converse Free Library, Lyme. Lyme artist Matt Brown exhibits “Woodblock Prints: Parts and Process” through May 31.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon. “Shedding Light on the Northern Forest,” an exhibition of paintings by Kathleen Kolb with accompanying poetry by Verandah Porche, is on view in the Endoscopy Hallway Gallery, Level 4, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, through June.

Also on view at the hospital are: the annual employee and volunteer art show; paintings by Helen Shulman and Annette Jaret; photographs by Ron Levenson and oils and watercolors by Patricia Sweet-MacDonald.

Hall Art Foundation, Reading. “Hope and Hazard: A Comedy of Eros,” a show of more than 80 paintings on the subject of romantic and sexual love; “Ready. Fire! Aim,” a collaboration between the foundation and Burlington City Arts; and a solo show by David Shrigley continue through Nov. 26.

Hood Downtown, Hanover. “World Processor,” an exhibition of illuminated globes by Ingo Gunther, ends Sunday.

Hopkins Center, Hanover. The Dartmouth Department of Studio Art ends the year with an exhibition of art by 19 graduating seniors who have majored in art. Their work is being shown in the Hopkins Center’s Jaffe-Friede and Strauss galleries and also in the Nearburg Gallery and Arts Forum at the Black Family Visual Arts Center. The shows run through June 18.

Kilton Library, West Lebanon. A selection of work from Mount Lebanon School students will be on view through May.

League of N.H. Craftsmen Hanover Fine Craft Gallery. The gallery exhibits works by jeweler Deirdre Donnelly and fiber artist Tarja Cockell through June.

Long River Gallery and Gifts, White River Junction. Lili Mayor shows recent work in the exhibition “Woodcuts Re-Expressed” through July 6.

Main Street Museum, White River Junction. “Death by A Million Paper Cuts,” with works by White River Junction collagist Greg Brower, runs through May.

Norwich Public Library. “Odanaksis: Plein Air Paintings,” an exhibition of work by artists Anne Webster Grant, Gail M. Barton, Helen Elder, Susan Rump, Linda Landry, Jo Tate and Becky Cook ends this Friday.

OSHER at Dartmouth, Hanover. Margaret Sheehan and Cindy Heath exhibit fiber art through June 28.

Philip Read Memorial Library, Plainfield. Prints by Barnard artist Sabra Field are on view through July 1.

Roth Center, Hanover. Artist and textile designer Shari Boraz shows her works in “Continuing Explorations in Fiber” through June 18.

Royalton Memorial Library, South Royalton. “Frances & Friends,” an exhibition of fiber crafts, paintings, photographs, and drawings by six South Royalton-area artists is up is through July 14.

Scavenger Gallery, White River Junction. The works of printmaker Lois Beatty and sculptor and woodworker Ria Blaas are on view, in addition to the jewelry of Stacy Hopkins.

SculptureFest, Woodstock. The annual celebration of three-dimensional art generally ends when foliage season does, but 80 percent of the show is still on view. “Grounding,” a show of site-specific work curated by sculptors Jay Mead and Edythe Wright, is on view at the King Farm. For more information, go to sculpturefest.org.

White River Gallery, South Royalton. W. David Powell, of Underhill, Vt., shows his work in the exhibition “The Golden Era of the New Dawn.” An opening reception is planned for June 3, from 4 to 6 p.m. The show runs through July 1.

Zollikofer Gallery, Hotel Coolidge, White River Junction. “God & Pony Show” brings together prints by W. David Powell and the mixed-media collages of Deluxe Unlimited, the nom d’art of Corinth native Ben Peberdy. A reception is planned for June 2, 5 to 7 p.m., and the show is up through July 12.

Nicola Smith can be reached at nsmith@vnews.com.