As you approach the Jaffe-Friede Gallery in the Hopkins Center at Dartmouth College, where you would normally expect to see white walls, the standard for most art galleries, you see black. When you enter the gallery, you’re plunged into darkness.
But as your eyes begin to adjust, there is one immediately apparent light source: a two-dimensional silver moon hanging flush to the wall directly opposite the entrance.
Titled Illuminator XVII, it’s the work of Lithuanian-born, New York-based artist Zilvinas Kempinas.
It doesn’t have the Man in the Moon face, but it has a rough surface that mimics the topographical peaks and craters you’d expect to see in a planetary satellite. And it has the glow of Earth’s moon in the night sky.
Not far from Illuminator XVII is a black square sitting low to the ground, titled Bearings. Inset in the square is a black sphere, whose flat surface is alive with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of tiny steel ball bearings moving in a pattern of concentric circles, some in groups of three or four, some alone.
Some hurry to join other nuclei, while others suddenly veer off. There’s something hypnotic about watching the ball bearings swimming toward and away from each other. When you look closely, you see that the bearings are held in place on the surface by a shiny viscous substance (which turns out to be mineral oil) that also heightens their silver gleam.
So, how is this done? Who’s the wizard behind the curtain?
Kempinas is an artist-in-residence this winter term in the college’s Department of Studio Art. The show at Jaffe-Friede includes five pieces in all.
Born in 1969, Kempinas was the recipient in 2007 of the Calder Prize (named for the American sculptor Alexander Calder), which goes to an artist in the early stages of his or her career who has demonstrated great promise and formal innovation.
Kempinas has exhibited his installations at the Venice Biennale, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Tinguely Museum in Basel, Switzerland, among others.
He was awarded a bachelor of fine arts from the Vilnius Art Academy in 1993 and immigrated to New York in 1997, earning an master of fine arts degree from Hunter College in 2002. Although Kempinas studied painting as an undergraduate, he said that “painting was a little too decorative for me. I wanted more aggressive, physically engaging works.”
After nearly 20 years in New York, he said in an interview at the gallery, he feels less like a specifically Lithuanian artist and, given the global art scene, more like an international one.
He is represented by Vartai Gallery in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, and by the Leme Gallery in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
It’s rare, Kempinas said, for him to install as many as five pieces in one space at one time. But he likes the way the five pieces in Jaffe-Friede complement one another.
They’re distinct from each other but when you consider them together they suggest a unified artistic philosophy.
Their lines are elegant, spare and clean. The word you might use would be “minimalist,” or “minimalism,” after the 1960s and 1970s art movement that stripped paintings and sculpture down to the building blocks of line and color. But other words spring to mind, as well. Architectural. Neoclassical. Clarity. Ingenious.
You’d guess that such descriptives (mine, not Kempinas’) might keep viewers at a remove. It’s hard to get worked up about the chilly neutrality of some Minimalist pieces. But these Kempinas pieces draw in their audience.
“I create certain situations for people to get engaged in,” Kempinas said. “It’s about perception, how you see things. That’s what interests me.”
It’s important to him, he said, that his use of materials is efficient, and that the forces that make some of his works go, like gravity, light and air, are both natural and invisible to the audience. He doesn’t want to impose technology with a heavy hand, and he avoids theatrical lighting.
Take the two works on either side of the moon (Drift, on the far left of the gallery as you enter; and Focus, on the far right).
What you see, in each case, are spinning circles floating just above the floor. Each circle is made up of two large loops of narrow magnetic tape, and as they move they flicker, leap and eddy, as if they were endowed with life.
But how do they remain aloft? (Ceiling fans positioned above each pair of magnetic tape loops send down a cone of air that, when it hits the ground, elevates the loops so that they are continually airborne.)
And at the far end of the gallery, on a stand-alone wall that is the only white surface in the place, is a large triangle that, at a glance, appears to consist of scores of pins placed at an equidistance and attached to each other by threads that run horizontally and vertically.
Only, not so fast.
Those aren’t threads; they’re the shadows cast by an overhead light that produces an illusion of a network of joined lines. Kempinas calls it 186,000 mi/s, shorthand for the speed of light.
Kempinas has watched people watch his works. He’s noticed that “the reactions I’m getting are very similar, wherever they’re shown. Which proves to me that human beings have the same essence,” he said.
Gerald Auten, an artist and professor who managed the Studio Art exhibition program, first noticed Kempinas’ work when he saw photographs of his installation in the Lithuanian Pavilion at the 2009 Venice Biennale.
Called TUBE it consisted of hundreds of long strips of magnetic tape, arranged horizontally and separated from each other at an equidistance, that Kempinas fashioned into a kind of tunnel through which a visitor could walk.
“There was this amazing transformation of the material,” Auten said. “Who doesn’t like magnetic tape? It seems so light and greasy and reflective and silky, but it’s strong, too. For him to take such a minimal material and transform an 80 foot or 100 foot room like that was extraordinary.”
Auten, along with the committee of faculty who decide which artists to invite for residencies, asked Kempinas to come to Dartmouth about a year ago.
Kempinas came up last summer to scope out the gallery, and once he saw it, he said, he knew exactly how he would configure the space. He was taken with the gallery’s shiny cement floor, which ended up playing into the way the pieces reflect off each other.
His works involve both art and engineering: “For each piece I develop new skills. I have to figure out how to do this, I have to figure out how to do that,” he said.
The objective in each piece, he said, is to “resolve certain curious problems for myself,” he said.
Once that’s accomplished, “I move on to something else,” Kempinas said.
The works of Zilvinas Kempinas are on view in the Jaffe-Friede Gallery in the Hopkins Center through March 5.
Openings and Receptions
The ninth annual high school exhibition at the AVA Art Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon opens Friday evening with a reception and award ceremony from 5 to 7 p.m. For those who have never taken in the show, it’s quite an amazing collection of art from talented student artists working in ceramics, drawing, painting, photography, printmaking, digital art, sculpture and wearable art.
This year the gallery has had nominations from 17 New Hampshire and Vermont schools: Hanover High School, Hartford High School, Holderness School, Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, Lebanon High School, Ledyard Charter School in Lebanon, Mascoma Valley Regional High School, Newport High School, Oxbow High School in Bradford, Vt., Proctor Academy in Andover, N.H., Rivendell Academy in Orford, Sharon Academy, Stevens High School and Sugar River Valley Regional Technical Center in Claremont, Thetford Academy, Woodstock Union High School and Woodsville High School.
The judge for this year’s awards is artist Roger Goldenberg, an educator and founder of “In Ears ‘n’ Eyes,” a program for students that brings together art and jazz in the classroom. The exhibition runs through March 10.
Opening on Monday at White River Gallery at BALE in South Royalton is the exhibition “Expansions,” a show of acrylic paintings by artist and illustrator Jasper Tomkins. It runs through April 30.
Aging Resource Center, Lebanon. The Senior Art program exhibition is on view through mid-March. Hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Arabella, Windsor. The gallery exhibits works by local artists and artisans in a variety of media, including jewelry, oils, acrylics, photography, watercolors, pastels and textiles.
Baker-Berry Library, Dartmouth College, Hanover. “Tibetan and Himalayan Lifeworlds” runs through March 31 in Dartmouth College’s Baker-Berry Library.
BigTown Gallery, Rochester, Vt. “Figuration,” which features the works of Lucy Mink Covello, Mark Goodwin and Fulvio Testa, runs through Feb. 25.
Chandler Gallery, Randolph. “Story Lines,” which features work by Ed Koren, Randolph cartoonist Phil Godenschwager, Burlington’s Alison Bechdel and other faculty and artists from the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction is on view through March 11.
Center for the Arts, New London. The center has organized a show of work by Penny Koburger at the New London Inn, and a show of pastels and oils by Gwen Nagel at the Lake Sunapee Bank on Main Street. In celebration of Youth Art Month, work by students from New London Elementary School is also view at the Whipple Gallery in New London. All three shows end April 29.
Converse Free Library, Lyme. “Gillian Tyler: A Golden Anniversary Retrospective” is up in the Betty Grant Gallery through March.
Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon. The winter exhibitions include stained glass by Kathleen Curwen; wildlife paintings by Bradley Jackson; watercolors by Kathleen Fiske; a selection of work from the Vermont Watercolor Society; photographs by Seth Goodwin; pen and ink drawings by David Cooper; and photographs by Ruth Connor, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the Geisel School of Medicine, who spent time in Western Kenya documenting the work done by I-Kodi, a grassroots non-governmental organization dedicated to improving education and healthcare in the region. Through March.
Hanover League Fine Craft Gallery. An exhibition of new jewelry by Upper Valley artists Amanda Cloud, Brenna Colt, Susan Gallagher, Maria Gross, Rosemary Orgren, Matteo Sadaat, Elizabeth Schwartz and Sandra Seymour continues through Feb. 28.
Hood Downtown, Hanover. “Let the Garden Eram Flourish,” a show of painting, video and drawings by Iranian-born, Brooklyn-based artist Bahar Behbahani, continues through March 12.
Kilton Library, West Lebanon. A selection of work from the Hanover Street School and the Mount Lebanon Elementary School will be exhibited at the library: Hanover Street students show their art through March 22; Mount Lebanon students’ work will be on view April 6 through May.
Library Arts Center, Newport. “Kent Stetson: The Art of Handbags” runs through March 24.
Long River Gallery and Gifts, Lyme. The works of Hanover fiber artist Shari Boraz and silversmith and jeweler Case Hathaway-Zepeda continue through March 5.
“As If — Weavings From Oz,” by Henniker, N.H., artist Doug Masury continues at the Long River store in White River Junction.
Osher at Dartmouth, Hanover. The photographs of Mary Gerakaris are exhibited in “Reality to Abstraction — A Photographic Journey of Perception” through Feb. 24 at the Osher office at 7 Lebanon St., in Hanover.
Royalton Memorial Library, South Royalton. A show of work by 20th-century commercial artist Louis Chap is up through Saturday.
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.
Tunbridge Public Library. “Two Perspectives of Rural Vermont,” a show of multi-media collages by South Strafford artist Jeanne McMahan, and pen and ink drawings by Peter Neri, of Sharon, runs through March 26.
Two Rivers Printmaking Studio, White River Junction. An exhibition of prints by Sheri Tomek runs through March 31.
Zollikofer Gallery, Hotel Coolidge, White River Junction. A show of paintings by West Lebanon resident Mary Jane Morse ends Saturday.
Nicola Smith can be reached at email@example.com.
Zilvinas Kempinas, an artist-in-residence at Dartmouth College's Department of Studio Art, is represented by Vartai Gallery in Vilnius, Lithuania, and Leme Gallery in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The name of the gallery in Brazil was omitted and his relationship to Vartai Gallery was incorrect in an earlier version of this story.