Some years, the Arkansas Arts Center's Delta exhibit has had a distinctly Southern look about the art. (No surprise there.) But regionalism takes a back seat this year, its 54th: The best work in the show rises above Southern themes and whimsy; the work succeeds without funny words scrawled across the surface or white edges around the picture plane, part of the Southern code.
Robyn Horn's dramatic "Landslide," massive chunks of redwood fitted together, is masterful; the Little Rock woodworker's piece would suit the Museum of Modern Art's garden perfectly. I'm not sure why it wasn't the Grand Award winner, though the sculpture that did take the prize, Ron Moorhead's "9 Zen Nuns," striding female clay figures that recall the terracotta warriors of China, is strong. Niles Wallace's sculpture is the Delta's annual nod to the organic, a huge knot of bundled carpet circles that one can't help but like (and can't help but think a cat would, too).
The photography in the Delta is particularly strong. This year, the public can vote on a People's Choice Award; mine would be Steven Jones' "Taste." The Fort Smith photographer's archival pigmented print has the palette and lighting of a Vermeer, though not the subject matter: The photo is of a chilly naked woman clutching silverware at a table set with a bowl and salt and pepper shakers. The blur of the otherworldly green shakers, the detail of the napkin and the goosebumps on the (headless) figure's arms, the slant of light, the repetition of twos — breasts, fists, shakers — it's captivating.
Benjamin Krain's metallic endura print, an aerial view of Joplin after last year's devastating tornado there tornado, is a detailed shot that demands the viewer come close to see the homes turned to sticks or upended; cars overturned, people walking about, in a grid of destruction. Then stand back to see Kat Wilson's 48-by-60 inch "Rye Hill, Fort Smith," a "Where's Waldo" of the art world: The Fayetteville photographer has posed a couple in front of their fireplace with objects that define their lives — guitars, children's books and shoes and alphabet, elephant figurines — carefully arranged about them. Keliy Anderson-Staley of Russellville has made gorgeous wet-plate collodian portraits ("Kevin" and "Helen") that shimmer in places, much like the Chuck Close prints shone last year at the Arts Center. "Helen" is a Delta Award winner.
The strength of David Bailin's Delta Award-winning "Cars" is its near monochromatic field — coffee and charcoal and water are his media — interrupted by a clearly-drawn hand covering a central figure's face.
I'm not sure why Eszter Sziksz didn't win some kind of recognition for her mesmerizing 9-minute video of screen-printed ice — that's right, ice discs with images on them — melting and, in reverse, refreezing to their original state.
Besides the winner, other strong ceramics included Aaron Calvert's "Drift," of a leaf-tattoed man and a mummy in canoe. It's quasi-mesoamerican in style; the frog the man is offering on a leaf is wonderful. Great work.
The exhibition runs through March 28 in the Townsend Wolfe Gallery. You'll pass through "Masters of American Watercolor," works from the Arts Center's collection, to get there. Review on that excellent show in future. There's a slideshow of more work from the Delta here.