Ongoing exhibition “Staging Nature” showcases the art of process at McNay

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The exhibition will continue at the Brown Gallery for a few more weeks.

SAN ANTONIO – If an art museum’s mission is figuratively rooted in the collection, its trunk nourished by preservation and its limbs stretched by exposure, an ongoing McNay exhibit is proof that the leaves of a work can also impart fresh color through recreation.

A more literal tree (albeit made of construction foam and paint) stands 15 feet tall in the center of the museum’s aptly named exhibit “Is It Real?” Staging Nature ”, and then encourages visitors to consider the imagination and motivation that brings the illusions of the natural world to life on, well, the theatrical stage.

Not only is the tree the centerpiece; it’s also the impetus for how the other 60 pieces of all shapes, sizes and shapes were neatly organized around her in McNay’s Brown Gallery, an effort led by Scott Blackshire, curator of the Tobin Collection of Theater Arts at the museum. It was around the start of his tenure in early 2019 and the San Antonio Opera’s “Faust” series that Blackshire discovered that the tree, designed by Houston-based artist Earl Staley in the 1980s, was going to be scrapped after 30 years of performing around the country.

“It was time for this tired and sad set to retire,” said Blackshire. “And it was going to be dumped.”

He set to work to prevent that from happening. With the help of his new employer, they managed to save the base of the tree, triggering a two-year process to imagine an exhibit that would end up surrounding him, literally and thematically. Stroll through the gallery where “Staging Nature” will remain hosted until October 24, and you’ll find hand-drawn storyboards, enlarged diagrams, backdrops projected on the walls to highlight details, elaborate miniatures imagining the essence of the future of stage props, 3D dioramas of theatrical productions as envisioned in mind before they are absorbed into the eyes of the audience.

At the same time, using Staley’s blueprints as a guide while adding their own creative flourishes, McNay’s installation crews got to work recreating the tree’s majesty. Or, that is, as much of her majesty as the gallery space would allow.

“The tree itself is supposed to be 30 feet tall,” Blackshire said. “We only have half that space here, so we literally truncated it – pun intended – then (McNay maker) John (Dalton Atkins) took some of the extra branches and made the crown of the tree.”

It only takes a few minutes to recognize the double meaning of the name of the exhibition (as well as the curiosity of its question). “Staging Nature” is an exhibition designed to show how the process of creating theatrical productions becomes an art form in itself, through the convergence of multiple mediums.

Blackshire says his aim with exhibitions like “Staging Nature” is to show how design is integral to setting up any type of production at all levels, whether it is a simple ceremony or ceremony. ‘a prestigious opera.

“We find that customers really enjoy learning more about the process,” he added. “My goal is to give McNay visitors multiple entry points to better understand not only the artwork, but also the theater they are going to see – what makes them think, what makes them feel, what ‘they might appreciate it. “

Other famous productions like “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Shakespeare and “The Progress of Steel” by Fernand Léger are represented, as well as the kaleidoscopic meaning of design in a play: scenography, conception. costume, hair design, creature design.

The presentation of these design elements offering visitors a different kind of behind-the-scenes pass extends to the 15-foot-high spectacle of the exhibit itself. Stand just under the tree and you’ll notice how the aerial canopy (one of its original features) creates what amounts to an optical illusion of foliage for those standing outside; walk behind the tree and you can see its basic materials under the false flora and fauna.

“It’s a fine example of a work of art in its own right, but it also shows the designer’s process,” Blackshire said.

Meanwhile, “process” took on a whole new meaning for McNay’s installation crews when it came to a particularly eye-catching piece: a wolf puppet on loan from a Mexican theater group, delicately constructed from from a litany of everyday objects like screws, chicken bones, light bulbs and an accordion. It broadens the definition of the staging of nature while integrating perfectly with the themes of “nature on stage”.

“I was immediately fascinated by the construction, the materials, the way all of these man-made materials could create something so realistic, so natural,” said Blackshire. “It’s interesting how, as a curator, you see these things and they seep into your mind over the years and you finally find a way to bring them together in an exhibit. “

Rachel Trevino, McNay’s had communications and marketing, said another motivation for “Staging Nature” and similar exhibitions is to deconstruct the notion of theater as an “elite” art form reserved for the higher class.

“When you experience these exhibits, they look like things you can relate to,” she said. “Like nature, I can embark with nature. There’s that underlying kind of learning and understanding that happens, which is wonderful, and it brings theater to life in a different way.

It takes an artist to realize the potential of a work of art, which is another way of saying that Blackshire harnessed his own creativity when designing the exhibition and, true to the way a work of art art tells a story, saw “Staging Nature” as the perfect opportunity to tease McNay’s plans for his own property. Continue through the exhibit and along a wall you can glimpse storyboards of a different kind: plans for the recently opened Tobin Land Bridge as well as plans for the museum’s reimagined landscaping, which is expected. to be unveiled in its entirety later this fall.

“I was like, ‘What a great way to tie into the McNay grounds for the enjoyment of the people by bringing this tree and showing how we showcase nature in many ways through different works of art. “

Blackshire says visitors to McNay can expect the same amount of detailed consideration in the exhibit that will follow “Staging Nature,” “Cities on Stage” – an exhibit that will see that inspiration of organic beauty replaced with the elegance of urban life, imbued with Alamo City flourishes.

Colors may change and the atmosphere of the Brown Gallery may change when “Cities on Stage” arrives, but if “Staging Nature” is any indication, it will be another exhibition of artists interpreting the world around them and bringing the world to life. a memorable sight. as it may appear in a captivating play.

“The sets and costumes are designed to trick you, to help suspend your disbelief in what you see,” Blackshire said. “So to see something like that, you have to know that a 30 foot tree is not on stage. Yet it is, and it feels very real.

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