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Schneider Museum curates outdoor art adventure

Driving past Avantika Bawa’s sculpture, one person might laugh and stop to take a selfie. The next might question whether bright pink scaffolding is art at all. Another might enjoy circling the piece, taking in its presence and prominence in space.

“All of those responses are valid,” Bawa said. “If my work can make you just stop and pause and think for a second and you look at it, I feel I have achieved something.”

Bawa was selected to install her next iteration of scaffold sculpture at Willow-Witt Ranch as part of the Schneider Museum of Art outdoor art exhibition titled “Art Beyond.”

The deadline for artists to apply is Feb. 26, and the exhibition will be on display May 15-July 18, encompassing single-artist “ambitious projects” and curated group sculpture and installation at Mount Ashland, Science Works Hands-On Museum, Willow-Witt Ranch, Vesper Meadow and Lithia Park.

Bawa was appointed as an Oregon Arts commissioner in 2014 and has exhibited her work across the Pacific Northwest and internationally, including scaffold installations in Mumbai and the Kutch district in India.

Schneider Museum Director Scott Malbaurn said the construction of Bawa’s distinct scaffold in a ranch pasture will offer an engaging juxtaposition of architecture and nature — a geometric drawing in space against the backdrop of one of Ashland’s most breathtaking sites.

Accompanying the site installations, plein air artist Sarah Burns will spend a three-day weekend atop Mount Ashland with a group of artists, offering times for the public to watch plein air work in progress and ask questions, Malbaurn said.

Southern Oregon University assistant professor Jeffrey Scudder is slated to offer five Saturdays of drawing events in Lithia Park during the exhibition. Free sketchbooks and drawing utensils will be offered for up to 30 participants each Saturday, Malbaurn said.

The third Art Beyond program will explore augmented reality artist Nancy Baker Cahill’s work through her phone app, 4th Wall, and an artist talk.

Malbaurn said he intends to pursue grant opportunities to continue mounting the exhibition annually. This year’s effort responds to the economic decline of the past year, using the Schneider’s expertise in visual arts to fill a gap without substantial grant funding, he said.

Sculpture and installation work must be weather resilient and capable of residing in the outdoors for the entire period of the exhibition, Malbaurn said. Both contrasting and complementary works will be considered.

Malbaurn said he hopes the exhibition will encourage travelers to visit Ashland and spend money in Ashland’s economy, as well as quench a thirst to experience something fresh in the outdoors.

As she prepares to pack up primed and painted scaffolds from her office at Washington State University, Bawa said she looks forward to returning to Ashland, where she previously exhibited work about Emigrant Lake.

Ashland’s location just across the border from California appeals to her interest in edges and borders.

The geography, history and politics of the lake informed her first Ashland installation, a large blue abstraction representing the expansiveness of the lake, Bawa said. The piece inspired experimental sound and verbal performances in response to her concept.

“This has a lot to do with the openness of the landscape and also the warmth of the community,” Bawa said about her perspective of Ashland. “But it’s also charged, there’s no complacency, there’s a nice sense of history when you walk past the theater. ... It has a less predictable vibe than Portland or Astoria.”

Bawa was scheduled to install the sixth iteration of her scaffold project in September 2020 at a palace in Jaipur, India, known as the “Pink City.”

Without the ability to travel during the pandemic, Bawa turned to 3-D printed mini scaffolds and studio drawings of single buildings, which she examines and recreates in abstraction.

If the bright color of a 40-foot-high scaffold against Ashland’s landscape prompts a more thorough consideration of the history of that space and how it has changed over time, Bawa said, her job is done. She plans to complete the installation by May 8.

“Me as an invader, literally coming and plonking this blob of metal in the middle of a wide pasture, in some ways is not OK,” Bawa said. “But my scaffold is — I’m hoping — just a polite, temporary intervention that I hope to generate conversation or at least just bring a little bit of cheer.”

Contact Ashland Tidings reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com and follow her on Twitter @AllayanaD.

Photos courtesy of Avantika BawaArtist Avantika Bawa was selected to install her bright pink scaffolding sculpture at Willow-Witt Ranch as part of a Schneider Museum of Art outdoor exhibition called Art Beyond, scheduled for May 15 through July 18.