During his junior year at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, Minn., Professor Emeritus of Art Barry Gunderson decided to switch his major from mathematics to studio art.
“[My advisor] said, ‘Oh Barry, you’re giving up the purest art form there is,’” Gunderson said. “He tried to keep me in the math department, but it didn’t work. I needed to switch.”
He has been working in the art world ever since.
Now, Gunderson is currently preparing to show his largest and most intricate collection, “Useless Metal Objects” (UMOs) alongside “Man Surprised By What He’s Made,” at Art Access Gallery in Columbus on Friday, Sept. 9. Both will be part of a bigger exhibit called Very Professorial that will feature the work of three artists who were art professors at some point in their lives.
This showing will be the second for Gunderson’s 50 UMOs, which were displayed in 2013 at the Ross Art Museum of Ohio Wesleyan University.
Gunderson sculpted the 50 individual pieces from aluminum and painted them with bright colors. Though the UMOs are not his most recent work — he made them between 2005 and 2009 — Gunderson is excited to show these pieces again.
“This was a project where I said, ‘I’m letting my creativity go where it goes,’” he said.
Kenyon students may know Gunderson for his various art showings in and around the greater Ohio area or from the sculpture classes he taught here for 41 years. (He retired from teaching in 2015.)
The cartoonishly giant burger, salad and fish and chips in the Village Inn and the mystifying, black-and-white structure by the South 2 parking lot are also Gunderson’s work.
Gunderson found inspiration for the project in his work as a sculpture professor, where he was often tasked with large-scale projects over relatively short periods of time.
“Oftentimes in the art department, all of us have some kind of assignment where making quantity is the task,” Gunderson said. “I can’t do that in sculpture, because it takes too long.”
Gunderson decided to challenge himself to create a large number of pieces that were still high-quality.
Each UMO can stand on its own — the bold colors and geometric patterns display a sort of whimsy and sense of humor that gives the pieces strength — but when all of the pieces are displayed together, the true grandeur of the artwork can be seen.
Gunderson tries to infuse each of his projects with this playfulness. He also reveals his sense of humor in his most recent works in the VI, created for his son and daughter-in-law, Joel Gunderson and Margaret Lewis. The couple owns the VI and was delighted when Gunderson offered to create pieces for the restaurant, according to Joel.
Joel gave his father free reign to create whatever he wanted. “My dad is far more qualified to make those decisions than I am,” Joel said, “so I just enthusiastically greenlighted the project.”
The pieces were put on display between 2015 and 2016, and, according to Joel, they have received a lot of praise in their short time on the walls of the restaurant. Customers have even attempted to purchase the burger sculpture.
“I grew up in a house that was filled with art,” Joel said. “For me, it’s just always been part of the rich scenery that I grew up in. Now that I have this space, this public space, it just seemed like a logical fit to share some of his work.”
Since Gunderson retired from teaching, he has spent his time working in his studio and focusing on his passion for sculpting.
“As Kenyon faculty, no matter what field, we don’t stop working in our area of love,” Gunderson said.