Artist behind multimedia spectacle revealed

By HermineBloom

Nestled between Thai Spoon, 601 S. Wabash Ave., and the Wabash Campus Building, 623 S. Wabash Ave., The Averill and Bernard Leviton A+D Gallery showcases what might appear to be a large stack of metallic pink Christmas presents from afar.

“Abnormal Formal,” Anna Kunz’s bold, poetic multimedia sculpture, invites the viewer to play as much of a role in the space as the piece itself. Kunz, an accomplished artist and full-time faculty member at Columbia, is one of four faculty members whose work is open to the public in the faculty exhibition titled “{BLANK} place” through Sept 12.

Kunz’s deep appreciation for spatial visual art has blossomed since her days spent wide-eyed at her father’s workplace, The Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan Ave. As a child, she reveled in the great work of Andy Warhol and Mark Rothko while being babysat by the museum’s security guard.

“I was seduced and intrigued by art at a young age because of that,” Kunz said.

The dramatic multimedia sculpture in A+D Gallery is one of many mediums that Kunz has experimented with throughout her career. Though she primarily teaches painting and works on paper at Columbia, her original on-site specific installations are arguably her most individualized pieces of work.

The materials she uses include cardboard, gesso, acrylic and tape. The result is somewhat of a sensory overload of shapes, bright colors and a completely 3-D space.

“Every Saturday, I do live performance work from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the gallery where I’m moving the piece around transitioning [and] using different colors,” Kunz said. “The piece is an ongoing investigation—not a static piece of art.”

Kunz was also commissioned by the City of Chicago’s Public Art Program’s Department of Cultural Affairs to make a 680-foot painting for the Chicago Public Library titled “Neighborhood Garden,” which she completed in 2006. She drew inspiration from gardens in Logan Square, her current place of residence, and asked the community from the Association House, 1116 N. Kedzie Ave., to create small paintings on round panels that visually described their happiest place. While it lacks bright colors and abstract shapes, there’s certainly “an underlying metaphor about growth and learning,” Kunz said.

When it comes to pieces such as the one in A+D Gallery, Kunz creates drama and a sense of belonging by including the viewer in the space. Physically walking around a 3-D piece of art allows the viewer to exist within the piece instead of merely observing.

“In our contemporary moment, it makes sense to include the viewer because the artist is actually a maker to their work at all times,” Kunz said.

She realizes that it might not make sense for every artist to include a theatrical element in their work. Likewise, she doesn’t expect her students to be able to articulate exactly what they’re trying to convey with their art.

“The visual is the most important, followed by the theoretical,” Kunz said. “‘Dance first, think later’ is a quote from John Cage that’s my personal art-making philosophy.”

Bryan Schuetze, Kunz’s fellow artist and husband, recognizes the layered construction and thought behind installations like “Abnormal Formal.”

“She’s extremely loose, comfortable [and] approachable, yet formally very complex,” Schuetze said. “She uses color that creates a psychology that’s not easy to put your finger on at first, but has a lasting impression.”

Though Kunz has exhibited in Los Angeles, Houston, Brooklyn, San Antonio, the UK and Poland, she is happily rooted in Chicago, living in Logan Square with her husband and five-year-old daughter Nola. She’s the only full-time faculty member showcasing her work at Columbia’s Faculty Exhibition this year.

“It’s more of a pleasure than a nuisance because I have one community and place to call my home,” Kunz said. “In the past, I was working at Northwestern University, SAIC and Columbia and it was like being a human pinball with no real landing spot. Columbia is my landing place. It’s a place where I can know the students and understand the culture of the school.”

Kunz believes the Art & Design Department at Columbia is growing quickly. She describes Columbia as “a very honest place to be an artist and to teach because the student body is so colorful, energetic, diverse and curious. All of the best art is made with those themes in mind.”

Debra Parr, co-chair of the Art & Design Department at Columbia, sees Kunz’s artistic process as a tool to connect with her students.

“The way she teaches is very similar to how she works as an artist,” Parr said. “She’s really interested in [the] process and her art is always evolving. I think she really encourages students to look at their work that way, too.”

Kunz is continuing to explore the relationship between dance and painting. She has proposed a piece for the historical Merce Cunningham Dance Company and has recently collaborated with Paige Cunningham, a faculty member in the Dance Department at Columbia.

The Faculty Exhibition at A+D Gallery, 619 S. Wabash Ave., showcases every Saturday through Sept. 12 from 11a.m. – 2p.m. Kunz will be in the gallery doing performance work with “Abnormal Formal.”