Chad Gunderson likes rocks – big, lurid, plastic ones – at Kittredge Gallery

Tacoma News TribuneJanuary 21, 2014 

Chad Gunderson, "Specimen 32."


If you can imagine a giant set of Legos that didn’t fit together at all because they were curvy, pock-marked and completely unique, then you’ll have some idea of what’s filling the University of Puget Sound’s Kittredge Gallery right now (reception Wednesday night). New assistant art professor and ceramicist Chad Gunderson has injected the gallery with a playful, pop-culture attitude towards clay (and rocks) that has your imagination working overtime.

Inspired, as he says, by “Lego bricks, 8-bit video game sprites and vintage Tupperware,” Gunderson makes his ‘rocks’ out of kiln-fired glaze (yes, glaze), steel and vacuum-formed plastic, coating them with highly saturated colors. The result is what you’d get if an igneous rock and a purple Duplo block had a baby. Multiply that by 40 and you’ve got “I Like Rocks,” which opened this week at Kittredge.

The rocks work best given a 3D place to live, and the few big ones sprinkled around the center of the room on pillars take on a weight and life of their own, sparking your imagination by their size, shape and physical placement. One arches up like a curious caterpillar, pockmarked with milkshake-blue pumice holes coated in a bright rusty orange. Another, cobalt-blue, is outlined in neon salmon-pink like a pothole warning; a third sits like a curved pink pelvis with a suggestive green lump in the middle.

The rest, though, are mounted onto big concave white dishes on the walls, and it’s a weird effect. Fetishized in a mid-century, space-age kind of way, the hanging says a lot more about Gunderson’s concept of his own art (plastic as tocks as objets d’art) rather than the art itself. The rocks, between 6-12 inches around, would inhabit more of their own character as a 3D installation in the wild.

Because these rocks definitely have character. Lurid-hued, they bubble with germ-like mutations or glisten pink like a cross-section of raw steak. They shine like a moon-rock, expose one orange corner like a hacked-apart bit of rubble; they take on all shapes from Pacman to internal organs.

In a corner, Gunderson’s experimented with other displays: a couple protrude all by themselves from the wall, which dwarfs them; two more nestle in the gold-ruched fabric of a treasure box, speaking volumes about what people value and why.

And just for laughs, Kittredge has set out an assortment of ceramics from the university collection in the small space – a huge contrast, and highlights even more the innovative attitude Gunderson’s bringing to the department.

Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday, noon-5 p.m. Saturday through March 1. Reception 5-7 p.m. Jan. 22. Free. Kittredge Gallery, University of Puget Sound, 1500 N. Warner St., Tacoma. 253-879-301,

Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568

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