Monday, March 16, 2015


When I was living in Waco, one name kept coming up in conversation amongst the art crowd, Karl Umlauf. His monumental body of work is an incredible influence on artists around town. I had seen a few pieces by Umlauf, but now the Martin Museum of Art is featuring over 50 pieces celebrating his work and time at Baylor. Karl Umlauf spent 26 years teaching and making art in the Waco area at an old mattress factory. I think the industrial surroundings, along with being from the rust belt, Chicago roots likely had an impact on his work. I would imagine he also saw a lot of rusted machinery out in east Texas as well. It seems that decay, death, and the experience of time are his primary themes. But this is not a depressing show.

When looking at an Umlauf machine based sculpture such as “Accelerator,” I am reminded of Louise Nevelson sculptures. Umlauf is more industrial if not a little steampunkish, but similar in the fact both give a consistent look at discarded parts to make their work. Nevelson used the manufactured parts, while Umlauf simulated parts that manufacture. Umlauf’s work only looks like found objects of metal parts. In reality, these are carved wood pieces made to look like machine parts. So, a lot more craft was put into Umlauf’s work. Also, when looking at “Accelerator”, I see a conversation about the obsolescence of machines, of products, and of jobs. The end of one purpose leads to new life in an art piece.

“The Shrine of Terlingua” mixes wood carving, found bones, and a painting to make something out of the catacombs of Europe. Only he was influenced by a shrine in South Texas. Once again he uses the theme of decay to illustrate mortality. The mixture of animal and human bones equate that we as mortals all meet the same fate. Umlauf’s paintings are often pretty abstract. If you have ever been adventuring in old abandoned buildings or at least vicariously through youtube, you might feel you have seen these paintings before, because you get the feeling he took these abstract images from crumbling buildings. His new works are influenced by ships. Salt water has an incredibly corrosive effect on objects, so it is no wonder he would be attracted ships. One can also see these works as geologically influenced abstractions, but placing them on the wall as paintings almost seems to remove them from their source. I think I would like to see a work or two on the ground to see if I it changes my perspective. Guess I should have been there when they were installing the show.

Overall, I think the show would be worth it for the DFW crowd to venture a bit further to see, and take a look at the individual that is an institution of Waco arts. Karl Umlauf’s will have this vast retrospective until May 1st. The Martin Museum of Art's show is titled “Karl Umlauf: A Lifetime of Creativity,” but I see it as also a celebration of his muse, deterioration. for more images.

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