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'Unfiltered: An Exhibition About Water' At Benton In Storrs

Water is perceived many ways. It is sustenance. It is symbolic. It nourishes the ecosystem. It is reflective. It is both crystal-clear and full of tiny critters. It has an ever-changing surface. It is dangerous. It can be politicized. It is a factor of everyday life, for those fortunate enough to have easy access to it. For those without easy access, it is more precious than gold.

It makes sense that the new water-themed exhibit at Benton Museum in Storrs is presented by various academic departments at UConn: art, natural resources, environmental engineering, marine sciences, water resources. Each artwork in the show sees water through a different lens, even an abstract lens. Water is also a philosophical concept.

Six oils on canvas by Leif Nilsson of Chester can be seen in a variety of ways. The placid scenes of the Long Island Sound and creeks near the shoreline are pretty. And yet the scenes also have environmental depth.

"The general public will see the beautiful flowers and will appreciate the lighting and the atmosphere, but people who are tied in to the issues that impact the Connecticut River will look at these in a different way," said Nancy Stula, the Benton's director, who co-curated the exhibit. "These purple flowers are loose strife, an invasive plant. Those yellow flowers are yellow irises, which are also invasive."

Studies of the surface of the water are both peaceful and scientifically and culturally significant. Black-and-white photographs of Diana Barker Price study the ripple effects of lakes and rivers and the form water takes in various stages: liquid, solid, gaseous. A video by Vibha Galhotra shows close-up views of water gently splashing against the side of a boat in India's Ganges River. The video is shown alongside several Ganges photos by Ravi Agarwal that show India's dependence on the sacred river. One wonders: If the river rises, what will happen to these people who rely on it?

Mixed-media collages by Susan Hoffman Fishman of West Hartford focus on the political. "Water Wars" presents a river image lined by military tanks. "Rising Tides" is made from discarded plastic bags, commenting on water pollution.

The choice of two William Sillin paintings may seem odd. One is a view of a waterfall. The other is an arid canyon. "The waterfall speaks to the power of water. The other one speaks to what water accomplished," Stula said.

A glass decanter and four drinking glasses were etched by Stacy Levy with water bugs and other critters. "Water seems clear. We're used to drinking purified water. But all water has life and microbes in it," she said.

Other artists in the show are James B. Murphy, Rani Ja Madhubani, Robert Vonnoh, George Grosz, William Louis Sonntag, Maurice Prendergast, George Bellows, Thomas Hart Benton, Frederick Judd Waugh, Mabel Woodward, Edith Stevens, Reginald Marsh, Robert Motherwell and Deborah Dancy.

In an adjoining gallery, Dancy is showcased with a retrospective of her work. Dancy, who is retiring after 35 years as a professor in the studio arts program, presents paintings, photographs, sculptures, works on paper and art books. Her eclectic and enigmatic pieces have minimal wall text. It is up to the viewer to interpret the work.

UNFILTERED: AN EXHIBITION ABOUT WATER and MARKING 35 YEARS: THE WORK OF DEBORAH DANCY opens Aug. 31 at the Benton Museum, 245 Glenbrook Road at University of Connecticut in Storrs with a reception from 4:30 to 7 p.m. Violinist Solomiya Ivakhiv will perform "The Wave" by John B. Hedges at the reception, and Dancy will give a talk. The water show will run until Dec. 17. The Dancy show will run until Oct. 15. benton.uconn.edu.

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