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Defining Milieu art exhibit

The Oscar Wallpaper is composed entirely of commonplace items.
Illustration: Alex Stallsworth · The Sentry

CU Denver artist and associate professor Rian Kerrane opened her new art exhibit Defining Milieu on Sept. 26 in Republic Plaza. Inspired by Oscar Wilde, the exhibit “reflects symbolically how we use fashion to structure our environments and ultimately our world,” according to Kerrane.  

Defining Milieu is comprised of two exhibits: one inside the lobby of Republic Plaza in downtown Denver and the other in the alley between Republic Plaza and the Delectable Egg. Though there are two exhibits, their meanings play off one another. 

The exhibit inside the Republic Plaza lobby features quotes by Oscar Wilde burnt into large rolls of paper and surrounded by and incorporated with common, everyday items. These everyday items are a connecting thread between both exhibits and are featured heavily in both. On the meaning behind this, Kerrane said, “Ultimately, my works re-present and integrate familiar images, focusing the audience on the visual poetry of the overlooked and mundane.” Seeking to “pay tribute to the heroic nature of the habitual tasks, achievements, chores and decorative decisions that comprise our everyday lives,” Kerrane says she “purposely elevate[s] the lowbrow material to the ‘higher’ fine art status in [her] work in order for us to reconsider our attitude towards our surroundings.” 

A great example of the breadth of Wilde quotes used in the exhibit is “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” This and many others meld with the aforementioned commonplace items to give a sense of “implied frivolity yet seriousness” of Kerrane’s work and the exhibition as a whole.  

The second half of the exhibit is set up in the alley on Court Place outside Republic Plaza. This exhibit features no quotes, but it instead creates a “wallpaper” type of scene all made with commonplace items. Connected PVC pipes appear at a distance like Roman columns and plastic, curved train tracks stretch over them like arches. Leaves are painted on the wall and bent pipes circle around them, creating a 3D effect.  

The Oscar Wallpaper, as the alley exhibit is dubbed, was inspired by “William Morris’s botanical wallpaper motifs.” It “investigates not only the collision of the natural world with the domestic but also the weight of time and history in addition to the intersection of the local and global.”  

Kerrane did not do this alone, however. “These works would not have been possible without the collaboration and assistance of several past and current students,” Kerrane said. Each of the students was hired “to assist in various stages and with the installation.”  

Rian Kerrane was born in Galway, Ireland. Her work has appeared in exhibits all over the United States and Ireland. Each summer, she heads an interdisciplinary study abroad course in Ireland, which CU Denver students are invited to join.  

“Visual art has the power to affect individuals on a personal level and change society,” Kerrane said. “Nothing gives me greater satisfaction than to assist young artists interested in self-expression to realize their potential and open minds and skills to the empowerment creative language provides.”  

Defining Milieu & The Oscar Wallpaper will remain on view until Nov. 8.

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