Alumni Books: Art, Acclaimed

Rainey Knudson’s latest production is a gorgeous compendium and homage to Rice Gallery’s unconventional installation art.

Yasuaki Onishi, “Reverse of Volume”
Yasuaki Onishi, “Reverse of Volume,” April 13–July 27, 2012. Photo by Nash Baker.

By Kendall Herbert

Jesse Bercowetz and Matt Bua, “The Re-Creation of Fort Discomfort"
Jesse Bercowetz and Matt Bua, “The Re-Creation of Fort Discomfort,” Sept. 18– Oct. 26, 2003. Photo by Paul Hester

Rainey Knudson ’93 remembers walking past the space that would become Rice Gallery as an undergraduate. “It was in its previous incarnation — I don’t remember it registering as a serious space,” she said. It would be another couple of years before Kimberly Davenport signed on as the gallery’s founding director and chief curator, transforming it into an acclaimed art destination. “You cannot overemphasize how sharp Kim’s eye was and how visionary she was in her pursuits,” Knudson said.

From 1995 to 2017, Rice Gallery was the only university gallery in the nation devoted to commissioning site-specific installation art. In “One Thing Well: 22 Years of Installation Art” (Rice Gallery, 2021), Davenport and curator Joshua Fischer chronicle all 72 Rice Gallery installations with strikingly bold imagery and intimate commentary. Editorial contributors include Nonya Grenader ’94, Dave Hickey, Carlos Jiménez, Kelly Klaasmeyer, Julie Reiss and Sandra Zalman. The book is lovingly edited by Knudson, who recently stepped down from Glasstire, the acclaimed online art journal she founded two decades ago.

Yasuaki Onishi, “Reverse of Volume"
Yasuaki Onishi, “Reverse of Volume,” April 13–July 27, 2012. Photo by Nash Baker.

The book’s title is an ode to Davenport’s flash of insight to use the gallery’s space — a 40-by-44-foot white box featuring a front glass wall — solely for installation art. “The glass wall is an unusual architectural feature that almost served as a diorama,” Knudson said. “It allowed you to watch the installations being created and the mess behind it. Once the installation was finished, it allowed viewers to walk in and experience it — an essential element of installation art.”

While working on the book, she and Davenport steeped themselves in stories about artists and installations. “We walked through her memories of each show, and I would weave the interviews into the original source material.” Those conversations cumulated into 336 vivid pages chronicling wildly imaginative installations by artists as diverse as Sol LeWitt, Yayoi Kusama, Michael Petry ’81, Eve Sussman, Soo Sunny Park and Joel Shapiro, to name just a few. “Writing about art is my first passion, and working on this book reminded me of that,” Knudson said. Find “One Thing Well” at select bookstores or online through the Moody Center for the Arts.