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WVU-MU rivalry: From gridiron to gallery

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- On the football field, on the basketball court and in the hearts of many Mountain State residents, there's a rivalry that runs deep between the Thundering Herd of Marshall University and the West Virginia University Mountaineers. But in the art gallery?

The Clay Center will allow the two schools to go paintbrush to paintbrush with "Gallery Divided: A Head-to-Head Matchup between Marshall and WVU Art Faculty." The public is invited to wear team colors at a free kickoff party from 6 to 8 p.m. on opening night, Aug. 11.

A New Mexico native, curator Arif Khan had no knowledge of the rivalry when he came to the Clay Center a year ago. He created the exhibit following visits to both schools.

"I'm getting close to a year here in the job, and I wanted to get to know the regional artists. I visited both campuses' art departments.

"At first I thought it would be funny to do a show, with this rivalry and all. And then I realized, hey, that's not such a bad idea," Khan said. "A lot of the artists had never shown at the Clay Center, and the response from both schools was so great."

Not needing a legislative or gubernatorial mandate, and unlike in the sports arena, Khan said, "It all just came together."

So when the gold and blue meet the green and white on the football field this fall, will Khan be cheering for the Herd or the Mountaineers?

"You're really gonna put me on the spot," the cooperative curator exclaimed. "I really have no skin in the game! We're just neutral ground."

Appropriately, the show featuring the two schools will remain up through Nov. 18, "the whole first semester of the school year," Khan said.

The Clay Center is seeking financial support from the different fan bases. Sponsorships begin at $1,000 and if enough money is secured, the center will give away a scholarship to the school with the most support. Beth Fanning is the sponsorship manager coordinating the effort. She may be reached at 304-561-3536.

Also, patrons may vote for their favorite work when visiting the exhibit, to see which school has the most fans.

Artists participating in the exhibit include West Virginia's Dylan Collins, Alison Helm, Erika Osborne, Michael Sherwin and Naijun Zhang, and Marshall's Miyuki Akai Cook, Ian Hagarty, Daniel Kaufmann, Natalie Larsen and Brent Patterson.

Kaufmann's featured artworks are part of an ongoing body of work photographing Superfund sites in West Virginia and surrounding areas. He isn't caught up in the rivalry at all.

"I do not know of the WVU-MU rivalry extending beyond the football field to the respective departments," Kaufmann said. "I think it is natural to be interested in what colleagues from different universities are doing, and any rivalry would be more collegial rather than competitive.

"The exhibition is a great opportunity for faculty from the two universities to share their work with each other and the community."

Collins, a self-taught blacksmith and metal fabricator, has a similar sense of collegiality.

"In my opinion, the rivalry between WVU and Marshall only goes as far as the athletic field. In the world of art academia, I feel like we are all in this together to help students succeed. Of course we want students to go to our school over another school, but we also must celebrate greatly the successes of our academic rivals," Collins said.

Sherwin, WVU assistant professor of intermedia and photography, will be showing four 32- by 40-inch framed photographs from a new series titled "Vanishing Points," exploring the ancestry of the American landscape. The images included in the Clay Center show are all from West Virginia.

Sherwin too said he doesn't sense much of a rivalry between the schools' art departments.

"At least nowhere near the kind of rivalry on the football field," Sherwin added. "I know the Marshall art department has been expanding and making some major improvements under the direction of their current chair. I suppose we are all aware of this up here at WVU, but I don't feel threatened in any way. Nor do I feel like we have anything to worry about. Our enrollment numbers are way up since my arrival at WVU in 2007.

"If anything, the real benefit of this show is to bring together the faculty from the two big universities in West Virginia. I like the possibility of collaboration this opportunity may bring."

However, while he didn't attend either school, he couldn't help but fan the fans' fire a bit.

"If we did have to take to the football field, I'm pretty sure we'd have the human power and skill set to outplay the Buffaloes in nearly every facet of the game," the artist said.

"Gallery Divided" will be on display through Nov. 18. Museum admission is free for members or $6 for children and $7.50 for adults. Visit www.theclaycenter.org or call 304-561-3570.

Reach Sara Busse at sara.busse@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.


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