Karen Gunderson

KAREN B. TANCILL: Racine Journal-Times: Young Artist Utilizes Space: July 17, 1969

Eighteen years ago Karen Gunderson was making paper stained glass windows in the south wing of Wustum Museum.  Sunday, in the same room, she opened a solo show of oils and Plexiglas sculptures.
The oils and sculptures reflect Miss Gunderson’s explorations into space.  The oils start out on a flat surface and gain three-dimension because of the curved bands of brilliant color set against a white background and often contrasted with stripes of whited down pastels.
The Plexiglas sculpture starts out in three dimensions and often goes into a one-dimensional effect.  Stand far enough away from them, and three jig-saw pieces will appear to be etching begun in one piece of Plexiglas will be continued through several pieces
As if the titles or the shapes of the boxes and the oils don’t suggest it, both are rooted in the same experience.  As a student at the University of Iowa, Miss Gunderson got a commission to design a pamphlet for a neurophysiology convention, and in the course of her designing, bone up on anatomy. The resultant art is a “brain storm.”

About half of the boxes are lit electrically.  The rest rely on the phosphorescent coated plastic to do as the song says, “what come naturally.”


“I want the sculpture to be quiet, not to have the neon look, to look like its pushing too much,” said Miss Gunderson.
“I think the trend is more towards three dimensional things not necessarily sculpture as it is thought of in the old realm.

“Sculpture has a trend to involve people in an environment.  Sculpture today is like the found object period,” said Miss Gunderson who considers anything with three dimensions as sculpture.

“You go into a gallery and see an exhibit of some crumpled paper or a pile of dirt, and when you see these objects outside the museum, you become more aware of them, and ware of them in an artistic sense.”
The Wustum show is only Miss Gunderson’s second one-man show.  Last year, she and six other graduate students at the University of Iowa, along with their teacher Hans Breder had a show at the Richard Feigen Gallery in Chicago, one of the few times when students were allowed to show in a professional gallery.

She rarely enters art exhibits because she feels that the one or two paintings that get hung do not show enough of the artist.  And, her paintings, if she signs them, are signed on the back, because she thinks the signature can detract from what’s on the rest of the canvas.

Build Environments

Miss Gunderson’s unconventional attitudes also stretch to her role as faculty member at Cornell University where she teaches intermedia, drawing and Florentine art History.
This fall, she’ll giver her students something new in the way of stimulation.  She’ll build environments for them- “Like happening, but only less violent,” she said.  She may introduce light and sound effects along with art to build a composition that entirely surrounds them.
“I’m not hung up on teacher-student relationships,” said Miss Gunderson.  “I don’t car if my students call me ‘Karen’ as long as they respect me as an artist.”

And, she will view them as artist rather than students as long as they continue to work seriously.

Miss Gunderson even has some of her students working as her apprentices in her Iowa studio.  She has an apartment on the third floor of a Victorian style building.  Her studio is on the first, a condition that makes life easier for fellow tenants, and for Miss Gunderson “when I have to carry art in and out of the building.”

The students are employed to carry in the Plexiglass-it comes in 4 by 6-foot sheets- and to do the polishing.  One piece of sculpture is usually 40 hours in the works, and much of that is in the polishing.  The polishing, obviously, rubs her wrong way.

Miss Gunderson hires the students because she feels it’s good for them to learn how to handle a contemporary material. But she laughingly admitted to at least one selfish motive.  "I like the company, “ she said.