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The Transient and the Permanent

May 3, 2019

During assembly on Friday, May 3, Dr. Bradley Bailey, associate professor of art history at SLU, spoke to students about the pieces he curated from the school's permanent collection for the current exhibition in the Bonsack Gallery. 

Bailey said he drew inspiration for the exhibit from John Burroughs' essay "The Transient and the Permanent."  Here is his curatorial statement, followed by images he selected to discuss with students during assembly.

THE TRANSIENT AND THE PERMANENT — AN ELEGANT PAIRING IF EVER there was one. Rarely do we have take the time to think about such things. What would John Burroughs have thought of planned obsolescence? Ten iPhone models were launched between 2007 and 2014, each making its predecessor a relic overnight. Is it terrifying or reassuring to think that nature will replace us with newer, more adaptable models as well?

Nature is a nineteenth-century, post-industrial construct. Ideally, it is a place that does not bear the mark of human presence—a restorative link to our origins, or at least a sense of origination. It is the foil of the park or garden, which, with proper editing and refinement, can be attractive, procreative, and useful to us. Philosophically, theologically, and biologically, nature works best for us when we define it or per- ceive it as something distinct and separate from us—something that we elect to engage with these days when it fits into our overloaded, media-saturated schedules.
Glass. It’s made of sand, which was once rock, reduced to fine par- ticles over unfathomable lengths of time. Yet the sand’s existence as glass is something that fits better in the scope of human time rather than geologic time because we privilege its utility—what it can do for us. It’s hard to think about sand just being sand, for no other purpose than being sand. Sand for sand’s sake.

The clouds will continue to grace the sky long after the Cloud is a distant memory.


At first, Bailey thought this photograph by Jennifer Colten (2013) was of running water, but realized it is of broken glass. Glass, he said, is something that is useful until it's broken. We tend to think about things as they relate to use ... when they are no longer of use, they seem to cease to exist for us.
In this gouache by Alfred Russell Fuller (1968), Bailey pointed out the elemental conflict of waves hitting shore. He added that this particular work was acquired through Potpourri!
In Bob Kolbrener's gelatin silver print (1979), Bailey drew attention to the guard rail's intrusion on a natural vista.
Sarah Frost's White Wall (2007), permanently installed at the south end of the Brauer Building, brought back some childhood memories for Bailey. This array of everyday items made out of white plastic underscore the tension between planned obsolescence and the failure to plan for disposal.
An ink print of Mesa Arch (2007) by J. David Levy '63 reminded Bailey that even when an image is of nature, with no obvious human presence, it is, in fact, evidence that a person had been there.
A recent addition to the collection, jayington 3.10.2018 (2018) by Frankie Toan '08, was selected by Bailey because it depicts a landscape through the frame of a phone and is about identity, permanent and transient.