Categorized | Special Reports

Road Trip: Fallon, NV

I rarely drive east on Hwy. 80, but every so often I get the urge to see mountains and snow. This time, however, it wasn’t scenery that lured me out of my hive; it was art. 

 Art in Fallon? Yes, Fallon. Fallon (pop: 7,536) sits in the high desert 40 minutes east of Reno, surrounded by sagebrush, distant peaks, alfalfa fields, a U.S. Naval air station and little else, save cumulous clouds that enclose the Lahontan Valley in a billowy cocoon this time year. On the ground, Fallon looks like a lot of towns in Nevada. On the way in you pass small manufacturing operations and trailer parks before you reach the main drag: a neon-lit strip of chain stores, pawn shops, motels and casinos and a few picture-worthy roadside attractions. Highway 50 runs straight up the middle en route to Austin, the next closest outpost 110 miles east.

L to R: Hwy 50 bet Reno and Fallon; fighter jet; Hwy 50 near Fallon; Top Gun Car Wash sign; Oaks Park Art Center
Isolation notwithstanding, Fallon may be the hippest little town in the West.  In a large, refurbished, red-brick schoolhouse a few blocks from Maine Street stands the Oats Park Arts Center. It has two visual art galleries, an intimate 350-seat performance space with perfect sightlines and (what I’m guessing are) great acoustics, and a cozy bar where, in between sets, you can grab a glass of wine and schmooze with the band or with whatever visiting author or auteur happens to be holding forth. 
"Natomas 1, 2, 3", mixed media, 75 x 17 x 13 inches, 2009
On the morning I left for Fallon, I read a New York Times review of saxophonist Joe Lovano who, the previous night, had blown up a storm at the Village Vanguard on the occasion of the club’s 75th anniversary. Four hours later I "encountered" Lovano again, this time speaking from a video monitor in the Center’s lobby — a plug for his upcoming gig there on March 26, accompanied by Us Five, his working band which includes the acoustic bass sensation Esperanza Spalding. Learning that jazz of this caliber had infiltrated the heartland was a shock and a potent reminder: that wherever you go things are rarely what they seem to be.  This is doubly true in Fallon where, far from view, some of America’s most elite military forces train to be all they can be. 
A more pleasant reminder, and my immediate reason for visiting, was Robert Brady’s show of sculptures and drawings, Mined to Bare: Recent and Mixed Media Works. It occupies two pristine, exquisitely-lighted galleries and includes 50 pieces. It’s one of the strongest, best-presented shows I’ve seen in some time. Most of the work was made in 2009 and 2010; yet it feels like an accurate measure of Brady’s output and mood during the past decade. It includes many of his brooding, inscrutable, long-limbed, life-sized, wood figures, his wall-mounted bronze and ceramic vessels and a wide range of other sculptural forms that show him pushing deeper and deeper into abstraction, while at the same time providing viewers with plenty of representational handholds: faces, tools, architectural details.  Seen in this setting, not far from where Brady grew up in Reno, his references to implements, artifacts, glyphs and tribal art resonate more strongly than they do in urban environments and take on heightened significance. 
"Untitled", mixed media on paper, 14 x 14 inches, 2009
For those who think of Brady solely as a sculptor, his drawings will come as a revelation.  They include: cosmic-leaning, organic abstractions (made by spray-painting rice kernels and then peeling them off the paper); stitched collages that re-deploy, in a cartoon-like fashion, many of his well-known facial and figurative motifs; and interlocking geometric shapes made of quavering lines that suggest crumbling architecture. If you think of Vija Celmins and William Kentridge when viewing some of these pictures, you understand the mental and material distance Brady has traveled, from his beginnings as a front-rank ceramic sculptor to his present position as an everything-goes mixed-media conjurer.  (Click here to see more images from the show. Click here to read my review of Brady’s show at b. sakata garo.)
"Confirmation" (detail), mixed media, 87 x 10 x 11 inches, 1998
For all this largesse, Fallon can thank the Center’s founders, Valerie J. Serpa and Kirk Robertson, a couple whose cosmopolitan tastes are sustained by grants from local, regional, state and national funding sources (including the NEA and the Andy Warhol Foundation). Serpa, who also serves as executive director of the Churchill Arts Council, is a Fallon native. (The home she and Robertson share sits on a street named for her family). She holds a degree in art history and cultural anthropology from the University of Nevada, Reno, and an MA in art history and visual culture from Antioch University. She also teaches art history and film at nearby Western Nevada College.  Robertson, the Center’s program director, has lived in Fallon since 1975. He has a degree in language and literature from CSU, Long Beach and is the editor of neon, the compelling and magnificently illustrated journal of the Nevada Arts Council. He is also a poet with 20 collections to his credit including, Just Past Labor Day: New & Selected Poems, 1969-95 (University of Nevada Press). 
As models of cultural self-sufficiency go, Serpa’s and Robertson’s approaches something of a gold standard.  Me, I’m ready to make the trip back — whenever the sky’s clear and chains aren’t required.
Robert Brady: Mined to Bare @ Oats Park Art Center, Fallon, NV, through May 15, 2010.  If you’re plannng a trip to Fallon, it’s best to call ahead for hours of operation: 775.423.1400 or email:
Robert Brady is represented by Braunstein/Quay Gallery in San Francisco and by Stremmel Gallery in Reno.


5 Responses to “Road Trip: Fallon, NV”

  1. Howdy there,Terrific article dude! i am just Tired of using RSS feeds and do you use twitter?so i can follow you there.

  2. sarah sweetwater says:

    so frustrating…have been on every site listing this oats park gallery and NONE of them list hours or days open…on my road trip from elko to reno, i have to have this information! where do you list this? sarah

  3. Jo Ann Aiello says:

    Fallon? What a surprise. Sounds worth taking a detour off I80 next time we’re in Nevada.

  4. bruce jones says:

    Robert was one of the Brady Bunch, right?
    (sorry)– we drove once to Fallon for reasons too complex to explain, and we must have taken a different route

    but love the website, David– give us a call

  5. Robin Hill says:

    We’re going! Thank you for the recommendation!


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