In the Stillness
Curator: Jane Edmundson
Opening reception: May 7, 4- 6 PM in the Main Gallery
Examining the environment that exists between sculpture and viewer, this exhibition features rarely exhibited sculptural work from the University of Lethbridge Art Collection. Though the works span over 25 years of artistic production, similarities can be drawn in the quiet complexity present in the conception and construction of each object. Artists include Robert Rauschenberg, Alex Wyse, Alan Reynolds and Gordon Ferguson.
In his 1967 essay “Art and Objecthood”, Michael Fried expounded on the contradictory relationship between Minimalist theory and sculpture. While most Minimalist sculptors and critics (most notably Donald Judd and Robert Morris) denied that their art was relational or anthropomorphic, Fried argued that these objects were in fact directly linked to the experience of the viewer and the spatial relationship formed between the physicality of the work and the viewer’s own body. Though the objects selected for In The Stillness were created over a 25 year span that followed Minimalism’s period of influence, similarities can be drawn with Fried’s assessment of the environment that exists between sculpture and viewer by examining the quiet complexity present in the conception and construction of each object.
Fried believed that the scale of an object could enable it to possess a presence. This is made evident in Wyse’s Hollywood and Religion, which looms over the viewer but also invites close contemplation with its many tiny architectural details, often obscured by layers of wire mesh. This mysterious, containing quality can also be found in Urquhart’s Bouquet, as it stands close to the viewer’s own height and contains feathers and bones (a memento mori reference that recurs often in Urquhart’s artistic practice). The spatial tension between viewer and object is also present in both Urquhart’s White Piece and Beug’s Thunder Reef – each require the viewer to break with the conventions of viewing from afar and move closer to the work to study the minute details within. Johnston’s Gates appears to capture the negative space in and around a disintegrating form, and prompts the viewer to move completely around it for continually changing perspectives.
Fried also identified how many sculptures, especially those that closely mimic the dimensions of the human body, become anthropomorphic in the eyes of the viewer. Castanis’ Toga literally frames the negative space around a human body, and the rippling of the fabric so sensually suggests movement that the viewer’s eye is surprised by the vacancy found at its core. Fried argues that this hollowness is yet another marker of anthropomorphism, as our outer, visible bodies serve as containers for our organs and unseen life force. Peck’s Gypsum Crystals are hollow plaster shells, sitting as singular representations of the many – though each has its subtle variations. The cylindrical metal framework sitting atop a jumble of antlers in Ferguson’s Splice directly correlates in size to the body of a large animal. Rauschenberg’s use of a partially submerged cello for Tibetan Garden Song illustrates the contradictory dualism of strength and fragility, emphasizing the wood that encases an unknown void.
Fried’s final observation of sculpture in the late 1960s was the shift toward emphasis on the experience the viewer had while in the presence of the work. Though Fried himself believed that art could be instantaneously experienced to its full depth, it is clear that the works in this exhibition invite a longer, closer look to fully absorb their subtleties. In being still with these objects, our bodies too become quiet, slowing down to mirror the presence of the work.