In early February, I traveled south on 1-85 for a few hours to take a day trip to Columbus, GA. I went to visit Dawn Black’s exhibition, Conceal Project, at the Columbus Museum of Art and became engulfed with Promises of Great Things to Come: Future Gifts to the Collection of the Columbus Museum on view in its third floor gallery and organized to celebrate the Museum’s 60th anniversary [December 4, 2012-February 3, 2013].
This exhibition was not only successful in demonstrating the active collector base in the area that is supportive of the Columbus Museum, but highlighted challenging contemporary artworks the Museum will acquire (or has ‘recently’ acquired in the past 60 years). There was a focus on select collectors’s personal histories as well as a video that demonstrated to museum-goers how an art object travels and transfers from private to public collections.
One such acquisition, a triptych installation of works by Susan York (shown above), held me captive—not only for its individual staying power, but also for its common sensibilities with the late Philadelphia artist Bill Walton, whose estate has only very recently began actively exhibiting and receiving considerable attention. York, an artist living and working in Santa Fe, uses graphite as the common denominator between her 2D and 3D forms. She casts solid graphite to build (mostly) rectilinear forms that are composed of both hard and soft edges—the medium allows for both conscious manipulation and compromises.
The Columbus Museum is acquiring three individual Susan York works from 2008 as promised gifts of Marleen De Bode and Marc Olivié: Tilted Column (left), an oversized graphite work on BFK paper; Untitled, a small-ish graphite sculpture (installed in the middle of the triptych); and Untitled, a graphite pencil work on Arches 88. The large framed drawing is propped or leaned onto the wall—both embracing its gravity and scale and also referencing the graphite object (and its implied weight) that was used to produce the drawing. The other two works act as an intimately self-referential pair: The middle graphite sculpture was used to produce the drawing on the right, so there is not only a somewhat uncanny mirroring that happens, but also there is a direct conversation to process and York’s methodology.
Bill Walton (1931-2010) is one artist whose works balance and define relationships with scale, material and space. One might say that speaking in verbs serves his practice fittingly—to prop, to stack, to lean, to bend, to balance—all come to mind, and this is clearly a driving component in York’s visual language as well. Both show an awareness of larger, cognitive space—our individual experiences of the works and their spatial relationships created—as well as an inter-relational and reflexive scale. And it feels necessary to speak of ‘intimacy’—not only as a function of size, but as an attitude and practice towards their respective mediums. In this way, a reverence for the handmade combined with a frugality of gesture allows concise formal decisions to speak volumes. Both York and Walton play with ideas of rest versus action by instituting constructs on nature—using and manipulating natural materials and elements (graphite for York; wood, lead, palladium, iron, linen etc. for Walton)—while at the same time allowing nature to impose itself on the work (via imperfections for York, chemical reactions for Walton).
The Columbus Museum of Art holds a lot of contemporary surprises—new acquisitions by Leo Villareal and Sally Mann are also promised gifts that delighted—and the first floor exhibition revealed several works from their permanent collection such as an early Sam Gilliam painting (So and So from 1965), a striking Roger Brown painting (Trailer Park, Truck Stop from 1971), and a color video triptych by Bill Viola (Poem A from 2005). While the museum’s floor plan is odd and a lot of space feels wasted by a large, central atrium, spend time in the galleries and you just might find your own Susan York moment.
Permanent Residents is a monthly column curated by Andrew Alexander:
In arts writing, there is a lot of focus on the new and the temporary. What about works that are permanently here in our city? This column seeks to address that imbalance by asking guest writers to engage with work that’s part of our shared permanent collection, providing them the space to reflect on a work that intrigues, excites, and is permanently available for contemplation by readers.
This article is presented in partnership with Title Magazine, an online forum for substantive discussion and critical analysis of the arts in Philadelphia.