Sculpture as Verb / Suzanne Bocanegra: Valley

Sculpture as Verb / Suzanne Bocanegra: Valley

Gund Gallery at Kenyon College

August 31, 2022
Sculpture as Verb / Suzanne Bocanegra: Valley
Closing: December 11
Gund Gallery at Kenyon College
Gambier, Ohio
United States

Sculpture as Verb
Works by Derek Sullivan, Tony Lewis, Surabhi Ghosh, Erin Shirreff, Gordon Matta-Clark, Allyson Vieira, Carlos Bunga, Alix Vernet and Rick Silva.

With Richard Serra’s commissioned work Pivot (2021), recently installed on Kenyon’s West Quad, the exhibition Sculpture as Verb takes Serra’s seminal work Verb List (1967) as an introduction to the performative, exploratory, and action-driven processes inherent to art-making. This exhibition also aims to reimagine how Serra’s drawing gave way to a new generation of artists who consider sculpture as an active vehicle for sensorial, spatial, relational, and social experiences.

Verb List is many things: a work on paper, a guide, a measure of disruption and a call to defy expectations. The list can be understood as an alternative to formal activities in the studio. It is also a prompt to challenge, disorient, and reimagine the boundaries of physical space—and yet, the list makes a case for the continued need to generate something different, to never stay still. This early artwork by Serra is as much a testament to the influence of dance, performance, as well as durational and conceptual art movements on his practice as it is an invitation to consider the prompt of a verb as a frame for the deployment of new strategies in spaces like the museum, the outdoors, the studio. Taken together, the works in the exhibition present new possibilities in the elaboration of artistic form. 

Similar to the premise of Verb List, each artwork in its own way questions the common tendency to treat sculpture as a static form. It also expands the role of the viewer as an accomplice to the outcomes—and, at times, a participant. Sculpture as Verb, in the spirit of Verb List, shows how we can conceive of material form as part of a lived experience. 

Suzanne Bocanegra: Valley
(2018) is an eight-channel video installation by the artist Suzanne Bocanegra that revisits the wardrobe test for Valley of the Dolls done with Judy Garland in 1967. Filmed three years before the passing of the actress from a barbiturate overdose, the screen test shows a performer exhausted by the industry that made her a star. Garland was originally cast as the one of the lead characters for the film, which depicts women struggling with drug addiction, fame, and the film industry. The parallels between the fictitious scenario of the film and Garland’s real-life crises are uncanny. 

Bocanegra’s Valley is a reflective installation that invites the viewer to consider how the mediums of performance and video can illuminate connections between archival material and lived experiences. Eight powerful performers are cast in the role of Garland; poet Anne Carson, choreographer and dancer Deborah Hay, artist Joan Jonas, singer and actor Alicia Hall Moran, actor and activist Tanya Selvaratnam, actor Kate Valk, artist Carrie Mae Weems, and ballet dancer Wendy Whelan synchronically recreate her gestures and expressions from her wardrobe test. The performers act as a Greek chorus, serving to comment, and reflect on Judy Garland’s life. Through the subtle nuances of each of the performers, Valley brings the historical moment to life in a way that restores Garland’s complex humanity. If the event leading to the demise of her performance in Valley of the Dolls marks the beginning of Garland’s tragic passing, it also underlines her commitment to a craft, a field, and an industry that learned immensely from her gift.

—Daisy Desrosiers, Director and Chief Curator, Gund Gallery.

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Gund Gallery at Kenyon College
August 31, 2022

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