Nancy Shaver, in a career that has spanned four decades, has consistently worked to challenge expectations on the aesthetic hierarchies found in visual culture. Her practice, which involves finding objects, making objects, and recontextualizing objects, has been informed by a critical eye that looks—and looks hard—at the culture of materiality with an attitude approaching that of an anthropologist. But Shaver’s practice is not just based in an intellectual pursuit; it is equally informed by personal experience—specifically a life that has been lived in the dichotomy between her rural, working-class roots and the high-art world that she has engaged since the 1970s.
The majority of exhibitions of Shaver’s work include hierarchy-bending components, and Reconciliation is no exception, bringing together the artist’s recent sculpture, works by other artists, found objects, folk art objects, and utilitarian objects. But in this instance, the exhibition is framed by the presence of two artists whose names have probably never been linked before: Walker Evans (1903–1975) and Sonia Delaunay (1885–1979). Evans is the American photographer who became known in the 1930s for his stark depictions of life during the Depression, particularly in the rural south; Delaunay, the French Modernist artist, was a painter and textile and fashion designer. Shaver, through this juxtaposition, is positing her life and work as a reconciliation between the make-do aesthetics of Allie Mae Burroughs, a cotton sharecropper whose home in Alabama was extensively photographed by Evans in 1935, and Delaunay’s sophisticated endeavors in the Parisian art and fashion world of the 1920s.
Shaver’s sculpture primarily utilizes fragments of used clothing fabric and other textiles that reflect the demographics of the region around her home in upstate New York. She selects fabrics not just for the abstract patterning and color, but also for their encoded sociological meaning. For instance, fancy dress material is placed adjacent to camouflage fabric; tweed is butted up against boy’s pajama material printed with sports motifs. Besides “cheap” cloth, Shaver frequently incorporates fragments of highly refined Japanese textiles, as well as patterned fabric that she creates by drawing with a china marker on muslin. Shaver’s work suggests horizontal movement, a socioeconomic leveling where there really isn’t much of a difference between haute couture and Walmart. The collaged fabric-scrap nature of these works resembles quilting, and Shaver is very aware that her process relates to vernacular fabric collage; but by wrapping fabric around wooden blocks and assembling the blocks into three dimensional objects, she is declaring them to be more a part of the world of art—not craft—a position where both making and philosophical inquiry are on an equal footing.
Richard Klein, exhibitions director
Nancy Shaver was born in 1946 in Appleton, New York; she lives and works in Jefferson, New York.
Image: Nancy Shaver, Untitled, 2014
Courtesy of the artist
Circumstance highlights inspiration and its influence across object- making, through the specifically commissioned work of six multi- generational artists. The exhibitions underscore the intersection of installation art and exhibition design, and show how the convergence of fine art, design, and non-art objects within the exhibition format informs and elucidates creative expression. For six months, the entire museum facility — whose distinctive galleries range from the intimate to the spacious — will be transformed into “rooms” designed by the exhibiting artists, which will “read” as total works of art as they show their own work alongside objects and/or artworks by other artists they have selected. In some instances, works may extend outside of the Museum’s walls, providing alternative ways of perceiving space by offering extended lines of sight across the campus. In doing so, Circumstance attempts to explore the interstices where art and object come together, come apart, and reunify, by examining context, its many shifts and permutations, and tracing the movement of art and objects from the studio to the museum. In the captivating maze of intersecting rooms, craft, found, utilitarian, historical design, and everyday objects will sit beside works of art, informing us as to how artists take inspiration from what is around them. Selected artworks and objects will enhance our “reading” and innovatively offer—vis-à-vis a visual form of storytelling—intersecting and interdynamic narratives about these works of art and their makers, confronting us with larger questions about history, culture, and society. Participating artists Virginia Poundstone, Nancy Shaver, Ruby Sky Stiler, Penelope Umbrico, Elif Uras, and B. Wurtz will take center stage in the development, conceptualization, and reception of their work, as the Museum assists them to reveal never-before-seen aspects of their practice.