The new display at the Everson Museum of Art, 50/50: Nancy Jurs,
explores the artist’s work in great depth, moving from stoneware
sculptures referencing armor worn by Samurai warriors in Japan to found
objects, canvasses and frames each positioned with their back facing
viewers, to lint collected from the artist’s dryer and now presented on
a museum wall without a hint or irony or cynicism. The exhibit
emphasizes Jurs’ intense interest in creating, assessing and
reconsidering sculptures, her skill in traveling back and forth between
everyday life and larger themes, and her knack for repositioning found
In “Self Portrait: But, You Can’t Take
the Farm Out of the Girl (Coming Full Circle),” Jurs recalls summers
spent on her grandmother’s farm, presenting a series of found objects:
a pair of her work overalls decorated with lint, laundry hangers and
other wood items. The display is well-designed and inquisitive, as it
asks viewers to consider their own relationship with objects. Why are
certain items emotionally significant and others easily forgotten? What
role do objects play in the chain of memory?
The ability to skillfully recycle objects also shapes a
display of old frames and canvasses Jurs initially collected to use in
her own paintings. Ultimately, she saw the objects as more than scrap.
She turned them around, added silver colors, and hung the frames within
brand-new frames. This body of work isn’t built on an assumption that
every discarded item can be transformed into an artwork. Rather, it
refers to a realm of possibility, a process of thinking about objects
and deciding to rework them.
The exhibition doesn’t neglect the dozens of sculptures
Jurs has created during her long career. “Legacy: Now and Forever (For
Our Daughters)” groups six stoneware pieces with glazes and copper
patina, each of which evokes Samurai armor and also speaks to notions
having little to do with warriors. Here Jurs communicates her belief
that as daughters journey into the world, they must gather an inner
strength based on a sense of self and respect for others. Although the
installation is open to interpretation, it seems to allude not only to
self-assurance but also to a spirit of community.
In other segments of the show, Jurs returns to work done
in the past and now displayed in a different setting. “Déjà Vu: Fifty
Pieces, Fifty Years (Separate and Equal)” started with the goal of
displaying works from each year of her career. It includes an array of
cups and saucers, pots, whimsical pieces like “Buds,” and even a
depiction of New York state as it appears on a map. There are
figurative works like a teapot with a gun embedded in its side and a
small cowboy hat on its top, and intriguing sculptures like “Circe,” a
piece from the “Goddess Series.”
The artist decided to abandon a
traditional survey and to unify the pieces by painting all of them
white. Every piece, despite differences in style and figuration, would
have a common element. This approach demonstrates that Jurs isn’t
afraid to take risks.
In the end, however, the concept of
group unity remains elusive. Even after an application of white paint,
works like “Circe” stand out, thus undermining the notion of unity.
Another installation, pictured, looms
large in size and ambition. “World Peace: Finding Common Ground (We’re
All In This Together, Do Unto Others, Your Move!)” fills most of a
room, incorporating a life-size chessboard, set on the floor, as well
as a group of Jurs’ large ceramic sculptures painted black, white and
gray. Each color corresponds to an area on the board, with white pieces
at one end, black at the other, and gray in the middle.
Although the installation doesn’t try to
replicate a chess game, the physicality of the chess setup makes the
overall work tangible and concrete. It’s possible to walk close to the
board’s squares, to view sculptures standing more than six feet tall
and others just three feet high.
And yet the installation is more than
its physical dimensions: It’s provocative, incisive and emotional. Jurs
evokes both war and conflicts within society and the possibility of
resolution and peace. She has brought together sculptures with no
initial connection, placed them in a new visual environment and
completed the process of transformation. “World Peace” is a highly
successful installation and the centerpiece of 50/50: Nancy Jurs.
The exhibit continues through May 3 at
the Everson Museum, 401 Harrison St. The museum is open Tuesdays
through Fridays and Sundays, noon to 5 p.m.; Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call 474-6064.