The Muscarelle Museum’s latest exhibit highlights five decades of sculptor Fred Eversley’s most dynamic works, a celebration of kinetic energy in an often stagnant world. It’s also designed to complement the College of William and Mary celebrating 50 years of African Americans in residence, part of the museum’s larger effort to celebrate black artists.
John Spike, the Muscarelle’s assistant director and chief curator, called Eversley “one of the greatest living American artists.” The exhibit follows an installation of paintings from 15th-century artist Sandro Botticelli, big shoes to fill for any artist. But Spike was a longtime admirer of Eversley, and although moving his sizable pieces was no small task, the effort proved worth it.
“He’s a very strong and fascinating artist,” Spike said. “What we’ve got is a survey of a 50-year career.”
Eversley casts his works in polyester resin, then spins them in a high-speed centrifuge. Next, he hand polishes them for clarity.
“They have a finer resolution of optics than glass,” Spike said, comparing the finished products to marble or amethyst. “You marvel at them because they glitter. They’re very transformational.”
It’s an intense process in which the artist unleashes his very soul.
“You have an idea, you work like crazy, mostly in the dark, but you can’t really get a feeling for the piece until you go through about 15 stages of sanding and polishing. When you clean it up and stand it in the gallery, it either works or it doesn’t,” said Eversley in a news release. “If it has a flaw, you can sometimes deal with that. Usually, you can’t. And even if you’ve put in a couple hundred hours, you reject it and just walk away.”
Five decades of change
Spike’s art requires devotion, exemplified when a 26-year-old Eversley left his promising engineering job at NASA Houston to become a full-time artist in 1976. He settled in Venice Beach, Calif., where he met like-minded artists such as Robert Irwin, James Turrell, Larry Bell and John McCracken. Together, they spearheaded the Light and Space movement.
“It was a time of minimalism,” Spike said. Artists were focused on reducing ideas to their essence, often manifesting in simple shapes. “Fred’s stuff was different. On the West Coast, with all that light and sea, they couldn’t help but want to make them kinetic.”
Works of the movement played with reflections and shadows, dancing in the face of a static artistic era.
“They move all the time, and every moment is unique,” Spike said. “You both see yourself in them and you see looking through them.”
The curator praised Eversley’s ability to bring inanimate objects to life, despite no moving parts.
“I was hoping we could realize it to the max,” he said, noting the use of the museum’s lights to highlight the kinetic nature of the sculptures. One piece is set up to mimic an eclipse.
Spike understands why some people might be hesitant to check out such an exhibit.
“People think they’re not going to like contemporary art,” he said, but he added that those who attended the exhibit’s opening left impressed. “Everyone just came out with their eyes shining. It really works.”
It’s also a natural choice given the museum’s focused effort to showcase more African American artists. In 2010, the museum featured the works of 19 black artists in its permanent collection; now the number stands at 40. Spike said his team at the museum was also eager to celebrate William and Mary’s commemoration of 50 years of African Americans in residence, which runs throughout the 2017-18 school year.
Whether attendees come to see Eversley’s sculptures or the works in the permanent collection, Spike is confident of one thing.
“They will not be disappointed,” he said.
Want to go?
The Muscarelle Museum’s Fred Eversley exhibit runs through Dec. 10. Tickets are $10 and are available at the museum. Museum members, William and Mary students, faculty and staff and children younger than 12 are free.
Birkenmeyer can be reached by phone at 757-790-3029.