||William Christenberry, American,
b. 1936. Untitled, June 11, 2006
German ink with two brushes on paper, 40 x 30 inches
Image © the Artist, Courtesy of
the artist and Hemphill Fine Arts, Washington DC
In keeping with the Museum's curatorial mission of investigating those things that make us particularly American, the 2007-08 exhibition schedule was meant to impact the University and the community using as catalysts three exhibitions: William Christenberry: Site/Possession, The Dresser Trunk Project, and The Landscape of Slavery: The Plantation in American Art.
William Christenberry is a multi-media artist, who currently has an exhibition of his Brownie photographs touring under the auspices of Aperture and was the subject recently of a major exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. Christenberry is also an educator: he has been on the art faculty at the Corcoran College of Art and Design since 1968.
Organized by Andrea Douglas, the Museum's curator of exhibitions, in close collaboration with the artist, this traveling exhibition, unlike those that have preceded it, offers a re-evaluation of the artist's intent, focusing on how his rarely exhibited drawings form the basis and inspiration of all his other work. Through their primary motif, Southern gourd trees (trees on which gourds are suspended), one infers the artist's sense of drawing as primal, and it is through their daily rendering that Christenberry accesses both the vitality and transient nature of memory that is further expressed in his other work. In addition to approximately 50 drawings the exhibition features paintings, photographs, constructions, dream buildings, and the Klan Room Tableau, last seen in this country at the Southeast Center for Contemporary Art in 1997.
Christenberry's imagery focuses on Hale County, Alabama, and the site's relationship to the Klan is historically and personally significant to him. By the second rising of the Klan in the 1920s, the state of Alabama was considered to be the most completely Klan-controlled state in the Union. The organization's influence there continued well into the 1970s and certainly was pervasive when Christenberry, out of curiosity, attempted to enter a Klan meeting in Tuscaloosa in the 1960s. The combined feelings of terror and bewilderment that resulted from his initial interaction have fueled a fertile amount of artistic production concerning this subject. While the 200 or so dolls that comprised the original tableau, stolen from the artist's studio in 1979, suggest an intensive consideration of the Klan, the abundance of the subsequent tableau reveals more thoroughly the way in which Christenberry grapples with the dichotomy between public and private knowledge of a singular place and event. In the tableau he viscerally forces the viewer to deal with humanity's moments of evil and violence. As evidenced by Anti-Defamation League reports, such malevolence is not as dormant as we might think.
The Museum is grateful to many organizations and members of our community who have helped to develop educational programs and outreach for this and the other two Southern legacy exhibitions. These programs included colloquia as well as an innovative collaboration with city and county schools in support of the 11th grade American history and art curricula and diversity awareness.
The exhibition was made possible at the University of Virgnia Art Museum with the generous support of the FUNd, the Oakwood Foundation, the Glenstone Foundation, the Council for the Arts, the Arts Enhancement Fund, Barbara and Richard S. Lane, Irwin and Linda Berman, Betsy and Frank Karel, the Virginia Commission for the Arts, Dr. Robert L. and Lucinda W. Bunnen, Soul of Virginia Magazine, and additional anonymous support.
Andrea Douglas, Curator of Exhibitions
University of Virginia Art Museum
October 19 - December 23, 2008
American University Museum at the Katzen Art Center
February 5 - May 11, 2008
University of Mississippi Museum
July 20 - September 21, 2008
Asheville Art Museum
November 7, 2008 - January 19, 2008
Staniar Gallery, Washington and Lee University
February 8 - April 10, 2009
Samek Art Gallery, Bucknell University
August 26 - October 9, 2009
Podcast, June 11, 2007
The University of Virginia Art Museum and the Quality Community Council host an event featuring multi-media artist William Christenberry, who discusses his Klan Room Tableau within the context of over 40 years of art-making.
William Christenberry, from NPR's Studio 360, September 1, 2006
The Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) streaming media programming: Smithsonian guest curator William Christenberry answers seven questions about his live and work posed by web viewers.