The title of the often challenging, contemporary American sculpture exhibit at Brigham Young University's Museum of Art is quite telling: "Presage of Passage: Sculpture for a New Century."
Presage foreshadows a future event. Passage is a way of exit or entrance, a path down which one travels. In essence, "Presage of Passage" gives one a glimpse of the road to be traveled in the future -- the future of sculpture and its impact on the arts and society.Some museumgoers will be bewildered by "Presage of Passage," finding it difficult to devote the energy required to understand the works. This is unfortunate, however, because it is an exhibit that begs to be savored.
The exhibit -- by Brower Hatcher, Richard Hunt and Judy Pfaff -- runs the gamut of some of the most significant directions that sculpture has taken in the latter half of the 20th century.
Hatcher's "Seer," a signature piece of the Museum of Art, is the first piece one encounters in the exhibit.
The striding winged figured is a visual metaphor for the geology and history of Utah. The base is made of sandstone, inscribed with petroglyphs. The upper portion of the piece is an elaborate web of interlocking polyhedrons, embedded with objects relating to the ancient and modern history of the state, including the skull of an allosaurus and a statue of Brigham Young.
"I think what sculpture needs is a reaffirmation of density and mass, but I don't want to make blocks," writes Hatcher in his artist statement. "I want to use color and explore ideas of transparency and the object's relation to the environment."
Particularly aware of the role light and color play in the viewer's perception of his structures, Hatcher's new works are preoccupied with texture and density.
His sculptural constructions are wonderfully elaborate geometric mazes of glass, wire, nuts and bolts. His "Tower" and "Wave" (glass, stainless steel, copper and iron) are two notable works, and his series of drawings is also worthy of close examination.
With more than 100 commissioned public works, Hunt is one of the most sought-after contemporary sculptors in the United States.
Hunt's work is an intriguing combination of natural and industrial forms and is especially influenced by mythology, biology and African art.
The exhibit's pieces are so biomorphic that one can't help wondering if Hunt has inspired filmmaker Tim Burton. There are moments when one almost expects works like "Linear Peregrination" and "Opposed Forms" (both welded chrome steel) to rise and walk.
"I have always been interested in nature and organic forms, and the integration of that sensibility into an industrially based technique," writes Hunt. "Traditionalists might perceive a contradiction. . . . But it has always seemed to me more true to the 20th century to use a basic industrial technique that has the broadest application."
Viewers will delight in recognizing snatches of discarded car bumpers, buggy stroller handles, exercise equipment and other bits of pre-manufactured chrome objects in Hunt's sculptures. The metal's previous life simply can't be negated in the viewers' minds as they consider the new shapes before them. This reshaping of the past into the future gives an edge to the artist's work.
Judy Pfaff is one of America's foremost installation artists. Her installations confront sculptural, painterly and architectural concepts in ways that are both playful and thought-provoking.
Installation art has no definite boundaries but is usually site-specific. Typically, an installation is created for a specific location and consists of not just a group of discrete objects to be viewed as individual works but comprises an entire environment.
Her working method encompasses futurism, cubism, surrealism, constructivism and abstract expressionism, creating for the viewer a suspended sensation -- a frozen moment in time.
Pfaff's "Notes on Light and Shadow" comprises two separate sites in the museum. Each is emotionally charged with environmental issues. But of the two -- both of which deal with a Yellowstone Park-like scene -- the one that allows viewers to stand within a burned-out area is the strongest.
Here are massive, charred trees hanging from the ceiling by blackened steel that has been fashioned to look like burnt tree roots. Pieces of melted glass and other debris contribute to the desolate atmosphere.
The gray-streaked, encaustic walls envelop the viewer with a tangible gloom. You feel the destruction of nature.
"Presage of Passage: Sculpture for a New Century," which runs through March 18, is an event that shouldn't be missed.
The Museum of Art is open Mondays and Thursdays from 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m.-6 p.m., and Saturdays from noon-5 p.m. For more information, call 801-378-2787.