If you’ve visited West Building recently, you may have noticed a new work in the Larry Wheeler North Garden, adjacent to the African Galleries and Classical Court. Titled Cycle, this sculpture by emerging artist Whitney Claire Brown features elaborately modeled earthenware and stoneware clays splayed across the ground. At first glance a viewer may not realize that this work isn’t part of the natural landscape: the delicate forms resemble leaves, petals, or perhaps even mushrooms, blooming and spilling gently around the base of one of the garden’s trees. Cycle, as the title implies, conveys an intrinsic connection to the earth via the natural life cycles of growth and decay.
“I feel like some of the pieces look like they are ready to return to the earth, while others seem to be growing from it,” the artist notes. “Sometimes I see [the larger elements in the work] as lichen or fungus, or even decaying leaves. The small pieces relate to growing roots or decomposing plant matter.”
The many forms that compose Cycle differ in appearance because of the various techniques used to create them: the two types of clay have been combined in both fired and raw forms, with a number of patinas providing a range of colors and textures in the final product. The connection between Brown’s chosen medium—clay—and the environment is not accidental. “When I am immersed in clay, I feel like I am connected to the earth,” Brown says. “I utilize the clay in an organic, flowing, natural manner. In my work I use deep, dark, and bold texture to reflect nature, giving my pieces life.”
Brown’s installation won first prize at the Caldwell Arts Council’s 25th annual Sculpture Celebration, one of the longest-running sculpture events in the Southeast, which was held in September in Lenoir, N.C. Museum Director Larry Wheeler presided over the competition, choosing Brown for the top honor—a prize that offered the opportunity to install the work at the NCMA.
Though Cycle itself is not going to decay and return to dust like its organic representations, visitors are urged to see the work soon, as it is on view for only a limited time. Cycle will be deinstalled on December 3, 2010.