Marking her first solo outing with Bortolami Gallery, the American artist Virginia Overton has brought her unique blend of repurposed materials, ready-made sculptural interventions and a distinct sense of personal history to New York once again. The artist’s transformative capacities with raw materials and her enigmatic sense of shared purpose and convergent social spheres makes for a fascinating and wide-ranging body of work.
The pieces in her first show with Bortolami, titled Água Viva, sees Overton at a high point of her abilities, incorporating an ever-expanding color palette of found objects as well as the artist’s first neon works, all focused around a range of different water vessels, colors, and allusions to the natural world. In the main gallery, Overton has installed a massive steel cement mixer, turning its hulking mass into a fully-functional water fountain that spurts a steady stream over the industrial form. Cascading water flows freely and in stark contrast to the weathered, rusted patina of the yellow mixer, an apt metaphor for the artist’s recirculation of materials and her interest in potential reclamations of differing modes of industrial production, changing socio-economic spheres, and histories, finding new lives for discarded objects and refusing a linear finality in favor of cyclical reinvention.
In the Bortolami office, Overton has hung a wood slab from a sugar maple she recently felled from her family’s farm in Tennessee, returning once again to her recurring interest in the intermingling of the natural world and human histories. The tree, planted before the artist’s birth to commemorate her parents’ marriage, was sawed almost entirely through and then toppled over. This action produced a powerful effect: a jagged, miniature cityscape of tree bark sandwiched between smooth planes of wood. Overton situates sculptures between these tiny reliefs, negotiating depictions of a place or object and the object itself.
In another series of works, the artist pairs a set of metal pipes, formerly functioning as water supply lines, with neon bulbs made to perfectly contour their gentle curves and movements through space. The result are a series of objects recalling the classical act of line drawing, and turning the metallic sheen of copper and brass into a vessel for the delicate reflection and reinterpretation of glowing light into a more industrial format. While Overton’s materials might borrow from Dan Flavin’s own inventions with colored light, her operations seem to rely more heavily on the elements themselves, their capacities and dialogues forming the visual payload of the final products. This is a distinctly interesting note, one that seems to invite the outside world into her pieces in a manner that allows co-creation, collaborative involvement between space and object, artist and nature, with Overton’s gestures evoking the inescapable presence of nature in even the most post-industrial contexts.
The artist’s work is on view through June 15th.
— D. Creahan
Virginia Overton: Água Viva [Exhibition Site]