It’s said art truly exists in its process as much or more than the final product. The Mobile Museum of Art (MMoA) (4850 Museum Drive) will give visitors a taste starting July 12 when they unveil their “Southern Masters” exhibit featuring the work of Casey Downing Jr., Bruce Larsen and Nall.
The trio – two sculptors and a multimedia artist – are not only residents of the Mobile Bay area, but their proximity specifically allowed the idea to manifest. It was born in a journey from a relatively new resident.
Deborah Velders became the museum’s latest director a “mere” seven years back and made rounds visiting regional arts denizens. A trip to Downing’s downtown studio space sparked her interests.
“His warehouse is broken into three spaces. One is an industrial kind of equipment area. Then through a door is his actual studio space, which is quite amazing and large. It’s shelves and shelves of studies and macquettes and it looks so awesome,” Curator of Contemporary Art Stan Hackney said.
On Hackney’s visit, the sculptor spoke of his European travels and how it influenced his work and space. It sparked an idea.
“In a museum, people see this beautiful art in a pristine environment. They don’t see the studio, the artists’ creative force. I thought it would be interesting to be in their space, in their mind a little, and see how everybody’s creative forces work differently,” Hackney said.
The curator sought artists whose work and processes vary. Enter these three.
Downing has deep Mobile roots, so his figurative and abstract work is all over the Azalea City. It greets arrivals at the airport. His sculpture of John LeFlore and Joe Langan stands at Unity Point. You can find him represented in public spaces and educational centers, in front of businesses, houses of worship and in museums across the South.
Fairhope resident Nall is an Alabama product but is known as much for his European exhibitions and associates. He curated the RSA Battle House Tower and Battle House Hotel exhibits and is included in MMoA’s collection. He also assimilated the abilities that regional legends Truman Capote and Eugene Walter displayed for creative spectacle.
Larsen is noted for his found-object sculptures. He can implement scraps of either natural or mechanical origin and create amazingly organic pieces in a range of sizes. His work can fit in the human hand or it can dwarf an elephant.
Another Fairhope resident, Larsen’s pieces are ubiquitous locally. Beyond the Mobile Bay area, his work can be found in Huntsville, Washington D.C., and Italy. It is also in the collections of Bill Clinton, Jeff Koons, Ralph Lauren and Leonardo DiCaprio.
“This has been going on for well over a year with studio visits and talking about ideas, principles and selecting from their body of work. In Casey [Downing] and Nall’s cases, we show a span of 40 years,” Hackney said.
Readying the space included building shelves to imply the effect of Downing’s studio. Those will be lined with busts, monuments, macquettes and other work over the decades.
While the Downing and Nall portions are ready, the remaining load-in to the second floor’s East Gallery is the one requiring the most patience and planning.
“Bruce [Larsen]’s largest parts arrived yesterday and today,” Hackney said. “I’m waiting for him in the next couple of days to come in, do some installation and kind of recreate his chaos in a slightly organized manner.”
Then there’s a matter of liability. Larsen’s work has pitfalls if you’re not careful.
“Bruce’s [sculptures] can have lots of jagged metal so we have to be cautious. We have to protect the art from the public and the public from the art,” Hackney said.
Mobile artists have overtaken the galleries. Not only is there a first-floor Fred Marchman exhibit, as profiled in this space in early June, but the upstairs Regions Bank and Moorer galleries will host “Lee Hoffman: A Legacy.” An educator at Spring Hill College and the University of South Alabama for 36 years, his artistic talents still astounds locals.
“When you enter you will see [his] more recent watercolor work in the hallway because of its more intimate scale. Then when you get to the Moorer [Gallery] you will see his very early oil paintings that have influences from the early 1960s, particularly from Matisse,” Hackney said.
The now-deceased Hoffman’s family allowed access to his studio collection. Its location near MMoA was optimal.
The Marchman show ends in November while the others are in place until early January 2020.
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