Aldwyth: work v. / work n.: Collage and Assemblage 1991-2008

May 31, 2009 - September 13, 2009

Black and white collage of tree

For decades, the collage artist Aldwyth has produced her art in relative seclusion from the larger art world. Now seventy-three, her first major retrospective will premiere at the Ackland. “The Ackland is privileged to be the first museum to present an Aldwyth exhibition of this scale,” says Ackland Director Emily Kass. “Her remarkable work demands to be seen. It is hard to think of an audience who will not be mesmerized by these extraordinary pieces of art.”

Organized by The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the College of Charleston, Aldwyth: work v./work n.-Collage and Assemblage 1991-2009 features fifty-one pieces, including ten large collages, seven small collages, and thirty-four assemblages. Video footage documents the artist’s interaction with many works and Aldwyth herself will be in attendance for the May 31 opening reception and the Hanes Visiting Artist Lecture on September 8. After its Ackland premiere, the exhibition will travel to the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the College of Charleston (October 23, 2009 – January 9, 2010) and the Telfair Museum of Art in Savannah, Georgia (February 10 – May 17, 2010).

The Art

Aldwyth lives and works in an octagonal house on the edge of a salt marsh on one of South Carolina’s sea islands, where she creates astonishingly intricate collages and assemblages that recall the fantastical intricacies of Hieronymus Bosch. Exhibition Curator Mark Sloan, Director of the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, describes Aldwyth’s complex, often epic-scaled collages as resembling “medieval manuscript pages writ large.” Each piece can take years to make. Scores of minute images painstakingly hand-pasted to Japanese paper combine in ambitious works such as Casablanca (classic version), measuring close to six feet square and made up of hundreds of eyeballs lifted from classic works of art, accompanied by a detailed index cataloguing the origin of each eyeball. To create The World According to Zell, another large collage, Aldwyth cut every image from an 1871 Zell’s Encyclopedia and reworked them into a reflection of her own unique perspective on nature, life, and technology. A collection of twenty-six cigar boxes, decorated inside and out, illustrate the entire alphabet, while another assemblage — Evolution of a Species — records in the minutest detail the history of the creation of a series of visual “experiments” that resemble three-legged creatures.

The exhibition subtitle, work v. / work n., is to be read “work verb, work noun” in reference to the appearance of the word’s alternate definitions in the pieces About Work and Corpus. This focus is indicative of the artist’s desire for her art to be appreciated both as an object and a representation of the effort required to create such things. “Work is what all art has in common,” Aldwyth says.

Though an outsider to the art world, Aldwyth is by no means an outsider artist. Trained at the University of South Carolina and recipient of more than a dozen artistic residencies and fellowships, her work has been shown at the South Carolina State Museum (Columbia, SC), the Allen Stone Gallery (New York, NY), the Huntsville Museum (Huntsville, AL), and The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art (Charleston, SC), among many others. She uses the history of art, ideas, and technology as both catalyst and source material. Despite her geographic isolation, Aldwyth devours information and images available to her from libraries, bookstores, the internet, and art magazines. “She is a voracious reader and inveterate collector of detritus,” says Sloan. “All of the objects and images that enter her purview become fair game as the raw material from which her works are made.”

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue including essays by Sloan and author and artist Rosamond Purcell. In her essay, Purcell observes, “In Aldwyth’s collages much is hidden in plain sight simply because there is so much to see. If she has included autobiographical details, they appear in disguise, as generically published pictures. Mixed in and spread thickly with well-known art works, they embellish the Japanese paper that is her current canvas.” Further, Purcell says of the artist, “For every flat assertion about Aldwyth’s work, there will be an alternate. She slips away.”

This exhibition is made possible at the Ackland Art Museum with support from the Poitevent Redwine Trust.

Image Credit: Aldwyth, American, born 1935; The World According to Zell, 1997-2001; collage on Okararwa paper with pencil inscription and every illustration in Zell’s Popular Encyclopedia (1871), with magnifying glass, 79 x 76 in. (200.66 x 193.04 cm); Ackland Fund, 2010.41