In the central room of the 1940s to Now Gallery, there is a really lovely grouping of works by several female artists from the 1950s to the 1970s. Residents of this space are Ruth Asawa’s Untitled woven wire sculpture, Louise Nevelson’s Night Zag Wall, Lynda Benglis’s Eat Meat, Jackie Ferrara’s A214 RESBA, and Alma Thomas’s Lunar Rendezvous—Circle of Flowers, among others.
“What I started to notice among these different works was that there was this rhythm of weight and balance and gravity,” said Alligood. “It’s not expressed at all. We don’t talk about it on the labels, we don’t talk about it on the wall. But for me that became the logic. The underlying feeling of that gallery is one of precariousness—and even, in some cases, of transcendence or uplift or ascension.”
This balance of weight and uplift begins with Ruth Asawa’s Untitled sculpture, a series of nested globes made of hand-woven wire. Asawa was interned in a Japanese American internment camp here in Arkansas during World War II, and that experience of being bound or caged can be felt in this work.
“You start off with this heavy weight,” Alligood said. “I hung the Asawa low—she’s quite low to the ground, and then I lit her from all sides, so you get the repetitive forms of the shadows. She’s super weighty.”
Next your eye moves to the imposing matte black form of Louise Nevelson’s Night Zag Wall. You might think of this work as being heavy, with its dark color and dense material, but Alligood sees the sculpture as something in the act of ascension. “This work has this…almost like the opening of a wing,” Alligood explained. “It’s moving upwards, so I hung it high in the space. We typically hang at a 60-inch center. But that doesn’t work for this work, because if you put it too low it looks like a piece of furniture. And what I wanted to emphasize was that this thing was drawing your eye up, it was asking you to look upward.”
So: Asawa down, Nevelson up. Next comes Jackie Ferrara’s architectural stacked-wood sculpture, A214 RESBA, which Alligood sees as having another downward pull, geometrically drawing your eye toward the floor and the heaviness of the broad base. From there Alma Thomas’s bright-colored series of concentric rings lifts you up again, as if you’re peering upward through a rainbow-hued tunnel.
“And then right in front of her is this big plop of Lynda Benglis’s Eat Meat,” Alligood says. “I mean, you could not get more weighty than that.”
The up and down rhythm of this space helps guests relate the works to one another and offers a sort of framework for the experience, even if it isn’t explicitly stated. It also emphasizes the diversity of materials and techniques that are represented in these artworks.
Visit the 1940s to Now Gallery sometime soon and see if you experience the same rhythm of weight and uplift when you explore this grouping.