As Chautauqua Institution embarks on its new strategic plan this season, big ideas abound. But one exhibition at the Visual Arts at Chautauqua Institution Galleries urges visitors to do something rarely encouraged at the Institution: think small.
Sculptures, that is.
“Small Sculptures: Big Impact” opens with a 3 p.m. reception Sunday at the Strohl Art Center. The exhibition features 32 small, three-dimensional sculptures from 13 different artists.
The exhibition was curated by Judy Barie, the Susan and John Turben director of VACI galleries. She traveled across the country to find pieces that complement one another, collecting a mix of simple and complex works. The sculptures are set on pedestals spread around the Main Gallery, creating what Barie calls a “forest of sculptures.”
The pieces represent a diverse array of cultures, processes and materials. Mediums include bronze, concrete, glass, ceramics, metal, wood and vintage books.
Sharif Bey is a sculptor and an associate professor at Syracuse University. He has two ceramic sculptures in the exhibition, and his work is heavily symbolic; he views his pieces as “sculptures of pots,” rather than literal pots.
“They are pottery, but to me they’re referencing pottery in a very different way,” he said. “They’re referencing ceremony and they’re referencing metaphor. It’s not something you would keep oatmeal in.”
Bey has many sources of inspiration, from the history of industry in Syracuse to motifs in West African sculpture. His “Ceremonial Vessels” contain shards of pottery from the now-defunct Syracuse China, a fine china manufacturer that operated out of Syracuse for more than 100 years. On top of both vessels stand sculptures of Guro birds, figures common in West African ceremonial masks.
“It has this feeling of being perched on top of the rubble of this factory,” he said.
Conny Gölz Schmitt is an artist based on the East Coast who creates collages from discarded vintage books. She is inspired by the used condition of her materials.
“Also,” she said, “I studied literature and kind of always wanted to eat up my books.”
She has three wall sculptures featured, the only wall art in the exhibition. She seeks to create balance and harmony in her work, following the principles of feng shui. This extends to how her art connects to the pieces around it.
“I like my work to have a conversation with other work,” she said.
John Sharvin is a Pittsburgh-based glassblower who uses glass and miniature figures to create terrarium-like landscapes. He has four pieces in the exhibition.
Sharvin’s work is inspired by the intersection of imagination and memory. One of his pieces, “Crystal Dream Capsule” came out of a National Geographic story he read about a hidden crystal cave in Mexico.
“It seemed like this complete fantasy-type place, but it actually exists,” he said. “It’s a place I would love to visit, but don’t think I ever really can. … I make it, so then I can imagine myself being in that environment.”
Sharvin believes the scale of his work encourages viewers to engage more directly with the art.