Nancy Shaver, in a career that has spanned four decades, has consistently worked to challenge expectations on the aesthetic hierarchies found in visual culture. Her practice, which involves finding objects, making objects, and recontextualizing objects, has been informed by a critical eye that looks—and looks hard—at the culture of materiality with an attitude approaching that of an anthropologist. But Shaver’s practice is not just based in an intellectual pursuit; it is equally informed by personal experience—specifically a life that has been lived in the dichotomy between her rural, working-class roots and the high-art world that she has engaged since the 1970s.
The majority of exhibitions of Shaver’s work include hierarchy-bending components, and Reconciliation is no exception, bringing together the artist’s recent sculpture, works by other artists, found objects, folk art objects, and utilitarian objects. But in this instance, the exhibition is framed by the presence of two artists whose names have probably never been linked before: Walker Evans (1903–1975) and Sonia Delaunay (1885–1979). Evans is the American photographer who became known in the 1930s for his stark depictions of life during the Depression, particularly in the rural south; Delaunay, the French Modernist artist, was a painter and textile and fashion designer. Shaver, through this juxtaposition, is positing her life and work as a reconciliation between the make-do aesthetics of Allie Mae Burroughs, a cotton sharecropper whose home in Alabama was extensively photographed by Evans in 1935, and Delaunay’s sophisticated endeavors in the Parisian art and fashion world of the 1920s.
Shaver’s sculpture primarily utilizes fragments of used clothing fabric and other textiles that reflect the demographics of the region around her home in upstate New York. She selects fabrics not just for the abstract patterning and color, but also for their encoded sociological meaning. For instance, fancy dress material is placed adjacent to camouflage fabric; tweed is butted up against boy’s pajama material printed with sports motifs. Besides “cheap” cloth, Shaver frequently incorporates fragments of highly refined Japanese textiles, as well as patterned fabric that she creates by drawing with a china marker on muslin. Shaver’s work suggests horizontal movement, a socioeconomic leveling where there really isn’t much of a difference between haute couture and Walmart. The collaged fabric-scrap nature of these works resembles quilting, and Shaver is very aware that her process relates to vernacular fabric collage; but by wrapping fabric around wooden blocks and assembling the blocks into three dimensional objects, she is declaring them to be more a part of the world of art—not craft—a position where both making and philosophical inquiry are on an equal footing.
Richard Klein, Exhibitions Director.
Nancy Shaver was born in 1946 in Appleton, New York; she lives and works in Jefferson, New York.