Rarely Seen Christenberry Drawings on Exhibit at U.Va. Art Museum

October 02, 2007

Oct. 2, 2007 -- From Oct. 19 to Dec. 23, visitors to the University of Virginia Art Museum will have an extraordinary chance to see the drawings that artist William Christenberry calls the basis and inspiration for all his other work. Christenberry is frequently the subject of national acclaim for his renowned photographs of rural Alabama, but this exhibit, “William Christenberry: Site/Possession,” offers the opportunity to experience a more complete representation of Christenberry’s life and work.

In addition to approximately 50 drawings, the University-curated exhibition features paintings, photographs, constructions, dream buildings and the "Klan Room Tableau." Christenberry’s imagery focuses on Hale County, Ala., and the area’s connection with the Klan is of great significance to him. The "Klan Room Tableau" evokes the terror and bewilderment Christenberry feels toward the Klan. In this work, he viscerally forces the viewer to deal with humanity’s moments of evil and violence. Christenberry said in a 2006 "Studio 360" interview, “I’ve been criticized for even undertaking this, but my feeling and my argument is, 'How can I turn a blind eye to racial prejudice and injustice?' ... It’s a tough piece. It’s meant to be. You’re not meant to be comfortable in there."

The drawings offer a personal glimpse into Christenberry’s artistic process. The earliest drawing is from 1959, when Christenberry was in Memphis teaching for the first time and honing his artistic skills. The latest drawing is from 2006 and is reflective of the myriad of techniques and stylizations that he has brought to all of his work. Their subjects include everything from Southern gourd trees to tenant houses to eerie dream buildings. 

An exhibition of Christenberry's photographs is currently touring under the auspices of Aperture, and his major exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington will begin a national tour next year. Christenberry is also an educator; he has been a member of the art faculty at the Corcoran College of Art and Design since 1968.

The U.Va. Art Museum's Christenberry show is part of an exhibition schedule for the year that explores what makes us particularly American. Other exhibits include the "Dresser Trunk Project" and "The Plantation in American Art."

Along with these exhibits is a symposium entitled “Forming American Identities.” This includes a number of talks and discussions at the museum, beginning Oct. 5 at 5:30 with “Manifest Destiny and American Empire,” an exploration of how we reconcile freedom and democracy with our fundamental American values. The symposium continues until March 28.

The exhibition is made possible with the generous support of the FUNd, the Oakwood Foundation, the Glenstone Foundation, the Council for the Arts, the Arts Enhancement Fund, Barbara and Richard S. Lane, Irwin and Linda Berman, the Virginia Commission for the Arts, Dr. Robert L. and Lucinda W. Bunnen, Betsy and Frank Karel, Soul of Virginia Magazine, Yvette Kraft and another anonymous support.

The University of Virginia Art Museum is open to the public, free of charge, Tuesdays through Sundays from 1-5 p.m. For information, call (434) 924-3592 or visit www.virginia.edu/artmuseum.