U.Va. Art Museum Exhibit, "William Christenberry: Site Possession," Kicks Off Yearlong Exploration of Southern Influences in American Identity

October 30, 2007

Oct. 30, 2007 — Artist William Christenberry is well-known for his photographs and enigmatic building sculptures that reflect his relationship to the South and growing up in Hale County, Ala. He returns there each summer to experience anew the buildings and landscape as they change over time. The University of Virginia Art Museum exhibit, "William Christenberry: Site/Possession," on view through Dec. 23, offers a glimpse into two areas of his artistic work that are rarely exhibited.

"His ability to make most of us, who are neither from Hale County nor familiar with the South on any deep personal level, feel an affinity to that place is remarkable," wrote museum director Jill Hartz in the forward to the exhibition catalogue.

A prolific artist, one of Christenberry's beloved subjects is the Southern tree, which is sometimes representational but mostly abstract,  and the improvisational manner in which he approaches this subject underpins of all his work. The 47 graphic works displayed in the exhibit allow the viewer to explore the relationship between the drawings and his work in other media, as well as the way in which he approaches, thinks about and expresses the rural Alabama that he loves.

"His methods are simultaneously directed at honing his skills, working out compositional problems and creating images that are complete ideas," said curator Andrea Douglas.

The second area of Christenberry's work on exhibit is "The Klan Room Tableau." The installation has evolved over many years as a "private exorcism" and response to the Ku Klux Klan. Through the various drawings, photographs and sculpture that comprise the Tableau, the artist addresses injustice and racism.

"In creating the work, it is his most visceral response to a problem that he wholeheartedly was abhorrent to — the idea of segregation, the idea of Klan violence, the idea of one's skin color dictating what one can do in life," Douglas said.

The Christenberry exhibition is the first of a series that includes "The Dresser Trunk Show," which opens Nov. 3, and "The Landscape of Slavery: The Plantation in American Art," which opens Jan. 25. Surrounding these exhibits, the museum has organized a yearlong series of programs — "Forming American Identities: Our Southern Legacy" — which will investigate the South, racism, landscape and memory through cinema, music, literature and historical explorations of freedom, democracy and the landscape of the South.

The museum has also developed a yearlong program for 11th-graders in Charlottesville and Albemarle County that uses all three exhibitions to address Standards of Learning in American history, American studies and art, as well as to examine issues such as diversity and gang violence.

The exhibits and programs together will explore issues that help us understand how Southern culture permeates American culture. The programs were created with extensive input from the University and surrounding community.

The U.Va. Art Museum is open to the public without charge Tuesday through Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m.  Parking is available on Bayly Drive, off Rugby Road.

For information, call (434) 924-3592 or visit the museum Web site at www.virginia.edu/artmuseum.