This preview first appeared in Art New England, May/June 2016.
The Walsh Art Gallery is presenting the largest exhibition ever of Don Gummer’s art. This major survey offers over 50 watercolor studies, cardboard and bronze models, wall reliefs, bronze and steel sculptures, and drawings—melding encaustic, pencil, and collage—by an acclaimed artist whose career spans nearly four decades. Here we are treated to his full range of media: from small sketches to elaborate topographies layering path over geometric path. Casting spider web shadows over all are his sculptures: free-standing, wall-mounted, and some tabletops. Each piece holds its own artistically, but each is a stage in a process: the artist is solving problems, and he welcomes us to rummage through his notes.
And what notes! What we experience is the pleasure of experimentation in often diametric ways. “Gravity and loft,” muses exhibition curator Linda Wolk-Simon of Gummer’s style, “muscularity and grace.” The bronze sculpture Passage (1993) is a stack of Sol LeWitt-like boxes that elegantly curves and wends, striving to lift off. What happens if you give a constructivist wings? Gummer is as interested in finding out as we are. In a series called Darwin’s Map (2000), the artist draws intricate puzzles that might be children’s maze books if not for their sophisticated line composition, then translates them into wall sculptures with silver leaf on ribbons of wood. As a whole, the work conjures the discipline of mathematical equations and drafting tables, imbued with the joy of exploration in a new land. The inarguable truth of engineering married to the essential truth of beauty. We are witnessing the travels of a lyrical yet analytical mind.
Gummer has built a practice of searching within a self-imposed armature. Calling the sculptures “a series of corrections,” he notes that his process involves creating challenges of imbalance for himself and then striving to right them, to achieve equilibrium. It’s calculated play, the way a musician layers notes and scales in search of a satisfying sound. In this way Gummer is composing works in wood and bronze, pencil and wax—richly layered, inquisitive, and ultimately satisfying in the way they move, like any stirring symphony.
Don Gummer: The Armature of Emotion: Drawings and Sculpture
Thomas J. Walsh Art Gallery at Fairfield University
March 3–June 11, 2016