For an artist, inspiration can strike anywhere. For David Scanavino, it was a trip back to his alma mater, Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. He graduated two years before the 1999 massacre and visited the campus after the tragedy to reconnect with his old stomping grounds.
“They had recharged the floors and other things to change the psychology of the rooms,” said Scanavino. “I was immediately aware of the changes, that they meant to show that good things would start. I began making work from an institutional environment, which we all participate in but we ignore.”
Scanavino spoke as he completed an installation at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum. Using tiles in a wide range of cheerful colors from the Armstrong linoleum line, Scanavino installed a new floor in the gallery. Scanavino’s floor sits diagonally across the real floor, its corners climbing up the walls. “I wanted to have the floor break away from the room,” he said.
Scanavino’s art — his installation also includes a brightly colored paper-pulp relief slapped onto the gallery wall — is attention-grabbing on its own, but the Aldrich has more in mind than that. Scanavino is one of four contemporary artists whose work is being displayed at the Ridgefield art space, all of the new work “in conversation” with works by veteran artists with similiar creative sensibilities.
All of the older artists — Richard Artschwager, Eva Hesse, Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin and Richard Serra — harken back to the earliest exhibitions of the Aldrich. The tandem exhibitions are part of the museum’s celebration of its 50th anniversary.
“We agonized for a long time how to mark the 50 years. The obvious way was to show the ‘greatest hits’ but navel-gazing isn’t true to the spirit of the place,” said museum spokeswoman Pam Ruggio. “We decided to focus on the choices [museum founder] Larry Aldrich made and look at the present through the prism of the past.”
Scanavino’s work, which creates pyramids on the walls, is in conversation with Artschwager’s “Pyramidal Object” and Kelly’s vivid “Yellow Piece.”
Also in conversation with Kelly is Cary Smith, the vibrant colorist from Farmington. His exhibit features dozens of examples of both his sharply geometrical patterns and his more flowing forms.
“I am constantly kept visually active, kept alert, by the variation,” Smith said. “I’m interested in contradictions of graphic sensitivity.”
He says although he doesn’t think about Kelly or Martin — his other “in conversation” artist — when he is working, he feels a kinship to both. Kelly’s “geometric, hard-edged abstraction” and Martin’s subtlety.
“She has a sensitivity like a bug walking on water, great strength but also delicacy,” he said. The Martin piece at the exhibit is “The Rose.”
Kate Gilmore’s performance piece, which after the performance became her sculptural and video installation, is called “A Roll in the Way.” It is presented in conversation with Serra’s “Bent Pipe Roll.” Amy Smith-Stewart, who curated the exhibits with Richard Klein, calls Gilmore’s work an “endurance-based duration performance” and it involves a stage, a room full of logs and different colored paint.
Ernesto Neto’s pink, pendulous ceiling piece, “The Body That Gravitates on Me,” is in conversation with Eva Hesse’s “Accession.”
In addition to the “in conversation” exhibits, two artists whose work exhibited at the Aldrich in the past have solo shows. Mary Beth Edelson’s “Six Story Gathering Boxes,” a project she began in 1972, seeks to create an alternative history by asking visitors six sets of questions, each with its own story box. One box focuses on “great mother” myths, another on new and old myths, another on gender parity, another on childhood, one on making up a new beginning and one on family immigration stories. Visitors can read other people’s answers to the questions and add their own.
Jackie Winsor — who participated in Lucy Lippard’s groundbreaking 1971 show at the Aldrich of 26 women artists — contributes “Painted Piece,” which she created in 1979. The simple 31-inch plywood cube was painted with dozens of layers of acrylic paint in several colors and then dragged through the cobblestoned Mercer Street in Soho to let the street finish the work.
“It didn’t turn out as I expected … The paint melted, smeared,” Winsor said. “I dragged it until it did what I wanted it to do.
“I liked the aspect of chance, a known and what you could bring to it with an unknown,” she added. “I wanted to have the energy of that action on this very static form, a non-action form that attracted action to itself.”
Winsor’s newer work in the show is from her series of geometric sculptural pieces made from wood, plaster, plexiglass, and concrete, which hang from holes cut into the gallery wall. “I wanted to penetrate the wall. It activates the wall that way,” she said.
STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF LOVE: THE ALDRICH COLLECTION 1964-1974, Kate Gilmore: A Roll In The Way, Ernesto Neto: The Body That Gravitates On Me, David Scanavino: Imperial Texture, Cary Smith: Your Eyes They Turn Me And Mary Beth Edelson: Six Story Gathering Boxes, Jackie Winsor: With And Within are at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, 258 Main St. in Ridgefield, until April 5. Gilmore, Edelson, Winsor, Scanavino and Smith will be at the opening reception, on Sunday, Oct. 19, beginning at 2 p.m. Details: www.aldrichart.org.