Sculpture in the Rotunda is an ongoing series inaugurated in 2011 that presents large-scale sculpture and installation work in the Academy’s beaux-arts Rotunda. One of the most attractive architectural spaces in the building punctuated by a dramatic spiral staircase designed by Ogden Codman, this area has been dominated by the classical figure of Anna Hyatt Huntington’s bronze, Diana, for many years. The Rotunda takes on a much different and livelier tenor when filled with contemporary sculpture.
From September 2012 to September 2013 the Academy will present for the first time in its history a large-scale site-specific installation by artist Phoebe Washburn, titled in a typically nonsensical way for the artist Nudes, Housed Within Their Own Clothes and Aware of Their Individual Thirst, Descending a Staircase. Washburn began to gain attention about ten years ago with her large installations that were made from pieces of found cardboard. Generative in nature and constructed from great quantities of recycled materials, these structures were at once chaotic and ordered and seemed to reside somewhere between sculpture and architecture.
Since that time Washburn’s installations have become more intricate and are now frequently made with pieces of scrap wood and refuse that she has collected in her travels around New York City. Inspired by her interest in the inherent imperfections found in various types of systems for inspiration, the artist employs deliberately inefficient patterns of production to build her works. The result is a highly improvised approach to creating works with a rough-hewn “do-it-yourself” aesthetic. Beneath the surface, however, these process-based works speak to much larger issues of recycling, environmentalism, consumable products and the waste created by the current consumer-driven society.
At the National Academy, Washburn constructed a cylindrical tower approximately 15 feet high and 11 feet in diameter rising from the center of the Rotunda and penetrated by colorful “wormholes,” or tunnels, through which the viewer may peer as s/he ascends the surrounding spiral staircase.
Like most of her installations, Nudes, Housed Within Their Own Clothes and Aware of Their Individual Thirst, Descending a Staircase will be an environment for discovery by visitors, who will be able to peer down inside the structure once they have reached the the second floor landing at the top of the stairs. For Washburn, this installation is a continuation of ideas the artist explored in Nunderwater Nort Lab, the artist’s 2011 exhibition presented at Zach Feuer Gallery in collaboration with Mary Boone Gallery, both in New York. This installation reinforces the artist’s improvisatory approach to art making, while concurrently suggesting an underlying structure, pattern, or matrix on which it is built.
Phoebe Washburn was born in 1973 and received a MFA from the School of Visual Arts. Washburn has had exhibitions at the kestner gesellschaft in Hannover, 2008 Whitney Biennial in New York, Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin, Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia and the UCLA Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. Washburn lives and works in New York, NY.
The National Academy is grateful to the following for their generous support of our operations: The Bodman Foundation, The Bonnie Cashin Fund, in honor of Henry W. Grady, the Alex J. Ettl Foundation, the F. Donald Kenney Exhibition Fund, The Estate of Geoffrey Wagner in memory of Colleen Browning, NA, and public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.