By Betsy DiJulio
Elegant and austere, Norwood Viviano’s gracefully attenuated and pendant and occasionally funnel-like “plumb bob” forms are, in fact, three-dimensional graphs of population growth and decline in 25 US cities from New York to Flint, Michigan, including Norfolk.
The artist has transformed “black and white” census data into glossy black, smoky gray and milky white conical forms in a mesmerizing orchestration of variations on a theme. The age of the city determines the vessel’s length, while population determines width, each one in proportion to the others. Though not absolute, in this formal marriage of art and social science, six inches in height equals 100 years while two inches in width equals 1 million people. Shifts in color signal significant change, with white generally correlated to expansion and black to contraction.
Suspended from thin stainless steel cable around the periphery of the gallery, the minimalist “bobs” almost imperceptibly sway in the ambient air current, their translucent cast shadows layered on the wall with digitally-produced black line drawings, scale models of the forms in front of each. Associate Professor and Sculpture Program Coordinator at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, MI, Viviano, who is widely exhibited nationally and internationally, is known for a spectrum of projects in which traditional modes of sculptural production intersect digital technology.
Created by the artist while in residency at Tacoma, Washington’s Museum of Glass, “Cities” is a collaboration between the artist and hot glass artisans. The residency context and its concomitant “productive discourse” is for Vivano a “good tool to challenge the way I’ve worked in the past.” He consciously uses the seductive nature of blown glass materials and techniques to “suck people in” where they may then “participate in a conversation.” Because, of course, it is not shifts in population themselves that are compelling, but the reasons why.
And those reasons—at the heart of our cities and our lives—knit together geography, history and economics with commerce, politics, and culture. Where there is culture, there is conflict, and so-called “white flight” from urban centers, as well as global migration, has a supporting role to play. So does climate. It comes as no surprise, then, that the medium of glass itself, fragile by nature, is an especially fitting molten metaphor for the issues that flow through this work.
Diane Wright, the Chrysler’s Barry Curator of Glass, was drawn to what she calls Viviano’s “tranquil visual database” not only for its sculptural integrity, but for the way in which it allows viewers to visualize information and data. “We (artists and museums) can help shape information that is challenging,” as part of critical dialogues about contemporary issues, including our region’s concern with water issues in “a changing landscape,” she asserts.
Directly to that end is Viviano’s participation as a visiting educator-artist in “Adaptation Forum,” a mid-February symposium hosted by the Chrysler Museum in conjunction with Old Dominion University. Artists, scientists, environmental activists, city and regional planners, educators, and students will convene to discuss sea-level rise and its impact on our region.
The forms in “Cities,” generated using 3-D computer modeling and subdued, yet dazzling, data visualization, are conceived as a revolved line around an axis. The result is a meditative interplay of form and value contrast, at once subtle and quietly dramatic. Symbolically, Viviano thinks of the plumb bob form as suggestive of a search: the desire to arrive somewhere knowing something more.
As glass graphs, indeed these forms condense and distill facts—some 400 years of the dynamic urban American landscape—into concrete entities that invite comparison between cities and regions. Economic devastation and boom driven by a multiplicity of catalysts, whether in a metropolitan center, an industrialized Midwestern “Rust Belt” town, or our very own Norfolk, stand in stark visual contrast to each other, inviting viewers to engage with difficult truths through beautiful tropes.
Chrysler Museum of Art Community Programming:
Third Thursday Artist Talk: Norwood Viviano
Thursday, February, 18 | 6:30 p.m.
Artist Norwood Viviano talks about his statistics-turned-art exhibition on view in the Glass Projects Space (G. 118). After his illustrated presentation, Boardwalk Brass Band cranks out Cajun favorites in Huber Court as we celebrate laissez les bon temps rouler. Both the Museum and the Perry Glass Studio are open until 10 p.m. on Third Thursday. Cash bar at both locations.
Cost: Museum Members and students with current ID, $5 for all others. Third Thursday is generously sponsored by The Capital Group Companies and Virginia Natural Gas/AGL Resources.
Water, Cities, and Native: An Exhibition Expedition
Saturday, February 20 | 4 p.m.
Explore the art of Edward Burtynsky and Norwood Viviano, as well as new works from a commissioned exhibition that focus on the interplay between sea and land in our community. This walking tour starts at the Chrysler and ends at nearby Work|Release a few blocks away on Granby Street.
Family Day: Water, Water Everywhere
Saturday, March 12 | 10 a.m.–3 p.m.
Rain or shine, this family fun is all about the H2O. Plan to get a little wet as you explore this natural resource through hands-on activities, artmaking, and more.
Cost: Free. Family Day is generously sponsored by the Bunny and Perry Morgan Fund.
Norwood Viviano—Cities: Departure and Deviation
Through July 31
One Memorial Place, Norfolk
757.664.6200 / www.chrysler.org