Tim Scott at the Everson: Toronto art connections bring British sculptor to CNY

Nancy Keefe Rhodes 03/11/10More articles
British sculptor Tim Scott (seated on left) with Everson Museum director Steven Kern, on Saturday, January 30, the afternoon following the exhibition’s opening reception. Tim Scott gave a gallery walk-through and then a Q&A with visitors gathered in the upstairs east gallery. Behind them is Scott’s “Bird in Arras V” (1969), painted steel tubes and acrylic sheets. Collection of Lewis P. Cabot. Photo © Darryl Hughto, used with permission. To see a photo gallery with more work by Scott, go back to the main page and click on the blue “Photos” button in the center bar.

Sometimes you don’t know what possessed you. Some rules you learn so early and they are so incessantly repeated that you forget there was a time you didn’t know you’re not supposed to touch the art, and you actually can’t remember the last time you did. Museums and galleries remind us – with glass cases, velvet ropes, white cotton gloves for handling photos and archives, lighting that illuminates and also sets apart, and the occasional idiosyncratic object lesson. North of Syracuse, near the Canadian border, the Frederic Remington Museum in Watertown displays a cast bronze head along with a stern sign inviting you to touch this one and notice what the accumulated oil of innumerable finger tips does to the metal’s patina. The Everson Museum has chosen white tabs on the floor, dotted around the six monumental Tim Scott sculptures now on view there. Though discreet, they faintly evoke the chalk line drawn around the fallen victim at a crime scene.

On my third visit to this exhibition, at a midday lull when the museum was nearly empty of visitors, I was standing next to the most extended slender prong of “Wine” (1969), the first Scott you encounter in the north gallery at the top of the stairs, and – E.T.-like, Sistine-like – I touched the end with one index finger. Immediately the guard at the gallery door took one step forward and I, one back. A nearly imperceptible tremor ran through the entire piece. “Wine” is not even my favorite piece in this show, nor is it the most delicate. In the midst of the museum’s main traffic flow in the first floor court, Scott’s “Bird in Arras VII” (1969) – ten feet wide and eight feet high, ten thin orange and yellow acrylic sheets bolted to painted metal tubing – poises entirely on just four points.

At the end of January, the Everson Museum followed up its hugely popular run of the touring “Turner to Cezanne” – paintings by late 19th century artists – with “Tim Scott – The Sixties: When Colour Was Sculpture.” Everson director Steven Kern, who often writes a guest column in the Sunday “Post-Standard,” quickly dispelled any notion that this was a leap. Instead, he noted that the Impressionism of the 1870s, which used color and light to expand the definition of painting, “offers the perfect transition” to the Color Field painting and sculpture of the 1960s, a “logical extension” since “color itself became the subject.”

When Kern writes vividly that in Scott’s work “color and space lock together only to break apart, as movement is caught in suspended animation, and as steel and acrylic seem to defy gravity,” he might be describing the lobby’s “Bird in Arras VII” on its poised points or the susceptibility of “Wine” to tremor at the lightest touch. He’s also echoing the twin concerns of gravity and arrested motion that Scott’s contemporary fellow sculptor William Tucker articulated so well in his discussion of Rodin and Degas, respectively, in his “Early Modern Sculpture” (1974).

The I.M. Pei-designed Everson, which opened in 1968, provides a uniquely appropriate – and what Kern calls “satisfying” – setting for the large Scotts. Painter and sculptor Darryl Hughto of Canestota commented, “Seeing these sculptures in I.M. Pei’s first museum, created at the time these sculptures were made, by an architect who collected this period and style of art and was therefore thinking of spaces to display this art, was everything one could have hoped for.”

Scott, who divides his time between Yorkshire, UK, and the Sri Lankan city of Kandy, flew here for the January 29th opening of the Everson show and the next afternoon’s gallery talk. Now in his early 70s, the British Scott initially trained as an architect in London at the Architectural Association from 1954 to ’59, then worked in Paris at the Atelier Le Corbusier-Wogenscky for two years, returning to London in 1961. But he’d also studied sculpture part-time with Anthony Caro at St. Martin’s School of Art from 1955-59, and while in Paris was exposed to Matisse’s cut-outs and photos of the American sculptor David Smith. Scott established a studio in London and taught sculpture at St. Martin’s from 1961 to ’75. And he was part of the emerging “New Generation” group whose 1965 exhibition in London’s Whitechapel Gallery included Philip King, Isaac Witkin, and William Tucker (the same). The year before, the critic Clement Greenberg said this group was “doing the best sculpture in the world today.” At the gallery talk, Scott recalled that Greenberg had gone to London once. “A dozen of us paid his fare. All he said to me was, ‘Carry on.’ I didn’t know that was high praise at the time. We talked about the children and painting the house.”

Organized by David Mirvish of Toronto, the Scott exhibition at Everson actually combines two shows that opened concurrently in Toronto in late 2008. The very large pieces assembled of painted aluminum and steel with colored acrylic sheets date from the late 60s; there are six here of the seven that comprised Mirvish’s Toronto exhibition. There is also a selection of Scott’s smaller unglazed stoneware sculptures from the “House of Clay” series (2008), completed in Toronto and exhibited there at the Corkin Gallery.

How the Tim Scott show occurred in Toronto and then got to Syracuse, and who came along with it for the opening festivities, is of more than usual interest, since it may bode well for the corridor between Upstate New York and Ontario. In his gallery talk, Scott recalled that he’d been in Central New York before, in 1977 and again in 1983, at the Sculpture Space in Utica. And Hughto says Scott wondered later in his visit if he might get access to Syracuse China’s now-dormant kilns if he came back to do more stoneware work. For his part, David Mirvish – here to see the Everson and the city for himself – said after Saturday’s gallery talk that he’d like to see more art exchanges of this sort.

David Mirvish is a name that some may more readily associate with the Tony Awards in recent years than with fine art. He owns four theatres in Toronto and in the past decade, having divested himself of London’s Old Vic theatre, has expanded into downtown Toronto real estate development. Mirvish involved himself in his father’s theatre business in 1987 by taking over the 1500-seat Royal Alexandria Theatre and founding Mirvish Productions, but before that he was an art dealer and collector. Mirvish ran his own Toronto gallery for a dozen years (1963-75), where he exhibited abstract artists and Color Field painters and sculptors including Jack Bush, Frank Stella, Robert Motherwell, Helen Frankenthaler, Hans Hofmann, Morris Lewis, Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, Larry Poons, Milton Avery – as well as Anthony Caro and Tim Scott. And despite his turn to theatre, Mirvish and his wife Audrey continued to build their fine personal collection and maintained long-established ties in the art world.

In 2006, Mirvish already owned two Tim Scott sculptures – “Counterpoint VIII” (1972), one of a series of clear acrylic slabs and unpainted steel bars, and “New York Mudra VII” (1983), from the later, increasingly heavy forged steel – when he was asked to consider buying “Sestina” (1967), which had been in storage, disassembled, for 40 years. (Mirvish writes in the exhibition catalog that Harry Cooper, curator and head of Modern and Contemporary Art at the National Gallery in Washington, DC, had encouraged Tim Scott that Mirvish might provide “the best home” for “Sestina.”)

Mirvish made the purchase from photographs alone and, delighted beyond his expectations, invited Scott to Toronto to oversee refurbishment of all three of his Scott pieces plus four others owned by Lewis Cabot. (The two collectors first met in 1965 when Mirvish first showed Anthony Caro’s work in Toronto.) This involved fabricating new nuts and bolts of chrome or stainless steel (many of the original brass fittings were lost) and matching colors of both paints and acrylic sheets long out of production. Mirvish subsequently acquired two more Sixties-era Scotts: “Quinquereme” (1966), of which there is an edition of three, and “Bird in Arras III” (1968). These, with Cabot’s four and “Sestina,” comprised the 2008 exhibition, held in a rented warehouse, that Mirvish says he “found” himself organizing – his first art exhibition in thirty years. Jane Corkin, who was Mirvish’s gallery photographer in the Seventies and opened her own gallery after his closed, offered to exhibit Scott’s stoneware concurrently.

So this was what Steven Kern traveled to Toronto in late 2008 to see, not long after his own arrival in Syracuse as the Everson’s new director. He was not the only one; Toronto’s Mirvish Gallery and then the Corkin Gallery had long been in the loop of frequent visits for Canastota-based artists Darryl Hughto and Susan Roth, who had also known Scott since the mid-70s, when both Hughto and he had exhibited at the Tibor de Nagy and Meredith Long Contemporary galleries in New York City, then run by New York art dealer Stewart Waltzer. That the Mirvishes, Corkin, Toronto art critic Ken Carpenter, and Waltzer all joined Scott in Syracuse for this opening acknowledged those past ties as well as future opportunities for Central New York.

Besides the “Bird of Arras VII” that greets everyone in the Everson’s main court, the other large Scotts occupy the north and east upstairs galleries. The massive “Quinquereme” (1966), with its white and purple quarter-spheres and black, navy and clear quarter-circles shares the north gallery with “Wine.” “Bird in Arras III” (1968), its milky sheets looking flung above a green arch, shares the east gallery with both “Bird in Arras V” (1969) and the magnificent “Sestina” (1967). Scott’s “Bird in Arras” series (1967-70) totals nine in all and takes its name from “Cake and Sack” in Walter de la Mare’s book of children’s rhymes, “Peacock Pie” (1913), referencing a medieval tapestry in which a bird is poised for flight.

Walking clockwise, you’ll arrive then in the large south gallery. To accompany the Scott exhibition, the Everson has pulled from its permanent collection considerable work from the Black Mountain School, painters and sculptors associated in some way – as faculty, students or guests – with Black Mountain College, the small progressive school outside Ashville, North Carolina. Short-lived though it was – open only from 1933-57 – Black Mountain nevertheless acted as an important incubator for the American avant garde in those years, including a contingent of the Color Field artists who were Scott contemporaries, among them the Bauhaus refugee Joseph Albers, Ilya Bolotowsky, Kenneth Noland and Jules Olitski (whose daughter, Lauren Poster, also travelled to Syracuse for the opening from Marlboro, VT, where she directs the Jules Olitski Warehouse).

Scott’s “House of Clay” pieces – six are here from the seventeen shown in Toronto, on loan from the Corkin Gallery – are behind glass in the small Cloud Wampler Gallery on the first floor. “House of Clay” echoes structural elements – rolled slab walls, beams and lintels, cantilevers, passageways, and suddenly contorted or compressed bulwarks – and interacts with gravity very differently than the Sixties’ soaring work does. Writing in the Toronto “Globe and Mail” in December 2008, Sarah Milroy said this “humble, hand-built” series evoked “primal architecture …earthbound, wearing their wrinkles and creases with pride, gently submitting to the pull of gravity on material flesh.”

Beginning in 1990, Scott made four trips to Chile for workshops with sculptor Francisco Gazitúa, writes Ken Carpenter in his catalog essay, and while there saw ceramic Incan artifacts in the Chilean Museum of Pre-Colombian Art. At his gallery talk, Scott related that he’d made use of the readily available clay he found when he taught sculpture in Nuremberg, Germany later in that decade. Someone in the audience asked if he were inspired to start working with clay for more control.

“No, there is less control!” exclaimed Scott, who added that working with a torch had in fact shown him the “plasticity” of steel. He went on, “Steel has immense structural strength. Clay just flops. One of the things about clay is how dreadfully non-resistant it is. But what I like about pottery is the wall – you see the structural potential of clay.”

What about those decades that stretch between the large Sixties pieces at the Everson and “House of Clay”? Scott moved away from color and from the fragility of thin acrylic sheets in the Seventies. He made some work that was much smaller and lighter in brushed aluminum such as the unpainted six-piece “Sistrum” series (1969) that Syracuse University owns. According to David Prince of SUArts, the University acquired “Sistrum” in 1982 as part of a larger bequest from Diane Ackerman, the widow of SU Law graduate Martin Ackerman, a successful businessman who got particularly interested in British art when living in England for several years and whose foundation donated art to museums and galleries around the US. SUArts recently had “Sistrum” I, V, and VI on display in the Shaffer Art Building campus gallery for several weeks. The assemblages of rectangular and triangular pipes, cones and bent circular tubes are more delicate and warmer than photos suggest – each for example contains some variation on a coyly folded shape that reveals itself, from the right angle, as a heart.

For some time afterward heavier, larger work followed. The exhibition catalog at the Everson also provides an example in views of the seventh piece from the 2008 Toronto show, which did not come to Syracuse. “Counterpoint VIII” (1972) bolts eight thick slabs of clear acrylic – projecting, as Scott says, light instead of color – to four rectangular strips of heavy, bent, unpainted steel. This exemplifies the transition Scott was making to massive, blocky forged steel pieces in the Seventies and Eighties. In January of this year, Darryl Hughto and Susan Roth visited an outdoor installation of several of such Scott sculptures on the coast of Maine. Hughto photographed them, observing that they reminded him of “Einstein the blacksmith …weighing heavy thoughts.”

David Mirvish commissioned the superb catalog for the double show in 2008, and it’s available in the Everson’s museum shop. Besides Mirvish’s own astute note on his role, this contains an essay on the large Sixties work by David Moos, curator of Contemporary Art for the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto; an essay on “House of Clay” by the art historian and critic Ken Carpenter, who teaches at York University in Toronto (and came along with the Mirvishes for the opening); a full exhibition list with thumbnails of all works, bio and lists of Scott’s solo and group shows.

Last – but way far from least – the catalog contains an extremely generous spread of extraordinary full-color photos by Cylla von Tiedemann (the Sixties work) and a. l. Conway (“House of Clay”). These photos examine both large and small works from every angle, with full views and close-ups that come close to replicating that in-the-round experience that sculpture should be.

Intriguingly, in 2008 Scott also told Toronto journalist Sarah Milroy, “The problem is that now sculpture is allowed to be about anything you like. What we were taught, with Caro, and what I have come to also believe, is that the job of the sculptor is to resist this confusion with the order of things. Sculpture is a category of objects that somehow resists being the same as all the other three-dimensional objects in the world – the coffee cups, machines, the door knobs, automobiles. Each artist must find their own way to make that distinction.”

It’s helpful to recall here William Tucker’s views on what Rodin – and Tucker thinks more importantly, Degas – contributed to early modern sculpture. While saying that Scott’s sculpture works well as three-dimensional painting is a useful analogy for putting the Sixties work in context, it carries some risk of misleading. Scott himself would seem to prefer in the end maintaining that distinction too. He said at the gallery talk, “I’m not really interested in bridging painting and sculpture – they have different problems.”

For better or worse, the catalog photos underline the fact that we cannot see all the Scott pieces now at the Everson in the same way. I appreciate the logic of providing a context for Scott’s time and milieu by displaying contemporary work from the museum’s own collection – and Everson exhibitions are well-known for this. But I still found myself wishing for less Black Mountain in favor of more room for the Scotts – for example, in the east gallery “Bird in Arras V” sits too close to the wall to walk around it, but could have had breathing room in the south gallery, joined by “Wine” perhaps; “Quinquereme” could certainly occupy the smaller north gallery itself. Similarly, I appreciate the logic of showing the “House of Clay” stoneware downstairs in what has always been a ceramics gallery and where it also acts as a gentle invitation to take in the otherwise more isolated exhibition by Cazenovia artist Jen Pepper, “that which cannot be held,” that’s right across the hallway. But putting “House of Clay” behind glass reduces what is extravagantly three-dimensional to a pinched fish-tank view. In a note after the opening, Jane Corkin observes, “They are a ‘slow look’ and engage one element by element.” One would like to walk around “Bird in Arras V” and the stoneware pieces, like the other Scotts, rather than see them treated like – well, paintings. I wonder if this very distinction is what I unwittingly encountered in my own transgression with “Wine.”

Indeed, it seems pinched to complain. This is an exhibition of such immense pleasure – for itself and for what may follow.

A shorter version of this article appears in the March 11, 2010 print edition of the Syracuse City Eagle weekly. “Tim Scott: The Sixties – When Colour Was Sculpture,” runs at the Everson Museum through April 11 at 401Harrison St., Syracuse, 315.474.6064 or Special thanks to Jane Corkin, Darryl Hughto and Susan Roth. Hughto and Roth also have an exhibition of recent work at Limestone Gallery in Fayetteville, on view from March 12 until April 23. Nancy writes about film, photo and visual arts. Reach her at

TAGS: Tim Scott, Modern sculpture, Color Field sculpture, Everson Museum, David Mirvish, Corkin Gallery Toronto, Darryl Hughto & Susan Roth, Syracuse University Art Collection
EDITION: The Eagle

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