Skirting the Square: Nancy Shaver Breaks Boundaries with Blocks

BY Juliet Helmke, Modern Painters | October 16, 2015

 

 “I enjoy a little bit of perversity,” confesses Nancy Shaver, who has spent her four-decade career avoiding what is comfortable, either for herself—avoiding the risk of complacency with any one visual style—or those around her. After all, she points out, “artmaking is difficult; why shouldn’t it be difficult for the viewer, too?” Perversity gets a bad rap. Now synonymous with having unnatural sexual proclivities (which is still but a slice of the wider definition), the word is rarely used outside this context, save for the occasional “perversion of justice.” Arising from the Latin perversus, meaning “to turn around,” it has always had a sinister implication. To be “obstinate in opposing what is right, reasonable, or accepted” is its definition. And while we are used to being challenged in art, Shaver’s brand of contrarianism cuts against the usual grain.

 

In an exhibition of her work on view through October 25 at the Aldrich Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut, a small chair, covered in a dusty cerulean patterned fabric cups between its armrests one of the artist’s block works—a grid of nine four-by-four-inch squares of wood wrapped in various fabrics. Most of the blocks are blue, brighter than the blue seat that holds it. Is it one work or two? The answer is not so simple: “The block piece can go on the wall or on the chair. And if it goes on the wall, the orientation has to be reversed,” Shaver explains. With something like a friendly antagonism she argues, why can’t a work of art change after it’s finished? Be a single work sometimes, two, at others, and upside down, depending on the setting?

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