Arts & Education at the Hoyt will present “Stir the Conversation: Art as Dialogue” from Nov. 9 through Jan. 9 in the main galleries.
The exhibit is a collection of works by internationally acclaimed figurative sculptor Jim West. A storyteller at heart, West says his work is designed to challenge thinking, enable feelings, and implore reactions to be vigilant and involved as human beings. Thus, it is embedded with symbolism that is best revealed by repeated observation.
For example, “Point of View,” a 10-by-12-foot bronze overlooking Pittsburgh from Mount Washington, does more than just depict the historic meeting of George Washington and Seneca leader Guyasuta in 1770. It tells the story behind this meeting with visual clues. These two men were once allies, but then fought against each other in the French and Indian War. Seventeen years later, they met again, along the Ohio River, to discuss the lands and its occupants. While both men have their weapons, Washington’s hand is resting on the inside of his sword. Guyasuta’s tomahawk is positioned with the blade down. This indicates a meeting of peace not war. Yet the figures are positioned uncomfortably close. They are face-to-face as if in intense conversation. Washington is gazing down at the Ohio Valley, symbolizing the colonist’s desire to move westward, while Guyasuta has his back to the valley, indicating his defiance of the white man’s push into the Iroquois Nation.
While visitors cannot expect to see such monumental works in the Hoyt’s galleries, they can expect to see the photographs and maquettes of such larger-than-life commissions there. It is from these that West built his career. Such as a 12-inch model of the 17-foot Benjamin Franklin commissioned by the Masonic Museum and Library in Philadelphia, or a 37-foot model of Albert Einstein that spans more than 25 feet full scale. These models, in and of themselves, tell a story of the laborious process of moving from an initial concept to a finished work.
Yet, it is Jim West’s newest work, making its first appearance in New Castle, that takes center stage. This new work breaks the boundaries of traditional bronze casting with an infusion of light, sound and movement to create a multi-sensory experience of West’s own choosing. In fact, the Hoyt had to build two intimate spaces, roughly 10-by-12 feet in size, to house these new narratives. They are triggered to life by audience participation.
“Despair and Anger,” for example, invites the viewer to enter a darkened room. A spotlight illuminates a set of headphones one wears inside. With the push of a button, a 50-second narrative begins. What one hears is soon illustrated by a sculpture illuminated by light in sync with the story’s sequence of events. In creating this piece, West built upon his belief that man has the innate ability to experience two distinct emotions at once; in this case, despair and anger. He also plays upon the uncomfortable reality that these emotions, like many circumstances, are often out of the viewer’s control.
The second room houses “Can We Talk?,” a piece West says confronts the violence and lack of communication plaguing today’s youth. As one enters this darkened room, one sees a chair. The visitor sits, and his or her weight triggers a spotlight revealing a young man leaning across a table. His raised hand forms a piece sign. The lights go on and off. For a split second, “peace” is replaced by “violence.” Yet it happens so quickly, one wonders “Did I really see that?” West hopes that “Can We Talk?” inspires conversation from both sides of the table. Young-old. Youth-parent. Student-teacher. Even peer to peer. In fact, these pieces offer opportunities for viewers to respond with post-it notes or journal entries stationed throughout the show.
“We’ve certainly never hosted an exhibit like this before,” said Hoyt Executive Director Kimberly Koller-Jones. “We typically veer away from installations and videos due to the constraints of our historic facilities. And, yet, I felt the need to push our own traditional boundaries to share an experience with Lawrence County that it may otherwise never have access to. To push conversations that we might otherwise never have.”
Jim West is largely a self-taught artist residing in Pittsburgh. He built his skills the old-fashioned way, apprenticing, visiting museums and continually learning from others. Today, his refinement as an artist and educator has been recognized by a number of awards and appointments across the state. West sits on the board of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and the Masonic Grand Lodge Committee on the Preservation of Monuments.
West will be informally greeting visitors at a public reception from 6 to 8 p.m. Nov. 8. “He loves to talk,” Koller-Jones said. “He’ll no doubt share with you his love of art, history, and humanity that comes out in his work. This is a wonderful opportunity to ask questions and interact with the maker.”