“Forever is Composed of Nows,” on display at the Everson Museum, travels over three centuries, from 1865, when Eastman Johnson completed “Corn Husking,” a painting set in a barn, to 1947, when “Hoffman’s Slough” was painted by Andrew Wyeth, to the 21st century.
The exhibit encompasses contemporary artists such as T. R, Ericsson, Angela Fraleigh and Diane Burko.
And yet, the show, selected entirely from the Everson’s permanent collection, is more than a time traveler. Indeed, it looks at artistic movements, at the values influencing various artists, at how society has evolved over the years.
In addition, the exhibition touches on specific themes, one being the notion of family heritage. For example, Jeff Donaldson pays homage to his mother with a mixed-media piece consisting of intricate geometric patterns, striking color, a cowrie shell, and small images of his mother wearing a graduation cap. A teacher and school administrator, she advocated for educational opportunities for all children.
Ellen Blalock, meanwhile, is represented by a long, long work that’s part of a series devoted to her family. The piece, which incorporates fabric and a photo transfer, includes an image of Mary, her great-great grandmother; the bottom half of the artwork depicts a tree with abundant roots.
A third artist, T.R. Ericsson, began researching his mother’s life after she died by suicide in 2003. Ultimately, he initiated a large-scale project based on artifacts including letters, photos, recordings of his mother’s voice, and objects from the family home. The Everson exhibit presents enlarged reproductions of birth certificates for his mother and maternal grandparents. Funerary ashes are mixed into the reprints.
Beyond that, the show presents photos by artists with radically different styles. It displays Tom Baril’s image of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge; he’s best known for photographs of landscapes, buildings and flowers. Elliott Erwin, on the other hand, made images documenting ironic or absurd situations. In the Everson show, his photo depicts four people with their backs to the camera. Two of them wear traditional clothing associated with the Pennsylvania Dutch, while a young man has a shirt with Adidas inscribed on it. The contrast energizes the image.
There are also two photos taken by Alec Soth when he worked on a long-term project documenting both the American and Canadian sides of Niagara Falls. “Melissa” portrays a bride in her wedding dress who stands in front of the Flamingo Inn. She, like many visitors to the falls, came for a short stay. However, the second image captures the falls as a phenomenon of nature. One photo communicates transience; the other deals with an epic landmark.
“Forever Is Composed of Nows,” a large exhibition, operates on several levels, displaying some works that are whimsical and satirical.
Viewers will encounter Rudy Autio’s 1964 ceramic piece, “Double Lady Vessel,” and David Furman’s sculpture that depicts a miniature golf course and sprawls out over a tabletop.
Other artworks reference serious environmental issues. Diane Burko’s digital pigment print, “Elegy for San Rafael Glacier, Chile,” mourns the impact of climate change. She’s spent much of her career looking at melting glaciers and bleached coral reefs.
Elsewhere, Frank Buffalo Hyde’s acrylic, “American Idol,” offers sardonic commentary on mass culture and stereotyping of indigenous people. The painting depicts the “American Idol” logo and Heath Hill, an Oneida Wolf Clan dancer. Hyde’s works often reference mass culture; he’s referred to UFOs, drones and burgers in various pieces.
The exhibition presents artworks that both question and recast roles played by women in historical paintings. Angela Fraleigh created “And Just One More Thought,” a huge oil that portrays a female protagonist totally at ease in a wild landscape featuring vegetation and animals such as a lion and a monkey. Fraleigh, working with thick colors, has created a compelling work.
Similarly, Katherine Sherwood has subverted visual traditions with her depiction of women with disabilities. She portrays female figures who use a cane or leg brace or have lost a limb. Sherwood first moved in this artistic direction after having a stroke. The Everson show presents her “Red Robe,” an acrylic and mixed-media piece on recycled linen.
There are other connections that arise within the exhibit. Wyeth’s “Hoffman’s Slough” depicts a mostly barren landscape in gray color. That contrasts with “A Sunset Bay of New York” by Sanford Robinson Gifford — luminous, sun-kissed, full of vivid color.
In addition, Soth’s photos of Niagara Falls focus both on the falls and hotels and motels operating nearby. That perspective is very different from that of an oil created by Albert Bierstadt during the 1860s. He sees Niagara Falls as majestic; he’s not concerned with humanity.
That’s not to say every work on display links to another artwork. This is a wide-open show with pieces ranging from Andy Warhol’s screenprint, “Brooklyn Bridge,” to “Bronco Buster,” a bronze work by Frederic Remington; from Beatrice Wood’s drawing depicting a couple to Ernest Lawson’s landscape, “Early Spring.” Judy Natal’s archival inkjet print portrays the winner of a beauty pageant celebrating hunting and a rural lifestyle; she wears a plastic tiara and holds a rifle.
The exhibit, which stretches over many decades, has variety as a core operating principle. Yet, it’s not loose or unwieldy. There’s enough structure to keep the exhibition focused and plenty of intriguing work that generates visual appeal.
“Forever is Composed of Nows” is on display through Dec. 31 at the Everson, at 401 Harrison St.
The museum is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, and from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursdays.
Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, $1 for people with an EBT card — and free for museum members, children 12 years of age or younger, and persons with a military ID. For more information, call 315-474-6064.
Carl Mellor covered visual arts for the Syracuse New Times from 1994 to 2019. He continues to write about exhibitions and artists in Central New York.