Camp Hero: Frank Benson, Aaron Curry, Virginia Overton, Marianne Vitale

The Field

June 17-October 3, 2021

The Ranch and Camp Hero State Park sit a mere four miles apart. Our neighbor to the east is today a popular recreational site—a pilgrimage for campers and carousers alike. At its inception, the park’s outward identity as a quaint fishing village was but smoke and mirrors: a ruse to cloak its real function as a coastal defense station. A game of camouflage even seeped into the naming of the grounds; “Hero” in 1942 would have carried martial connotations of a decorated World War II soldier. In fact, it commemorated the recently deceased Major General Andrew Hero, Jr. But apart from those initiates aware of this particularly arcane strand of military history, Camp Hero represented a broad jingoistic affirmation: a fortress at the End of the World, defending in disguise.

The artists presented in the inaugural outdoor sculpture exhibition at The Ranch—Frank Benson, Aaron Curry, Virginia Overton, Marianne Vitale—trade on this game of cloaked reference and subterfuge through their distinct individual practices. Each handles the history of modernist sculpture as a pretense to induct diagonal discourses like agricultural production, theatrical performance, subcultural undergrounds, and locomotive travel. The exhibited works unabashedly display their citation of the key categories of sculptural production (the statue, the assisted readymade or objet trouvé, the assemblage, the kinetic object, the ruin, the monument) in order to discreetly confront new problems of contemporary sculpture vital for this generation of artists.

Unifying the works in Camp Hero is an underlying ideology that both depends upon and exceeds surface appearance. Just as Camp Hero assumed an alternate identity as a critical strategy, these artists serve up traditional vocabularies of sculpture as screens for more complex projections.

Frank Benson hijacks statuary memorials for the outcast and displaced, in Castaway (2018) allowing the pirate to become the subject of monumentalization. In identifying his subjects and transforming them into bronze casts, Benson navigates the formal syntax of the monument and the statue. The pirate, as a cultural siren for the industrious scavenger, provides a clear cognate to the sculptor working with found objects. Indeed, the pirate in Benson’s imaginary has found a bottle of detergent encrusted with barnacles that can become a multi-purpose tool. At the same time, however, Benson’s marauder lends the authority of the monument to the marginalized—those castaway by society. Working against the traditional verticality of the statue, Benson charges the viewer to lower their body to meet the pirate’s crouching squat.

Aaron Curry’s sculptures similarly chart the terrain of the assemblage by mentally welding together numerous conceptual citations from Alexander Calder and comic book graphics to Salvador Dalí and Isamu Noguchi. While fabricated anew, each work in his Melt to Earth series of highlighter hued biomorphic sculpture, first presented at Lincoln Center in 2014, alludes to artworks of various persuasions. Ultimately, these references reconcile into highly unique objects that present a futuristic vision of sculptures as theatrical performers. At once abstract and figurative, the three works on view in Camp Hero demonstrate that fractured memories of objects seen passing through books or in a peripheral glance at a gallery can collide into entirely novel beings that offer their own set of intelligences. Each sculpture assumes an attitude and character, which changes even as the viewer observes the works in the round.

Virginia Overton demonstrates that repurposed objects once associated with strenuous labor and agricultural activity like the Ford F250 and steel tank in her 2018 Untitled (Mobile) can simultaneously emphasize their functionality by coating the objects in solid black while still creating space for leisure. In this way, the tank at the back of the truck offers itself as an acculturated tire swing for reverie. Also in the exhibition, the artist's Untitled (chime), 2021, repurposes agricultural instruments sourced from various operating farms, including The Ranch, as wind chimes––producing a constant melodic score for the sculpture field. For Overton, the sculptural object invites sensations beyond the optical like physical entry into the steel tank or truck bed and sonic activation by strumming the chimes. Outwardly strong and industrial, these materials sway into lyrical refrains through Overton’s handling.

Marianne Vitale’s suite of mangled bridges exhibited in Camp Hero participates in this questioning of sculptural conventions by squarely addressing the ruin. Taking hold of infrastructural advances like the wooden bridge or the railroad as obsolete in the face of new technologies, Vitale laments these relics. In fact, the artist treats her steel constructions to create the false appearance that they are made from wood. Her fugitive materials are the key to understanding the dialogue at the core of Camp Hero: seductive surface appearances often conceal deeper meanings. As if alchemically transforming durable materials into intentionally dilapidated and seemingly impermanent structures, the artist recalls the destruction of outmoded technologies by their agents of replacement (in this case wood with bronze). At the same time, these burnt bridges ending without terminus conjure their own song of lamentation for individual rootlessness. Broken off without a fixed destination, Vitale’s structures journey into the unknown.

- Megan Kincaid

Camp Hero marks the first iteration of The Ranch's annual outdoor project series.

Artist Biographies:

Frank Benson (b. 1976, Norfolk, VA)

Frank Benson is a contemporary artist based in New York working in sculpture and photography. Frank Benson’s three-dimensional and photographic works reflect a sustained fascination with concepts of arrested movement and the use of digital tools in the creation of sculpture. Increasingly, he has employed high tech software in the production of works—for example, translating photographs of human figures into meticulously crafted 3D models that serve as the basis for hyperreal and minutely finished sculptures, as seen in his celebrated series of Human Statue works begun in 2005.

In 2019, Frank Benson's work was the subject of a survey at the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo, Norway. His work has been included in major group exhibitions, such as Like Life: Sculpture, Color, and the Body, The Met Breuer, New York, NY 2018; Art in the Age of the Internet: 1989 to Today, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA 2018; 2015 Triennial: Surround Audience, New Museum, New York, NY; The Human Factor, Hayward Gallery, London, UK 2014 among others.

Aaron Curry (b. 1972, San Antonio, TX)

A modern day mash-up of classical and kitsch has long been the conceptual hallmark of Aaron Curry’s diverse practice. Drawing on late-20th century modernism, science fiction, comic book illustration, and California street style, Curry’s complex, intensely colored sculptures slyly upended received notions of abstraction, figuration, and the role of sculpture as form-in-space. His conflation of sculpted form with printed and painted surfaces confused formal distinctions of two- and three-dimensional opticality, mass, and volume. At the same time, Curry’s new paintings further complicate the visual and metaphoric potential of the artist’s pop-infused abstraction, blurring the line between contemporary psychedelia and classic surrealism.

Aaron Curry has exhibited his works throughout the world, including solo exhibitions at McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, TX; The Bass Museum, Miami, FL; STPI Gallery, Singapore; deCordova Sculpture Park, Lincoln, MA; Katonah Museum of Art, Katonah, NY; CAPC Contemporary Art Museum, Bordeaux, France; Lincoln Center, New York, NY; High Museum, Atlanta, GA; Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin, Germany; Kestner Gesellschaft, Hanover, Germany; Galleria d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Bergamo, Italy; Ballroom Marfa, Marfa, TX.

Virginia Overton (b. 1971, Nashville, TN)

Virginia Overton lives and works in New York. Her work comprises installation, sculpture, and photography, often beginning intuitively as a direct response to a particular space. Infused with an ethos of economy, Overton's practice favors elemental materials, frequently recycled objects that are found on site or discovered in the environs of the exhibition space. More commonly associated with architecture, construction work or farming, materials such as wood, metal, plexiglass, and fluorescent lighting are cut, bent, and hammered into works that evince the power and sensory quality of their own materials. "I like for the work to act as a marker of its own history—letting accrued defects show in the pieces— that talks about the ways in which the materials have been used," she explains.

Solo exhibitions of Virginia Overton have been presented at the Don Valley Park, Toronto, Canada; Socrates Sculpture Park, Long Island City, NY; The Fogelman Galleries of Contemporary Art at the University of Memphis, TN; Museum Of Contemporary Art Tucson, Tucson, AZ; The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY' The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, CT; White Cube, London, UK; All Rise, Seattle, WA; Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami, Miami, FL; Storm King Art Center, Mountainville, NY; Westfälischer Kunstverein, Münster, Germany; Kunsthalle Bern, Bern, Switzerland; The Kitchen, New York, NY; The Power Station, Dallas, TX. Recent group exhibitions and projects include Future Audio Graphics, New York, NY; Frieze Sculpture, London, UK; FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art, Cleveland, OH; Office Baroque, Brussels, Belgium; MAY68, New York, NY; Maisterravalbuena, Lisbon, Portugal; Lever House, New York, NY; The David Ireland House at 500 Capp Street, San Francisco, CA; Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, PA; Parcours (Art Basel), Basel, Switzerland; Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis, MO; The High Line, New York, NY; MoMA PS1, Long Island City, NY; SculptureCenter, Long Island City, NY. Her work is in the collections ofThe Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; The San Antonio Museum of Art, San Antonio, TX; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson, Tucson, AZ; Kunstmuseum Bern, Bern, Switzerland; Kunsthaus Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland.

Marianne Vitale (b. 1973, East Rockaway, NY)

Utilizing the abandoned evidence of quotidian human existence as raw material, Marianne Vitale transforms decaying elements of rural life into rugged visual poems alluding to a larger universal and celestial cosmology. Vitale’s deliberately crude structures made of found materials such as reclaimed barn lumber, unused railroad tracks, and beams from abandoned factories are created through the artist’s transformative processes and actions. Using the visual vocabulary of the ruin to activate nostalgia and fractured memory, the artist asserts the possible reversal of her medium's commitment to endurance and permanence.

Marianne Vitale graduated from the School of Visual Arts, New York, NY (1996). Her recent projects include a solo exhibition at Contemporary Fine Arts, Berlin, Germany, 2017; INVISIBLE-EXPORTS, 2016; Venus, Los Angeles, CA, 2016; Karma, New York, NY, 2015; The Contemporary Austin, Austin, TX, 2013. The artist has featured work on The High Line, New York, NY 2014 and completed large-scale commissions for Frieze NY and Performa NY in 2013. Her work has been exhibited in the United States at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; White Columns, New York; NY; Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY; Anthology Film Archives, New York; NY; San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco, CA; The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, CT. Abroad, Vitale has exhibited at venues including Kunstraum Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria; Le Confort Moderne, Poitiers, France; Stiftelsen Tensta Konsthall, Stockholm, Sweden; UKS, Oslo, Norway; Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius, Lithuania. Recent publications include From Here to Nowhere, Karma, New York; NY; Oh, Don’t Ask Why, CFA, Berlin, Germany; These Things Are Hard To Say, Yogurt Boys Press, New York, NY; Lost Marbles, Editions Lutanie, Paris, France; and Train Wreck, Kitto San, New York, NY.

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