Sculptor Virginia Overton often transforms chunky construction materials into dynamic pieces of art. In her latest show, Built, she uses steel and wood to explore issues of labor, economics, and the land in contemporary society.
Now on view at Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City, Queens, the exhibition punctuates the waterfront site with large-scale artworks that evoke the industrial past and creative potential of the site. The show’s curator, Socrates’s Director of Exhibitions Jess Wilcox, said Overton’s display not only unveils the artist’s ability to rethink and iterate ordinary objects, it showcases her pragmatic and collaborative relationship to the setting in which she works.
“She was interested in working in metal and engaging with the history of metalworking here in the park,” said Wilcox. “She’s site-responsive rather than site-specific in her work because she’s willing to have her ideas evolve when pieces and materials move in an organic way.”
As the first female artist to exhibit a solo collection at Socrates, the Williamsburg-based sculptor spent several months riding the ferry to Astoria to study the park and see how visitors interacted with the objects scattered throughout. For her own exhibition, which opened in May, Overton created each piece on site and situated them strategically in the green space to reveal unique perspectives of the Queens waterfront and the Manhattan skyline. Many of the sculptures contain circular forms that act as unexpected viewfinders and feature nature-inspired elements that contrast with the overall industrial aesthetic.
Overton took a silver-sprayed Dodge Ram and placed an elegant aquatic feature and fountain in its elongated truck bed. She also suspended an unfinished wooden beam from steel trusses and turned it into an old-fashioned swing set. An upright rectangular structure outlined in steel displays the shapes and colors of various brass, aluminum, and copper steel pipes.
The largest piece on site, a 40-by-18-foot, crystal-shaped sculpture, took the longest to configure and was built from architectural truss systems and angle irons. Dubbed ‘The Gem’, its seemingly heavy form cantilevers over the ground at an effortless slant, giving viewers framed views of the park through its faceted core. Pieces like this offer a new role to the support structures that often go unseen within a building’s construction.
According to Wilcox, Overton’s site-responsive sculptures most importantly tie into the greater role Socrates Sculpture Park plays in New York as a former industrial site-turned-recreational space. They speak to the park as part of two larger ecosystems—its function as the physical land adjacent to the East River Estuary and its social component as an alternative arts institution in Queens. The Nashville-native’s work often conveys undertones of her rural upbringing, which easily translates to places like this that have undergone significant evolution since the industrial era. With Built, Overton not only nods to the evolution of these geographic locations, but also the way in which her iterated objects can evolve and be redefined with time.
“I think architects will notice more than other viewers how she takes the basic elements of building blocks of construction and reorients them to create something totally new,” said Wilcox. “Seeing the world through Virginia’s eyes is like having your eyes being reoriented towards the world.”
Built is on view through September 3 at Socrates Sculpture Park at 32-01 Vernon Boulevard, Long Island City, Queens. Admission is free and open to the public.