Lauren Fensterstock’s The Totality of Time Lusters the Dusk, on view at the Chrysler Museum of Art Jan. 15–June 19, 2022, invites visitors to come face to face with a dark and ominous cosmic landscape. A black comet—encrusted with a dazzling mosaic of glass, crystals, and stones including onyx and hematite—hovers at eye level and bursts through a collection of dark clouds; rain falls in streams of glass and crystal beads, pooling on the ground into puddles of reflective black Plexiglas and surrounded by an earthy black landscape dotted with paper plant forms.
This installation is the first in Fensterstock’s newest body of work, which reflects how humans have manipulated the natural world to express their cultures, views and values. Her works explore how weather and celestial activity have been used as a metaphor, which is an especially potent idea in our current age of extreme weather and changing climate. Although this new direction came before COVID-19, the foreboding and destabilizing beauty of Fensterstock’s work takes on additional meaning amidst the devastating global pandemic.
The Totality of Time Lusters the Dusk was originally commissioned by the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery for its 2020 invitational exhibition Forces of Nature. Fensterstock was one of four artists selected for the Renwick Invitational, a prestigious biennial series that aims to introduce the work of exceptional artists who are established in their respective craft fields yet are worthy of greater recognition. The installation was meant to be on view at the Renwick Gallery June 2020–Feb. 2021, but the exhibition was delayed and then open for only a short time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are thrilled to bring this mesmerizing installation to the Hampton Roads region,” says Carolyn Swan Needell, Ph.D., the Chrysler Museum’s Carolyn and Richard Barry curator of glass, “Lauren Fensterstock’s work is a brilliant combination of minute detail and great scale, and her work invites the viewer to look closely and think deeply about the role humans play within the earthly and cosmic landscapes.”
Trained as a metalsmith, Fensterstock creates tactile sculptures and large-scale installations that are labor-intensive and materially seductive. She uses techniques that have long histories in the fields of craft and decorative arts, techniques that are also often called “women’s arts.” This includes paper cutting, quilling, mosaic and shellwork. Fensterstock’s early artworks centered on conversations about adornment, beauty, preciousness and ephemerality. These ideas developed over the years and now manifest in her recent works, which “explore the narratives we develop to find meaning in nature and the landscapes we fabricate to situate ourselves in the world,” the artist says.
In her investigations of the storms brewing all around us, Fensterstock sources an eclectic mix of references that includes classical Zen texts, medieval European illuminations and Leonard Cohen songs as guides in reading these portents. The newest addition to the artist’s rich catalog of influences is The Book of Miracles, a sixteenth-century luxury manuscript that belongs to a category of apocalyptic albums. This type of publication became popular as more people began reading the Bible in the wake of the development of the printing press. The Book of Miracles details a wide range of events marked by extreme natural conditions, which were believed to be the result of divine intervention: the deluge that necessitated Noah’s ark, plagues of locusts, skies with multiple suns, stars falling from heaven and snow in summer. One image—a fiery comet appearing at the time of Muhammad’s birth over the city of Constantinople—serves as a key reference for The Totality of Time Lusters the Dusk.
Needell notes that Fensterstock’s signature all-black color palette “trains our eyes to see objects and details in a very different way, giving viewers a unique path to reflect upon the overall meaning of the work.” Fensterstock’s work demands close looking, with its dense surface patterns and shiny dark surfaces that throw glimpses of light. The artist says that the highly decorative surfaces of her sculptures “highlight the beauty of a world that may at times be indifferent to us, but is nonetheless beautiful in its complexity.” She harnesses the various material elements in her works to refer to scrying, a practice that uses dark and reflective surfaces to see visions of the future. “With so much turmoil on the ground, I’ve turned my eyes to the sky for wisdom. Moody storms. Ominous comets. Dying stars,” comments Fensterstock. “Weather events and celestial sightings are a historically rich location for the projection of human anxiety, hopes, and fears.”
This artwork was commissioned by The Renwick Galleries of the Smithsonian American Art Museum for the 2020 Renwick Invitational, on loan from Claire Oliver Gallery, NY and the Artist.
Family Day: Earth Day Every Day!
Saturday, April 23, 2022
10 a.m. to 3 p.m. │ Free
Bring the whole family to celebrate the beauty and fragility of our planet and connect art to the science of climate change. Make crafts from recycled materials, explore the galleries with a scavenger hunt and participate in story readings throughout the day. Learn how you can be part of protecting the Earth and exercise your voice as a young activist! Supported by the Bunny and Perry Morgan Family Fund. Sponsored by Dominion Energy.
Artist Talk with Lauren Fensterstock
Sunday, May 1, 2022
3 p.m. │ Kaufman Theater │ Free
Join us for an engaging talk with sculptor and installation artist Lauren Fensterstock. Her current installation, The Totality of Time Lusters the Dark is on view in the Glass Project Space. Learn about her techniques and multifaceted inspiration which ranges from climate change andscrying to early literary sources. Fensterstock’s beautiful and ominous vision of the future is a rallying cry for activism and an artist’s encouragement to linger and look closely at the artwork.
Chrysler Book Club: Oryx and Crake
Sunday, May 8, 2022
3 p.m. │ Free
Margaret Atwood is a master of dystopian visions that feel plausible and not too distant. Oryx and Crake is the first book of the MaddAddam Trilogy that explores a world where we are invited to navigate a transformed urban landscape into an almost unrecognizable wilderness in the aftermath of a plague. We will find points of connection between this science fiction novel and Fensterstock’s apocalyptic vision where that transcends heavenly and earthly realms.
ABOUT THE CHRYSLER MUSEUM OF ART
The Chrysler Museum of Art is one of America’s most distinguished mid-sized art museums, with a nationally recognized collection of more than 30,000 objects, including one of the great glass collections in America. The core of the Chrysler’s collection comes from Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., an avid art collector who donated thousands of objects from his private collection to the Museum. The Museum has growing collections in many areas and mounts an ambitious schedule of visiting exhibitions and educational programs each season. The Chrysler has also been recognized nationally for its unique commitment to hospitality with its innovative gallery host program.
The Perry Glass Studio is a state-of-the-art facility on the Museum’s campus. The studio offers programming for aspiring and master artists alike in a variety of processes including glassblowing, fusing, flameworking, coldworking and neon.
In addition, the Chrysler Museum of Art administers the Moses Myers House, a historic house in downtown Norfolk, as well as the Jean Outland Chrysler Library. For more information on the Chrysler Museum of Art, visit chrysler.org.