From October 26, 2014 through January 19, 2015, the Parrish Art Museum will present the exhibition Alan Shields: In Motion, featuring works by the American artist who engaged in a wide-ranging exploration of non-traditional materials and techniques, and whose work was influenced by his avid interest in architecture, theater, and dance. Alan Shields: In Motion, conceived by guest curator Jill Brienza, features sculpture, installations, works on paper and canvas, and stop-frame animations by Shields, who lived and worked on Shelter Island, New York. A special dance performance by Stephen Petronio Company that was choreographed with the exhibition’s signature work, Maze (1981– 1982), as the set, is scheduled to take place on Friday, November 7, and Saturday, November 8.
Shields, described by critic Robert Hughes as “a brilliant bricoleur,” came to the fore in the 1970s with his stained canvases presented in three dimensions. His work was simultaneously of the moment and completely outside the trends of the times. According to Brienza, “Shields’s individuality, craft, and experimentation stood out in its time and continue to resonate today.”
Shields’s creative approach, combining found materials in radiant assemblage with sound aesthetic foundations, has been influential to a number of younger artists. “It is especially compelling to present Alan Shields: In Motion simultaneously with the work of Steven and William Ladd which opens at the Museum on the same date,” said Parrish Art Museum Director Terrie Sultan. “While these artists come to their creativity from very different points of view, they share many points of intersection. There is a performance aspect to each artist’s work, founded in dance and motion, as well as a desire to connect various disciplines within the overall context of their work.”
The exhibition at the Parrish, including works from private collections and the Shields estate, focuses on the theme of motion, particularly as it relates to dance. “This is the first exhibition to explore movement and interaction rather than form or medium in Shields's work,” said Brienza.
The cornerstone of Alan Shields: In Motion is Maze, Shields’s largest and most ambitious piece—one that functions simultaneously as a sculpture, a room, and a theatrical installation. Like two other works in the show, Dance Bag (1985) and Ajax (1972), Maze calls for participation through immersion: Viewers are encouraged to walk over, under, around, and through the pieces. Shields’s relationship to dance is further contextualized by works on paper and canvas in the exhibition.
In addition, Alan Shields: In Motion includes video, sound, wearable pieces, and a selection of rarely seen stop-frame animation works including Balletfire (2005) and Birth of a Nation (2003), presented sequentially on a large flat screen monitor in the galleries. Devil, Devil, Love (1970), a large-scale lattice piece from the Parrish’s permanent collection, demonstrates Shields’s non-traditional use of materials as well as the importance of these materials to his notions of movement.
Alan Shields was born in 1944 and raised on his family’s farm in Herington, Kansas. At Kansas State University, Shields changed his focus from engineering to theater to art, before moving to New York in 1968. Shields gained prominence in the New York art world in the 1970s after a show at the Paula Cooper Gallery in 1969. In the 1990s, he moved from painting on canvas to working with non-traditional materials like painted beads, and started printmaking and creating animation. In 1971, Shields purchased a house on Shelter Island, New York, that became his permanent residence within a year. He became a ferry captain on the North Ferry, between Shelter Island and Greenport. Alan Shields’s work is in the collections of major New York museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and the Whitney Museum of American Art; as well as the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., and the Tate Collection in London, among others. In 2007, the Parrish Art Museum presented a solo exhibition of Shields’s work, Stirring Up the Waters. Shields died in 2005 at the age of 61 at his home on Shelter Island.