In 2005, Cornelia Kubler Kavanagh was honored to represent the Virgin Islands Council on the Arts at the 51st International Art Exhibition, La Biennale de Venezia, June 12 – November 6.
Kavanagh’s exhibition referenced The Shape of Time, George Kubler’s treatise on art history. (Yale University Press, 1961)
Essay by Paolo De Grandis
The art of Cornelia Kubler Kavanagh does not reproduce nature; her sculptures are within nature and it is this distinguishing mark that immediately attracted me to her work, presented at the 7th edition of OPEN, International Exhibition of Sculptures and Installations.
The natural beauty of the Virgin Islands and the intensity of color are significant elements in her expressive development. She strives for an autonomous language that abandons figuration for a volumetric and plastic softness that is constantly evolving on a journey of discovery of the intimate geometries unraveling and rewinding the dialectic tension of space and time.
Formal synthesis and a return to primary values are translated into a geomorphic, archetypal tendency, in which the masses that lie between the abstract and organic are rendered harmonious and compact, as though an incessant energy flowed through them. But it is light that plays a key role, sliding over the sinuous, smooth surfaces and disappearing in the straying of a curve, before being projected outwards by the dazzling finish of the works.
What is sculpture today?
I stop to look at her work …
I understand …
and … I contemplate new expressive frontiers that aim directly at the heart and the mind. Paolo De Grandis, Curator
Essay by Victor M. Cassidy
Cornelia Kubler Kavanagh is a carver. She looks at a stone, finds a form within it, and then carves directly to release that form. Her work is about traditional issues in art—space, mass, volume, light, form, and surface—and her sculptures are so classic in appearance that they could have been made at almost any time in history. Straightforward, tranquil, and elegant, this art is the product of skilled hands and a disciplined eye.
The artist works in steatite, marble, alabaster, and plaster, creating most pieces with a bronze casting in mind. She even carves her plaster sculptures, building an armature, piling on wet plaster, and then carving if off with a hollow-backed rasp. The artist’s sources are natural and man-made forms—the wing, the fish, the helix, the circle, a reclining figure, and pre-Columbian art that she first encountered in childhood. Stylistic influences include Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Constantin Brancusi, and Isamu Noguchi.
The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things, George Kubler’s study of the problem of historical change, has decisively influenced Kavanagh’s aesthetic. She writes that her Shape of Time sculptures, which we see here in Venice, “attempt to illustrate Kubler’s theory that works of art represent cultures and cross cultures, acting as significant markers in the history of civilization.” Her installation is almost a tour through different cultures and historic times.
Gateway (2002), one of the first works that we encounter, is a solid form—a Romanesque arch that evolves into a pointed Gothic arch, suggesting the slow pace of change. The opening at the front of Gateway gradually shrinks and the interior becomes a tiny, hushed architectural space, suggesting a chapel. We long to touch the polished surface of this sculpture and commune with it.
Chacmool (2001) reinterprets the classic recumbent Toltec-Maya deities of ancient Mexico. We see the elbows and knees of the Chac-Mool, a hole that suggests its hands and arms, and cavities on its knees and back. Powerful and mysterious, this form assumes fresh life in Kavanagh’s hands—and speaks to us across centuries and cultures.
Aevum (2001) comes from an entirely different time and place. This sculpture’s point of departure is an idea of St. Thomas Aquinas, the great 13th century Roman Catholic philosopher. According to St. Thomas, aevum means “the duration of human souls and other divine beings . . . intermediate, between time and eternity, having a beginning but no end.” We see a dual-chambered vessel that recalls a flower as it rises from a narrow base. The artist says that Aevum resembles a canopic urn used by the Etruscans to contain the ashes of the dead, but its spirit is one of growth and optimism. Here again, but for very different reasons, we want to touch this work and commune with it.
Kavanagh’s installation includes other sculptures and monoprints. Though all reflect the artist’s understanding of The Shape of Time and thus have important narrative content, they also stand on their own as works of art. Cornelia Kavanagh has a noble calling. She brings beauty into the world.
Victor M. Cassidy, Art Critic for Sculpture Magazine, Art in America and ArtNet