Utilizing the abandoned evidence of quotidian human existence as raw material, Marianne Vitale (American, born 1973) 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 simple but transformative processes and actions. Equally riveting are her videos and performances, reflections of a parallel practice; but rather than considering these as distinct entities, the artist often blurs the line between them, using the theatrical actions of burning, charring, disassembling, and reconfiguring materials to create her objects in a hybrid process sometimes referred to as performance-based sculpture. Her large-scale format operates on a literal and a metaphorical level: the dimensions of her sculptures tend to range from modestly large to massive, resulting in work that overtakes the viewer in both size and conceptual presence. With nods to the imposing structures of masculine modernists and rugged Land artists of the past fifty years, here a twenty-first-century female counterpart reengages the dialogue with her uniquely powerful, raw, and intuitive constellation of process and form. Most recently, Vitale has engaged with America’s railways—a transportation system identified with frontier passage, Manifest Destiny, and nostalgia—breathing new life into discarded railroad crossings by installing them on floors or standing them upright as architectural interventions.
Vitale presents two individual installations at The Contemporary Austin, one at Laguna Gloria and another on the second floor of the Jones Center. In Laguna Gloria’s lower meadow, the artist has installed a series of nine altered railroad “common crossings” or “frogs,” thousand-pound solid-steel components that are the switches or guides responsible for changing the direction of trains. Welded to bases and standing upright, they evoke a clan of totemic beings, ancient and alien, emerging from the woods and clustering in the grass. At the Jones Center, returning to her practice of creating primal constructed forms, Vitale has created a large-scale sculptural structure of two intersecting bridges. The artist constructed the work’s raw wooden structures after late-nineteenth-century Northeast American covered bridges, subsequently burned them with her team in Upstate New York, and then transported them to Austin. This powerful junction, with its dark grandeur and imposing presence, the scent of burnt wood lingering on its surface, manifests a disorienting assemblage of charred and blackened crossroads whose interior spaces transport the viewer to another world.
—Heather Pesanti, Senior Curator
Marianne Vitale (American, born 1973 in East Rockaway, N.Y.) currently lives and works in New York. Her work has been seen in group exhibitions including the 2010 Whitney Biennial and in solo exhibitions including the Sculpture Center in New York (2009), Unge Kunstneres Samfund in Oslo (2012), Le Confort Moderne in Poitiers (2013), and Zach Feuer Gallery in New York (2012 and 2013).