‘Community’ – Sharon Louden at the Asheville Art Museum, 2014

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Sharon Louden is a gem of the contemporary art world.

Not only is her work aesthetically fascinating (I mean, it’s so radiant that it’s virtually blinding), she boasts a shimmering personality to match.  Sharon has also become a personal mentor and dear friend to me during the past two weeks during which i have assisted in the instillation of one of her pieces.

I was incredibly fortunate to have been approached by a former professor at UNC Asheville to prospectively assist as an apprentice in the installation of Sharon Louden’s ‘Community’ at the Asheville Art Museum.  I jumped at the opportunity to both have something to do during my summer break and to be able to have an apprenticeship in which I got to work closely with an artist, as this is an occasion that I am rarely presented with.  I am lucky to have been one of four artists/art historians chosen out of a pool of forty applicants to take part in this!

In case you aren’t familiar with Louden’s installation work, many of her recent pieces consist of silver and multicolored strips of aluminum layered over the floor and walls, resulting in both undulating organic movement and a shimmering effect.  It’s a sort of mix between Anish Kapoor and Jeff Koons’s metallic sculptures, with the geometry of Mondrian or Malevich thrown in to add a twist.

Sharon also demonstrates impressive strength in other media (such as painting and sculpture), having earned an MFA from Yale in painting, and has had pieces shown in the Neuberger Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, National Gallery of Art, Arkansas Arts Center, Yale University Art Gallery, Weatherspoon Art Museum, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.  (I have to brag on her, because she is so deserving of her accomplishments!)  Sharon has made quite the name for herself in the international contemporary art scene, as well as having recently published a book entitled Living and Sustaining a Creative Life: Essays by 40 Working Artists, a fabulous read!

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This particular installation, ‘Community’, involves strips and ribbons of aluminum, a material with which Sharon has had a “love affair”.  (She told us this herself. I can’t make that kind of thing up).

This installation was a challenge that Sharon could not have physically completed on her own, due to the large size of the room and time constraints.  This provides her with the basis to reach out to the Asheville art community in many ways.  Sharon likes employ the work of local artists (and art historians!) to utilize the help of trained eyes, but at the same time, to give back to aspiring members of the art world, such as students.  More on this later…

Every wall started bare.  A general aesthetic was built up through layers and layers of aluminum.
Every wall started bare. A general aesthetic was built up through layers and layers of aluminum.

Essentially, we worked with Sharon to screw sheets and strips of aluminum to the walls and hang them so that they appeared to twist from the ceiling, which wasn’t at all an easy feat.  Yours truly had never used a power drill, so the learning curve was steep at times…  We began with large sheets, then moved on to strips and “ribbon” (aluminum that came on spools).  We ended by covering the floor with aluminum, which really brought the whole thing together.  It was amazing to be a part of the creation of such a large and powerful piece, and I LOVED being able to put my knowledge of aesthetics and composition to use!

Work in progress!
Work in progress!

Sharon’s aesthetic relies on reflection and subtle shadows created by the light and positioning of the metal.  The effects that layers and layers of aluminum have is incredible.  The room glistens while the mind is distracted by the organic movement Sharon has managed to create.  This work truly embodies the spirit of the medium of instillation in that one must see it in person in order to truly understand the aesthetic that Sharon seeks to convey.

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The best part of this apprenticeship was that Sharon made such a strong conscious effort to be able to help each of us in developing our careers in the art world.  It is pleasantly surprising to encounter someone who has so much to share and who, at the same time, wants to give so much to those who are trying to make a name for themselves!  Sharon has decades of knowledge on the workings of selling oneself as an artist, and being able to make a career out of creative talent.

Sharon volunteered to read our artists’ statements, or, in my case, my undergraduate thesis and asked us to come up with (at least) ten questions about the art world, our future careers, her experiences, etc.  Once I started asking questions, more came to mind, and the advice Sharon has given me the past two weeks has been beyond what I could have imagined.  I’m so thankful for both her guidance and her insight and commentary on the current state of contemporary art in America.  Sharon has provided me with a great amount of guidance with which I can reflect and consider my future in Art History.

Nearly finished!
Nearly finished!

The advice and friendships I have gained from this experience are so valuable to me and I’m so incredibly thankful for this experience.  I feel that I have gained so much insight as to what I’d like to do with my career and my future and I owe so much to Sharon.  It feels incredible to have been part of an installation that will be at the Asheville Art Museum for the next two years.  I am so lucky to have had the chance to meet Sharon Louden and learn from her, as well as my fellow apprentices.  The past two weeks have been full of memories and guidance and I will never forget my time at AAM!

Sharon's amazing book
Sharon’s amazing book