Burlington City Arts in Vermont is our own small-scale Centre Pompidou. I lived in the Marais district of Paris for close to seven years and the Pompidou, a short walk from my apartment, always offered up an experience of art that stayed long after I stepped back into the streets.
Burlington City Arts is situated on Church Street, a four-block-long pedestrian downtown vibrant with cafes, local shops, bistro-style outdoor restaurants, pastry shops, street music and the occasional personal street drama. Like the Pompidou, it offers up experiences of art that leave you lingering in the three floors of gallery space, sometimes for hours. Under the direction of Heather Ferrell, the curator since 2016, the galleries demonstrate and reflect her international experience and vision. (See interview on page 9.)
The current installation on the main floor is Crystal Wagner’s “Traverse,” a monumental work that was created in situ over 13 days. It coils, stretches and protrudes floor to ceiling, wall to wall. It even escapes outside the gallery’s front plate-glass windows and hugs the entire three-floor outer façade of the building. You can walk around it and through it and find small crevices or large openings to peer through. If you look long enough and let your imagination meld into the forms, you almost expect it to move, as a small breath might cause the slightest stir.
It is made of chicken wire stuffed with recycled bright and gaudy plastic tablecloths. Here and there, flagging sticks poke out of the forms, like quills on a hedgehog. During a recent visit, a nimble young man plopped down on the gallery floor underneath one of the arching limbs of the piece and lay flat, observing the looming form above. He got up and I asked him, “How was it?” “Cool and weird, like that movie where the miniaturized scientists travel inside the body,” he said. “Fantastic Voyage?” I asked. “Yeah, something like that.”
In the adjacent gallery facing the city park, Wagner’s “Nexus” series is mounted. These smaller wall sculptures made of wood, wire and intricately cut paper resemble imaginary prehistoric avian creatures. The small overlapping papers in bright colors form what could be elaborate feather patterns. Other parts look like close-ups of plant cells under a microscope: tight conical shapes pressing form against form.
Wagner’s training as a printmaker and her love of drawing are evident throughout. Her drawings are not on exhibit here, but a visit her to her Instagram profile @artistcrystalwagner is worthwhile. She is concurrently mounting an exhibition in San Francisco and one in France. If you’re traveling this fall, they’re definitely worth a visit.