By Chris Waddington, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
Will Ryman just assembled a log cabin inside the New Orleans Museum of Art — a walk-in wood structure, coated in gold resin and packed with ideas about American history. He also packed the cabin with things that shaped our history: bullets, arrowheads, cotton bolls, chains, sparkplugs, iPhones, lumps of coal, and much, much more.
"America" is the latest addition to NOMA's collection, a gift from Sydney and Walda Besthoff, the prominent local collectors who bankrolled the museum's sculpture garden. It's also the museum's first sculpture from Ryman, an art world star whose public sculptures have appeared everywhere from Regent's Park in London to the Park Avenue Mall in New York.
"Log cabins are an iconic symbol of America, but I didn't just want a symbol," Ryman said. "To me it's important that my cabin is made from real logs and that everything inside it is also real. It's an appropriated object, a conceptual sculpture, but it's also a showcase for objects that have a lot of meaning when you gather them in abundance and put them together. I didn't need to change a thing: the arrowheads and the bullets are sculpted objects, too: forms made for a purpose."
Ryman coated everything but the coal in the same gold resin, transforming the cabin's single room into a glittering mosaic sanctum — a space that's stunningly different from the rustic wood forms of the exterior. For him, the golden cabin is an emblem of the ruling passions of a capitalist society, from the first arrival of Europeans to the advent of the iPhones that frame to cabin's fireplace.
But Ryman is happy if you see something different in this walk-in sculpture.
"When I go to museums, I don't start by reading the wall labels," he said. "I look at the objects. I look for the things that move me — and maybe then I'll go back and see what the artists and curators say. The piece has to stand on its own."
Ryman, 43, has plenty of art-world experience. He's the son of the celebrated minimalist painter, Robert Ryman, and he grew up visiting galleries and museums. But the younger Ryman didn't pursue a visual arts career until his thirties, following detours into theater, film and writing.
"It took me a long time to find what was natural for me," Ryman said. "It didn't happen until I got so frustrated with one of my scripts that I began sculpting the characters. Suddenly, I was free to tell my own stories."
Ryman's "America" goes on view at NOMA Friday (Oct. 25), during the museum's weekly Friday night art party. For details about museum hours and admission go to NOMA.org.