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W&L Hosts Exhibition of Works by William Christenberry

"Untitled" by William Christenberry
"Untitled" by William Christenberry
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An exhibition of work by William Christenberry will open at Washington and Lee University’s Staniar Gallery on Feb. 9.

“William Christenberry: Site/Possession” will feature paintings, photographs, constructions, “dream buildings” and the “Klan Room Tableau.”

Christenberry is renowned for his photographs of rural Alabama, but this exhibit offers a broader range of his work, including drawings that offer a glimpse into his artistic process. The earliest drawing is from 1959, when Christenberry was honing his artistic skills, while the latest is from 2006, and reflects the techniques that he has brought to all his work. The subjects of the drawings range from Southern gourd trees to tenant houses to eerie dream buildings.

In addition to the drawings, the exhibition will include the “Klan Room Tableau,” a mixed-media display consisting of dolls in Ku Klux Klan regalia, miniature effigies, photographs, drawings and signs that evoke the KKK's rituals of hatred. Christenberry began assembling the Klan Room in 1962 as what he has described as a public exorcism of the demons that have haunted him ever since he attempted to enter a Klan meeting more than 40 years ago.

In response to critics who question Christenberry’s creation of the tableau, he has defended the work as a way to come to grips with the Klan. In a 1996 interview, Christenberry said, “The Klan is a manifestation of evil, and it's hurtful to me as a Southerner, as someone who in most instances is proud of where he comes from, to be identified with something so terrible.”

The exhibition is curated by Andrea Douglas, of the University of Virginia Art Museum. She will present a lecture on the exhibition on Monday, Feb. 9, at 6 p.m. in the Staniar Gallery. In addition, Christenberry will visit Washington and Lee in March to lecture on his work on March 11 at 6 p.m. Both lectures will be in the Concert Hall in Wilson Hall and are free and open to the public. A reception will follow each program.

In addition to those two lectures, two other programs will be held in conjunction with the exhibition. On Tuesday, Feb. 24 at 4:30 p.m. Fitz Brundage, professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, will give a lecture in Room 2018 of Wilson Hall. Brundage has written and taught about white and black historical memory in the South since the Civil War.

On Wednesday, March 4 at 4:30 p.m. Washington and Lee history professor Ted Delaney, VMI English professor Rob McDonald, Washington and Lee English professor Marc Conner, and Washington and Lee art professor Pam Simpson will form a special panel to address different aspects of the exhibition based on their own areas of research and expertise.

“We are delighted to have the chance to bring this exhibition to Washington and Lee,” said Clover Archer, director of Staniar Gallery at W&L. “Not only is this an opportunity to see the range of Christenberry’s work, but this also allows us to address important issues.”

An Alabama native, Christenberry majored in art at the University of Alabama. Since 1968, he has taught at the Corcoran School of Art. Among the many museums that own his art are the Whitney Museum of American Art, Museum of Modern Art, National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. He is represented by Hemphill Fine Arts, of Washington.

Staniar Gallery is located on the second floor of Wilson Hall in Washington and Lee University’s Lenfest Center for the Arts. For additional information call 540-458-8861.