Presented in honor of Michael Aurbach, professor of art, who retires this year after 30 years of teaching sculpture and drawing at Vanderbilt, The Last Laugh features three large-scale sculptures from Aurbach’s Secrecy Series and will open on Thursday, January 14, in the Vanderbilt Fine Arts Gallery in Cohen Memorial Hall. The reception is from 5 to 7:30 pm, with the artist’s talk at 6 pm in Cohen 203.
On view through March 3, these sculptures, in addition to others from the series, are an artistic commentary on the use and abuse of power by individuals. His artworks are characteristically imbued with wit and satire, each large-scale sculpture a kind of stage. In that way Aurbach suggests that those leading the institutions to which the works point are bad actors in a dark and laughable play. Included are Administrative Trial and Error (2008), Administrative Spectacle (2013), and the newly completed Cassandra (2016).
His socially inspired works have been exhibited throughout the United States. For three decades Aurbach’s sculpture has addressed issues related to death, identity, and the plight of socially disenfranchised groups. Much of his recent work serves as commentary on academia, secrecy and institutional behavior.
“The focus of the sculptor’s biting wit is the secretive, despotic stance toward underlings of those in power, be it academic authority or, by extension, that of the government or the church. Like a Baudelairean “fleur du mal” masking evil behind glamour, Aurbach’s installation [Administrative Trial and Error] embeds a lethal message within an attractive, admirably crafted configuration of steel pipes and sheet metal,” wrote Dorothy Joiner, Lovic P. Corn Professor of Art History, LaGrange College (World Sculpture News, Autumn 2009).
Aurbach has been the recipient of numerous grants and awards from institutions, including the National Endowment for the Arts, the Southern Arts Federation, and Art Matters, Inc. He has exhibited widely, with more than 80 solo shows at such locations as the Bernice Steinbaum Gallery, New York, the Indianapolis Art Center, and the Artemisia Gallery, Chicago. In 2001 his sculpture was included in the inaugural contemporary art exhibition at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville, Tennessee.
In 2015 Aurbach was awarded the Southeastern College Art Conference’s President’s Award for Exemplary Achievement, their highest honor in recognition of significant personal and artistic development as well as long-standing service. He is a past president of the College Art Association (2002-2004), the world’s largest organization of visual arts professionals and he has lectured at more than 250 colleges, museums, and art institutions.
The Last Laugh is organized by the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery and supported, in part, by the Department of Art. Visitors to the opening reception may park, free of charge, in any unreserved space in Lot 95, accessible from 21st Avenue South. The exhibit is free and open to the public, and gallery hours are Monday through Friday 11 am-4 pm and Saturday and Sunday 1-5 pm.
The Fine Arts Gallery is located in Cohen Memorial Hall, 1220 21st Avenue South, on the western edge of the Peabody College campus. Parking is available in Lot 95 outside Cohen Hall, off 21st Avenue South on Peabody campus and across from Medical Center East. For further information, please visit vanderbilt.edu/gallery.
American, b. 1952
Administrative Trial and Error, 2008
8′ x 8′ x 12′
Courtesy Michael Aurbach