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“On the Wall: Murals at the AMA,” is more about the experience of the muralists — Shanequa Gay, Amanda Jane Burk, David Hale, and Chris Johnson — and the performance of the painting of these ephemeral works.

Editor’s Note: This column is the debut of a planned recurring column by Andy Wulf.

I came to Albany, Ga., and the Albany Museum of Art circuitously, by way of years of detours that led to yet other detours. All these led me to the right place — not necessarily at the right time, but they led me nevertheless.

I trust in detours. As the legendary Steve Jobs once stated, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

A pre-verbal memory: I am crawling over the voluminous, smoothly curved expanse of a warmed-in-the-sun Henry Moore bronze sculpture in the gardens of the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, Calif., not far from my family’s home in suburban Los Angeles. I remember feeling completely at peace, enveloped within the maternal, curving warmth.

Today, I would never allow myself to climb onto a priceless work of art. When I was a baby, however, I instinctively recognized there was something womblike about great art. It holds you, warms you, contains you, but only momentarily until you discover the next art experience — or it finds you.

Fast-forward a few years: My mother installs an entire wall of cork in our SoCal tract house family room (complete with white shag carpet and canary yellow walls).

Every week, my brother and I would witness a rotation of tacked-up art prints, from medieval cathedral architecture to Cezanne’s unfinished landscapes to de Kooning’s formal brushstrokes to Warhol’s Brillo boxes (the latter perhaps the pinnacle of Pop Art that made everything that came in the preceding decades come crashing down).

And I loved it all, anticipating what new visions my mother would share with us in our home gallery.

I have experienced art, unwittingly, head-on since diapers. And since then, art has surrounded me like water around a fish, what D.H. Lawrence calls “one touch.”

The experience of art — of artists making art — is what the current array of exhibitions is all about at the Albany Museum of Art. “On the Wall: Murals at the AMA,” is more about the experience of the muralists — Shanequa Gay, Amanda Jane Burk, David Hale, and Chris Johnson — and the performance of the painting of these ephemeral works.

All four artists signed memoranda of understanding that these works would be ephemeral, living in the gallery for only the duration of the exhibition itself, which continues through Feb. 20. Afterward, they will be painted over to make way for the next exhibition, a sort of premeditated iconoclasm, if you will.

Ephemeral art is art that lasts only for a short duration. As a practice, it entered the public eye through the Fluxus group in the 1960s, when artists created works of art that did not necessarily need a gallery space nor a museum in which to reside. Ephemeral art, in this case, is a performance. The remaining mural is the testament of that performance.

Traditionally, it is the work of museums to safeguard and conserve their holdings. What those holdings are depends on the museum’s focus.

In the case of the AMA, we pride ourselves in maintaining a collection of more than 3,000 original works, spanning Sub-Saharan Africa to 19th- and 20th-century American painting. These artifacts are the heartbeat of the museum around which so much of what we do is based, including public programs, events and exhibitions.

It is the push and pull of our mission — to save for posterity that which is in our collections to celebrating (or memorializing) temporary artworks via first-hand witnessing of artists in action, later to be painted over.

Rarely does a museum traffic in both conservation and iconoclasm, a clashing of realities, a paradox that still, funny enough, reflects our mission to share the art of southwest Georgia with the world, and the art of the world with southwest Georgia.

Andrew J. “Andy” Wulf is executive director of the Albany Museum of Art. A native of Los Angeles, he has a Ph.D. from the School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester, United Kingdom, and an M.A. in Art History and Museum Studies from the University of Southern California. Before coming to the AMA in October 2019, he was executive director of the New Mexico History Museum and the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe, N.M. (2015-19) and supervisory museum curator for the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum (2010-15). Contact him at andrew.wulf@albanymuseum.com.

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