Holistically transformative to the physical space it occupies, Penelope Stewart’s Apian Screen II, taking its name from the Latin apiānus, whose root apis means bee, is a sensory experience consisting of opaque, gold-colored tiles comprised entirely of beeswax plating the three adjacent walls of the gallery transept. Perhaps even before seeing it, the work announces its presence to a viewer approaching the space with the tantalizing fragrance of honey: sweet, delicate, and entirely unexpected inside the museum. Then by sight: witnessing the beautiful undulations of the gold tiles, alternately smooth and molded with architectonic formations, as if from a bird’s-eye view of an ancient city. And third by touch, as Stewart invites her viewers to feel the rubbery surfaces of the tiles. Conceptually, the use of beeswax suggests metaphorical connections to its many functions over time—for writing, lost-wax casting, or sealing, to name a few—while its metaphorical implications regarding the social space of the beehive evoke the legacy of utopian architecture. This site-specific architectural intervention is both powerful and delicate, the powerful visual impact offset by the fragile, organic, or natural materials at hand.
On view at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery
To hear the artist’s audio statement, click the audio player below: