The Westport Arts Center presents Ward Shelley’s What Keeps Mankind Alive on view from December 1, 2017 – March 2, 2018.

What Keeps Mankind Alive features a selected group of diagrammatic paintings that tease out narratives from history and culture. The paintings will be presented within the context of The Last Library, an ongoing collaboration between Shelley and artist Douglas Paulson. The Last Library features a room-sized installation of bookcases and 3,000 books that according to Shelley, “should have been written, but haven’t.”

The works are presented courtesy of the artists and Pierogi Gallery, NYC.

The opening reception for the exhibition will be held on Friday, December 1 from 6 – 8 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

Shelley makes paintings with information the way that historians make stories from facts. Previously on view at Pierogi Gallery, NYC, the exhibition begins with the understanding that people depend on a collection of narratives to explain the world around them.

Shelley explains, “These narratives are stories that weave together a series of facts, or assertions, so they make sense. Narratives create what is true for the believer, which are more germane to the believer’s life than facts.”

Shelley considers his diagrammatic timelines as representations of these narratives. He continues, “Facts are like dots on a graph. The narrative is the curve that connects them, that gives isolated data points meaning, and gives meaning shape . . . As actors in the world, we need a worldview, and a worldview requires construction. Narratives are what we construct – they are the basic building blocks for organizing our outlook and interpreting the world.”

Similarly, The Last Library collects parts to make a whole. In this case, the parts are in the form of book titles, which are highly condensed signifiers of the narratives contained (or at least expected to be) within the book. But there are no actual books, only titles, including The Better Side of Valerie, and You and Your Confirmation Bias, and Fake Fakes.

Shelley’s performance, installation, and timeline works have been shown widely in Europe and the US. He is the recipient of numerous prizes and residency fellowships including the Rome Prize and a Joan Mitchell Foundation Award, among others. His works are included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art (NY, NY), Whitney Museum of American Art (NY, NY), Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary (Vienna, Austria), and the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, Brooklyn Museum (Brooklyn, NY).

Amanda Innes, Executive Director of the Westport Arts Center, stated, “I think our visitors will find the exhibition to be very thought-provoking. We are excited to share Shelley’s work with the community, especially at a time when his projects are receiving international attention.”

Shelley, alongside artist Alex Schweder, is also featured in the Performa 17 Biennial in New York City on November 10 – 19, 2017. Performa is an extraordinary and interactive public platform for showing the essential role of performance art in society. Collaborators since 2007, the pair practice what Schweder describes as “performance architecture,” or the exploration of how inhabiting a space affects us psychologically. As Schweder + Shelley, the pair builds complex structures, and move in to occupy the space for a set duration of time.1

Their work in Performa 17, The Newcomers, is an outdoor durational architectural performance that spans both time and distance with responsive and ambulatory forms of habitation. It was commissioned by Performa for the “Circulations” Architecture and Performance Program.

Additionally, Shelley’s work can currently be viewed at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, CT through April 22, 2018. The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum’s Alex Schweder and Ward Shelley: Your Turn is an architectural environment for two that shapes the occupants’ behavior. In a series of performances Schweder and Shelley will physically occupy the structure for extended periods during which they will negotiate the sharing of nine basic amenities while engaging the public with their daily routines and conversations. The artists will be in residence November 30 – Dec 2 and Dec 8 – 10.

Special opportunities will be available for WAC members, and The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum members, to experience both exhibitions.

To learn more about Ward Shelley’s upcoming exhibition at the Westport Arts Center, please visit or call 203/222-7070.

About the Westport Arts Center

The Westport Arts Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to connecting community through the arts, reaches more than 11,000 people annually through outstanding programs in visual arts, arts education, and the performance arts of Chamber music and jazz.

The Westport Arts Center receives philanthropic support from the Katherine and Howard Aibel Foundation; Anthropologie & Co.; Artur and Heida Hermanns Holde Foundation, Inc.; Bernstein Private Wealth Management; Cohen and Wolf, P.C.; Critical Mix; Delamar Southport; Design Within Reach; Dragone Motor Cars; Fairfield County Bank; Fairfield County’s Community Foundation; Fairfield County Hunt Club; 4th Row Films; First County Bank Foundation; GWAY Print Solutions; Hal Prince Music; the Hall Art Foundation; The Hofstetter Baron Group; Hotel Zero Degrees; J.P. Morgan; Land Rover/Jaguar of Fairfield; Moffly Media; Newman’s Own Foundation; Northeast Tent; Random Acts; Rosenkranz Foundation; Serena & Lily; Shack Sackler Foundation; Sontag Advisory LLC; Steven Mancini Salon; Success Printing & Mailing; Teich Gardens; Tito’s Handmade Vodka; Verde Energy USA, Inc.; Wells Fargo Advisors; Westport Now; Westport Resources, a division of United Capital; WPKN and WSHU Public Radio Group. The Westport Arts Center operates with the support of the Department of Economic and Community Development, Office of the Arts, which also receives support from the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.

For more information, contact the Westport Arts Center at (203) 222-7070 or The Westport Arts Center gallery is open Monday – Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 51 Riverside Avenue, Westport, CT.




Image Credits:

  1. (ABOVE): Ward Shelley and Douglas Paulson, “The Last Library” (Installation view), 2016, Paper, ink, wood, 72 x 26 x 2 inches (each). Courtesy the Artists and Pierogi Gallery.
  2. Ward Shelley. Photo courtesy Ward Shelley.
  3. “Diaspora (People of the Book) v. 2,” 2012, Oil and toner on mylar, 35.5 x 75 inches. Courtesy the Artist and Pierogi Gallery.
  4. “Media Role Models, Ver.1,” 2009, Oil and toner on mylar, 41 x 24 inches. Courtesy the Artist and Pierogi Gallery.
  5. Ward Shelley and Douglas Paulson, “The Last Library,” 2016, Paper, ink, wood, 72 x 26 x 2 inches. Courtesy the Artists and Pierogi Gallery.


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