Twenty Years in Plattsburgh, 1985-2005

Photo of sculpture, Divining Rod
Divining Rod, 1999, steel, 168" x 72 x 24",
Photo Credit: University of Northern Michigan

Bullet Don Osborn
Bullet Introduction by Edward Brohel, Museum Director
Art Department at Plattsburgh State

View the Exhibition View the Exhibition
Essay by David Colosi
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The newest works, debuting in this exhibition, revisit old and familiar themes for Osborn and the US. In Cracked White House Osborn reinterprets an old fissure from his memory of the Vietnam era. As a tribute to Tony Berlant's early 1970's sculpture of the same name - a parody of Nixon's abuse of power and a protest to the war in Vietnam - Osborn's sculpture draws a comparison to those who occupied the White House in 2000. The sculpture seems to rebuild itself as a result of parallels between the faulty and exaggerated intelligence information leading to both the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and the congressional authorization for a preemptive strike in Iraq. Also factoring in is the comparison between Nixon's illegal collection of political data and the controversial collection of votes in Florida. Osborn takes up this theme of the devaluation of the people's vote over that of the law's in Supreme Court. History multiplies its repetition further as he and his work bear witness to Bush War I in Iraq and Afghanistan give birth to Bush War II in both countries. Ironically, this time with both sides fighting "with God's blessing" and both with weapons from the same supplier, the passage "between right and wrong" produces striking similarities viewed from either side. While many similarities, as well as significant differences, link the 1960's, the 1990's, and today, Osborn's change is worth noting: he expresses his profound ideas through singular shapes.
Over the years, Osborn's exhibition record has steadily grown. Riding off of the national attention he received in the '90s, he has been invited to exhibit and/or permanently install monumental works around the country: Fields Sculpture Park in OMI, NY; Franconia Sculpture Park and Western Sculpture Park both in Minnesota; the International Arts Festival in Rhode Island, and Chicago Pier Walk '98-'99 have featured his work. Yet while accepting these invitations, he also created an opportunity to give back to this community. He and Ed Brohel, Director, Plattsburgh State Art Museum, expanded the Plattsburgh State Sculpture Park by inviting artists to install public projects on the campus grounds. Today, this collection has received national attention. The sense of responsibility that Osborn attends to in his own artistic production and the generosity to the artist community that he demonstrates in the Plattsburgh State Sculpture Park reflect the responsibility and generosity that he has demonstrated to his students throughout the years. Although I can only speak of my experience, I suspect Osborn distinguished himself as a teacher not by guiding students toward his interests but by teaching them the skills to discover their own. The number of his students who went on to prestigious MFA programs, who won distinguished sculpture awards, and who continue to exhibit today confirms my suspicion.

In my case, ending up at SUNY Plattsburgh was a chance occurrence. After taking Osborn's sculpture class, my motivations for and towards art have been anything but chance. My focus in making art that is unique and pertinent to me; which engages a dialogue with the world around it; which actively rethinks and challenges prior conscious or unconscious commitments; and which is guided not by following trends but by following my deepest interests and motivations - on/in my own terms - has been inspired by Don Osborn's example. Although my work in Plattsburgh, at CalArts, and today in New York, rooted in conceptualism, has been, at times, antagonistic to profound shapes, this has never stopped Osborn from appreciating it, nor has it stopped me from appreciating his work. The ability to understand diverse and opposing approaches to art making is not only a prerequisite for any artist, critic, or historian, it is the core requirement that makes the best teachers. While I have been a student, an apprentice, an employee, and a friend to Don Osborn, the relationship I value most is that of being a fellow artist. As a testament to this mutual respect, I am humbled to accept this rare privilege to write the retrospective essay on the occasion of his retirement. An artist and teacher like this cannot retire, he can only leave his job.
David Colosi received his MFA from California Institute of the Arts in 1991 and his BA from SUNY Plattsburgh in 1989. He has read, performed, and collaborated at various venues, including KGB Bar and The Bowery Poetry Club in New York City, Highways in Los Angeles, Atlantic Center for the Arts in Florida, and the Proto Theater in Tokyo. His writing is included in From Totems to Hip Hop: A Multicultural Anthology of Poetry Across the Americas, 1900-2002, edited by Ishmael Reed, and his first collection of poetry, Laughing Blood: Selected Poems 1987-2003, was published by Left Hand Books in 2004. He currently shows with Jeff Bailey Gallery in NYC and Galerie Catherine Bastide in Brussels. He lives in Brooklyn and is a staff member at New York University's Grey Art Gallery.
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