Kendall Buster’s The Shell that Remains: An Essay by Curatorial Research Intern Andy Mazzella

February 15th, 2023

I have the pleasure of working for the Anderson as the Curatorial Research Intern for the Spring 2023 semester. My painting practice and interests heavily lie in art history and I am glad to share some of the research I will be diving into over the course of the spring. I get to look into the Anderson’s rich history of different artists that have shown in the space to share with you all. As I flipped through the pages of the Anderson’s catalog of 45 years, I stumbled upon one of our own VCUarts faculty member’s work from 1996 entitled The Shell that Remains. This piece was made by Kendall Buster, a VCU professor in the Department of  Sculpture + Extended Media.

I got a chance to speak with Buster to learn a bit more about her practice and interests. Her work explores the place where object and place meet using biological morphologies in a construction process that she described as being “skeletons with skins.” With those themes in mind, the scale and the architecture of her pieces are especially important.

VCUarts students weaving wire to create a mesh support for wax, 1996, The Anderson, Richmond, VA

The construction of The Shell that Remains took place in the back gallery on the first floor over the course of two weeks. Students were encouraged to stop in and observe while Buster and a number of undergraduate and graduate students worked with her to build the structure. It started with a steel frame of two connecting spheres with an entrance into the sculpture located behind it, resembling a skeleton of some creature. The piece took up a large portion of the room, the scale aligning itself with Buster’s interest of making objects that offer an interior space to be explored by the viewers. In the negative space of the skeleton, the crew wove strings of wire to create a mesh support system for the 500 pounds of softened wax they were soon to trowel onto it. After the wax hardened into the skeleton, it simulated a thin, transparent skin where light could penetrate. When visitors would find the entrance into the shell, they’d look within the structure where the gallery lights created abstract forms through the thin wax skin, almost like stained glass.

VCUarts students applying softened wax to the steel structure, 1996, The Anderson, Richmond, VA
Inside of The Shell that Remains, 1996, The Anderson, Richmond, VA

The days spent building the sculpture echoed the growth of a living form. Once the form grew to its fullest extent, the work evoked a sense of a creature’s departure from the shell that was once theirs. Hence the title, The Shell that Remains. What I appreciate most about Buster’s installation from 1996 was the way she incorporated the students of VCU. In getting to work hands-on with the artist, the students were better able to gain meaningful insight into Buster’s process, even getting to be a part of the completed work. I also believe that because The Shell that Remains was a temporary sculpture, the temporality further pushes the notion of a biological growth, then decay.

The Shell that Remains completed, 1996, The Anderson, Richmond, VA

All photos courtesy of Kendall Buster

The Anderson Gallery Collection