‘The Last Laugh’ exhibition pays tribute to retiring Vanderbilt art professor

"Administrative Trial and Error," Michael Aurbach, 2008.

An exhibition featuring three of Michael Aurbach’s satirical sculptures begins Jan. 14 at the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery to honor the retiring professor of art, who has taught on campus for 30 years.

An opening reception for The Last Laugh: Selections from Michael Aurbach’s Secrecy Series will take place Jan. 14 from 5 to 7:30 p.m., with a talk by Aurbach at 6 p.m.

The large-scale sculptures on display are all characterized by the artist’s increasingly skeptical view of those in positions of power.

• “Cassandra,” 2016, a work on whistleblowers and reactions to them

• “Administrative Spectacle,” 2013, which describes “the insatiable need that many administrators have to outdo their peers”

• “Administrative Trial and Error,” 2008, a “portrait of an administrator who seeks total control over his colleagues”

Throughout his career, Aurbach has developed an inquisitive, conceptually driven approach to his work. He has received numerous grants and awards, including the 2015 Southeastern College Art Conference President’s Award for Exemplary Achievement. This was in recognition of significant personal and artistic development as well as longstanding service.

Aurbach has had more than 80 solo shows across the country at places such as the Bernice Steinbaum Gallery in New York, the Indianapolis Art Center and the Artemisia Gallery in Chicago. In 2001, his sculpture was included in the inaugural contemporary art exhibition at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville.

His work has been reviewed in such publications as Sculpture, Leonardo, World Sculpture News, Metalsmith and Art Papers.

Following his retirement from Vanderbilt, Aurbach plans to continue creating art, but first he is likely to move to Kansas City and build a studio before starting any new projects. “I’m a native Kansan, and this move would bring me closer to many friends and my alma mater, the University of Kansas,” he said.

The exhibition, which is free and open to the public, will be on view through March 3. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The gallery will be closed Jan. 18 in observance of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. The gallery is located on the second floor of Cohen Memorial Hall, located at 1220 21st Ave. S. on the Peabody College campus. For more information, call (615) 322-0605.

Margaret Walker contributed to this story.