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KARA WALKER: VIRGINIA’S LYNCH MOB AND OTHER WORKS

 

September 15, 2018 – January 6, 2019

 

“The work is difficult because the history is hard. But don’t you want to see it?”
—Kara Walker

 

About the Exhibition

 

Kara Walker is a leading contemporary artist best known for her innovative use of the silhouette form. Kara Walker: Virginia’s Lynch Mob and Other Works seeks to contextualize the monumental wall installation Virginia’s Lynch Mob, a recent major acquisition of the Montclair Art Museum.

 

Walker explores issues of race, gender, sexuality, and violence in American history and contemporary culture in all of her works. Virginia’s Lynch Mob, as the centerpiece of the show, is a nearly 40-feet-long, cut paper work that uses her iconic silhouette form to depict a lynching about to happen. The piece invokes the brutal racial violence of American history to reckon with its ugly truths. Walker maps multiple elegant, imposing, life-size figures into scenes of brutality that draw audiences inside of the trauma. It will be displayed on a curved wall, enhancing the immersive experience of the life-size figures and referencing 19th-century panoramic paintings.

 

This exhibition will provide audiences with context for both the breadth and depth of Walker’s artwork by presenting a sampling of the different media in which she works. The 24 works span from 1997, the year in which Walker won a MacArthur Genius grant, to the present, with a maquette of The Katastwóf Karavan, the artist’s contribution to the recent Prospect 4 in New Orleans. The diversity of Walker’s artistic practice is highlighted with selections from the lithograph series Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated) (2005); The Emancipation Approximation (Scene #18), a screenprint from 1999–2000; the 1998 linocut African/American; an additional 1998 cut paper piece Consume; Testimony, a short film and photogravure stills (2005); Freedom, a Fable a 1997 pop-up book; and drawings such as two works from the Negress Notes series (1997) and Sketch for an American Comic Opera with 20th

Century Race Riots (2012).

 

The exhibition is organized by Guest Curator Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, Associate Professor of American Art and affiliated faculty in Africana Studies, Cinema Studies, and Women and Gender Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Seeing the Unspeakable: The Art of Kara Walker (2004), with the assistance of Gail Stavitsky, MAM Chief Curator.

 

In order to foster an active and open community discussion and broader understanding of the critical and challenging topics presented through Kara Walker’s work, the Museum is offering a range of related programming, including dialogue with the Museum’s African American Cultural Committee (AACC) and other members of the community, presentations at the Museum’s Free First Thursdays during the exhibition, an accompanying reflection space to the exhibition allowing Museum visitors to participate in the conversation by adding their own words and images in response to the exhibition and the preparation of a guide for parents and caregivers to speak about exhibition content with their children.  Lectures/panel discussions will include the annual Julia Norton Babson Lecture and a joint offering with Montclair State University’s School of Communication that will explore the intersection of media, social justice and race. 

 

About the Artist

 

New York-based artist Kara Walker is best known for her candid investigations of race, gender, sexuality, and violence through silhouetted figures that have appeared in numerous exhibitions worldwide. Born in Stockton, California, in 1969, Walker was raised in Atlanta, Georgia, from the age of 13. She studied at the Atlanta College of Art (BFA, 1991) and the Rhode Island School of Design (MFA, 1994). She is the recipient of many awards, notably the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Achievement Award in 1997 and the United States Artists Eileen Harris Norton Fellowship in 2008. In 2012, Walker became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2015, she was named the Tepper Chair in Visual Arts at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University.  Her work can be found in numerous museums and public collections including The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Tate Gallery, London; the Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XXI Secolo (MAXXI), Rome; and Deutsche Bank, Frankfurt. 

 

Walker’s major survey exhibition, Kara Walker: My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love, was organized by The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis where it premiered in February 2007 before traveling to ARC/ Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris; The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; The Hammer Museum in Los Angeles; and the Museum of Modern Art in Fort Worth. Recent solo exhibitions have been presented at the Art Institute of Chicago; Camden Arts Centre in London; and Metropolitan Arts Center (MAC) in Belfast.

In spring 2014, Walker’s first large scale public project, a monumental installation entitled A Subtlety: Or… the Marvelous Sugar Baby an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant, was on view at the abandoned Domino Sugar refinery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Commissioned and presented by Creative Time, the project – a massive sugar covered sphinx-like sculpture – responded to and reflected on the troubled history of sugar. 

 

 

 

 

CONSTRUCTING IDENTITY IN AMERICA (1766-2017)

 

September 15, 2018 – January 2020

 

“Sculpture allowed me to put in, in a more natural way, things that people were saying you weren’t supposed to put in art, like race and politics.”

-Mel Edwards

 

Constructing Identity in America (1766-2017) is an exhibition of 86 paintings, sculptures and works on paper from the Museum’s permanent collection considering a broad range of definitions of personal identity throughout American history, from the 18th century to today. The works on view are organized into a range of themes including:

·       Civic Identity

·       Cultural Identity

·       Artistic Identity

·       Religious Identity

·       Professional Identity

·       Identity and Sense of Place

·       Identity and Personal Space

·       Group/Tribal/Community Identity

·       Identity/Non-Conformity

·       Socio-Political Identity and Cultural/Ethnic Identity

 

Highlights of this show, which will be on view through January 2020, range from Charles Wilson Peale’s Portrait of George Washington (1783) to Matar Mbaye (Study 1) (2007), a newly acquired portrait by Kehinde Wiley (who painted the portrait of President Obama that was recently hung in the National Portrait Gallery).

 

 Other highlights by leading contemporary artists include:

 

·       Nick Cave, Soundsuit (2015). Sculptor, dancer, and performance artist, Nick Cave is best known for his Soundsuits - wearable fabric sculptures that are bright, whimsical, and otherworldly, and bear a resemblance to African ceremonial costumes and masks.

·       Willie Cole, Silex Male, Ritual (2004). New Jersey native Willie Cole shows in this work front and back views of himself, digitally covered with the scorch marks of a Proctor Silex (one of Cole’s favorite brands.) iron—a trademark image in his work referencing the domestic work of women in his family. The artist explores cultural stereotypes as he transforms himself into an exotic, ritual-possessed tribal specimen.

·       Juan Sanchez, Once We Were Warriors (2000). This print honors the social activism of The Young Lords and the Puerto Rican movement of self-empowerment.  

·       Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, What is An American? (2003). Made in the wake of the September 11 attacks this piece brings together symbols of white America with those of Native Americans, alluding to the mixing of these two very different cultures and the concern that past violations of Native America have been forgotten. 

·       Jack Whitten, Bessemer Boogie (1993).  Issues of apartheid and lynching are addressed in Whitten’s works.

·       Mel Edwards, Mamelodi (1986).  Edwards’ pivotal series Lynch Fragments, began in 1963 as a reaction to the civil rights struggle in which he actively participated.  Edwards has observed, “What I am doing is taking fragments of the intensity of a lynching, turning it around, changing it into an object that is creative and positive.”  His work thus informs and broadens the viewing experience of Kara Walker’s Virginia’s Lynch Mob. 

The exhibition is curated by Gail Stavitsky, MAM Chief Curator.

 

 

 

BEN JONES: ENVISION EMPOWER EMBRACE

 

September 15, 2018 – Summer 2019

 

“I want to lift people up, give them a sense of empowerment and redemption.”

-Ben Jones

 

Ben Jones’s mural Envision Empower Embrace, to be installed in the Laurie Art Stairway, is based on selected imagery from his recent paintings which address events related to social justice, climate change, and environmental disasters.  The central image of a fish is derived from a painting of 2010 with the same title, which floats over the surface of the mural.  As Jones has observed, “the fish image is used because throughout history many civilizations have used it to represent Life.” The fish frames an image of the renowned jazz singer and political activist Nina Simone who is the subject of Ben Jones’s commemorative painting Nina Simone High Priestess of Soul (1972).   Jones overlays the fish and the surrounding space with the text of a poem, “Mother Earth,” by Denise Tansley.  The poetic, lyrical expressive yearnings of this eco-poetry about the desecration of nature are reinforced by the loose, expressive, colorful paint spatters and the incorporation of oriental calligraphy and ancient African symbols.  

 

The fish is flanked by excerpts from Jones’s painting of 2012 entitled Thank You BP (Wall Paper).  This multi-layered work aesthetically investigates the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  Stylized images of fish, butterflies, birds, and other creatures symbolize the victims of this environmental disaster. The all-over painterly composition evokes the action painting of Jackson Pollock, while the use of corporate logos of BP, Mobile, Exxon, Shell, and others evokes Pop art and mass media culture. The background text is comprised of excerpts from the poem “Are You Fit?” by Basanta Lohani.  She admonishes corporations, observing that their “greed acts the rider to tip the balance” towards depletion, pestilence, war, and crime. This call to action to save the planet is reinforced by the final images to the left and right which are excerpted from the painting Destruction, 2017.  The Deepwater Horizon tanker and ignited oil spills are accompanied by images of floating dollar bills evoking corporate greed, as well as fish, seashells, and a seagull, representing its disastrous ecological impact.

 

The international prohibition sign in red on each side of Envision, Empower, Embrace suggests that swimming or other activities are not permitted in these damaged areas.  At the same time, the inclusion of images of Donald Trump, Trayvon Martin, and Sandra Bland extends this powerful work into the realm of racism and social justice. The image of Martin is derived from Jones’s wallpaper installation of 2016, What’s Going On?, exploring his senseless murder in 2012. Jones also memorializes Sandra Bland, another of too many victims of police brutality and racial profiling, who died in 2015.  The inverted image of Trump evokes the idea of an indictment of the current President, related to the Black Lives Matter movement and the de-regulation of environmental protections.   

 

Ben Jones’s mural is a powerful aesthetic and political statement, intended to inspire thought and action on the part of viewers.  We are invited to contemplate his work by occupying the chair that is to the right of the large central fish, as if to complete the mural.  This notion of collaboration is central to the creation of this digitally produced mural. The photographer and artist Peter Jacobs, a longtime resident of Montclair, worked with Ben Jones to create this work by taking pictures and editing them into this particular monumental composition.  Peter Jacobs himself is well known for his daily practice of creating collages.  Thus, his collage aesthetic truly complements that of Ben Jones. 

 

About the Artist

 

Ben Jones (b. 1941) is an artist, activist, and educator, who has used his art to bring awareness to the plight of humanity throughout the world.  His work is inspired by revolutionary struggles, especially of the people of Cuba. For forty-three years, Ben Jones was a professor of art at New Jersey City University where he taught Advanced Drawing, Life Drawing, Color Theory, as well as African and African American art. 

 

Born in Paterson, New Jersey, Jones’s socio-political consciousness developed early as he began to create art that expresses the social conditions of his time as a key part of his activism. Works from the 1970s onwards reflect the artist’s exploration of his African American heritage, including African spiritualism and ritual, body-painting traditions, as well as Jazz and Soul music.  His longtime engagement with the Black Power/Black Arts movements as evidenced by depictions of Malcolm X and others, has broadened over the years to encompass his deep concern for the environment and survival of all life forms.

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