Tag Archives: museums

A visit to our nation’s capitol leads to appreciation of “30 Amercians” at the Arkansas Arts Center

DSC_0930Our recent trip to Washington DC included many compelling sights, exhibits and tours. Experiencing memorials such as the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, hearing speakers such as Holocaust survivor Gideon Frieder, and seeing exhibits such as “The Struggle for Justice” at the National Portrait FriederGallery each provided potent priming to return home and deeply appreciate an exhibit at our very own Arkansas Arts Center.

Though each of the included artists is African American, the exhibit “30 Americans” leaves race out of the title. This alone gives us much to consider. Why are certain races consider to be “different”? Different from what? Why do we label? How do those labels help or hurt us? It is as if this exhibit title alone teaches us to stop labeling, that it is not necessary, that it does not provide a benefit to anyone, and that we can and should see us all as human and drop the need to separate based on color. IMG_5198

Having said that, this exhibit certainly is about the distinction of skin color, about what life is like for people with dark skin, and how our culture – from advertising to language to sports to music – continues to imbed in our collective thoughts rigid definitions for what is means to be “white” and “black.”

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Artist Virmarie Depoyster, whose own work uses the element of color as a powerful design tool, discusses the use of color in “30 Amercians.”

The exhibition is on display through June 21st and many family activities, artist lectures and events are planned to help facilitate interest and engagement with visitors. For example, a series of films is scheduled to coincide and connect with the exhibit. Select Fridays at noon, premier artists are scheduled to lecture and guide visitors through the galleries. On May 7th, the “30 Americans” collectors, Donald and Mera Rubell, will visit Little Rock for a lecture that is open to the public. I had the good fortune of attending the opening reception which included a lecture by contemporary artist, Hank Willis Thomas. His provocative work is exhibited all over the world, and his ideas have the ability to deeply alter the way we view ourselves and our commercial culture.DSC_0061 Thomas stated that he works like a Trojan horse, making slight changes to accepted advertisements to enable viewers to see the harmful and sinister consequences of accepting commercial imagery as truth about people.

During the presentation, Thomas instantly engaged the audience when he asked us to stand up and hug the nearest stranger. His amiable demeanor allowed listeners to connect and accept his thoughtful perspective – which must have been a new way of thinking for many. While the commercial portrayal of race is a large focus of his work, Thomas uses advertisements to show viewers the skewed definitions we absorb about many groups of people. thHis work allows viewers to reevaluate the imagery that surrounds us and sense our error in accepting images as truths when in fact, commercially produced images about people are created by a few, whose motives are financial. mastercard

While their points are ultimately varied, Thomas’s observations about abundant and erroneous imagery in modern life reminds me of a statement made by Belgian artist, Michaël Borremans, who explained during a lecture at the Dallas Museum of Art (if interested, scroll down to see earlier blog posts about the Borremans lecture and exhibit) that we should all take responsibility for the images we allow in our minds and we should accept that the images are created without our best interests at heart. The fact is, these images impact what we think, how we feel, and what we believe, which gives the creators great and dangerous power.

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“The Long Jump by Carl Lewis” by Henry Taylor, 2010

The opening night presentation by Thomas provided an excellent introduction to the entire exhibit, providing the audience with a deeper understanding and appreciation of the purpose of the displayed work. The work allows us to see from the perspective of the artists, which opens our eyes to views otherwise unknown for some. As Thomas stated, our perspective should always be in question, and always shifting. The exhibit “30 Americans” is a powerful way to continue a shift in our perspective and instigate questions about how our beliefs are formed.

Please visit http://arkarts.com/ to learn about the exhibit and coinciding events. Thank you for reading!

Laura

 

 

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Washington DC Part 1: Escape to the Hirshhorn

DSC_0779The spring break crowds in addition to throngs of school groups in our nation’s capitol were thick and loud, though there were many places to find solace while enjoying incredible sights. For example, the various memorials were heavily visited but managed to feel peaceful and provocative. There were also some museums that provided a reprieve. Though certainly well-attenHirsshorn buildingded, both the Hirshhorn Museum and the National Portrait Gallery allowed visitors time and space to really look at and think about the exhibits. And the exhibits themselves showcased engaging, informative superstars in the art world with the capacity to enlighten the minds and thoughts of those who visit.

For today’s post, I’ll talk about the HirsshornHirshhorn. My interest was peaked before our trip to Washington DC, when I read an article (see link below) about the new Director, Stéphane Aquin, a Canadian who is expected to provide the museum with a shot in the arm on luring visitors to a more dynamic and competitive institution. Perhaps the museum could become more edgy or controversial, but it is hard for me to imagine how it could become more alluring. The striking shape of the Hirshhorn Museum is reminiscent of a cylindrical pot with hefty feet to support the thick walls. Next to the ornate Smithsonian DSC_0854Castle, the modern building begs curiosity.

The exhibit, “At the Hub of Things: New Views of the Collection,” on the top level of the cylinder displays a jaw dropping roster of international power house artists. With each curvilinear room, a group of renowned pieces appears and I DSC_0853pulled at the sleeves and whispered to my daughters, “Look, girls! A Francis Bacon! (see image below) What do you think of those oddly abbreviated body parts?” (to which they answered, “that’s kind of groooossss.”). DSC_0850And, “Look, a Robert Rauschenberg like the one you’ve studied at Crystal Bridges Museum! Remember the random use of text?” (“yeah, yeah, mom, we remember”). “Oh my goodness, look at this Christopher Wool. What doDSC_0845 you think of that languageDSC_0842 and pattern he creates and then obscures with large black marks so we have to dig to see what is there?” (silence).  “Look at this Rothko! Remember the exhibit at the Arkansas Arts Center last year?” (“not really”). “OK, girls, take a careful look at the Joseph Cornell box. You will probably make one in art class someday and now you’ve seen one in person!” (“Ok, thanks, mom”). “OK, Phoebe, I know this Lucien Freud is a bit startling with the naked man splayed out like that, but what do you think of the rags built up in the corner? (“Mom, this one is making me so uncomfortable.”). And so it went as we followed the curve past Jasper Johns, Joan Mitchell, Claes Oldenburg, Andy Warhol, Philip Guston, and so many other great artists from the second half of the 20th century. Though my girl’s lackluster enthusiasm was slightly disappointing, they were enormously patient as I studied and considered each piece, in awe of this collection belonging to the Hirshhorn.

In a shift from art objects and materials to the use of video, the exhibit, “Days of Endless Time,” magnifies the passage of time in a way that forces viewers to slow down with theDSC_0855 presented images and perceive information in a way that is rare in our fast-paced, image laden world of digital media.

Truth be told, I was afraid of feeling anxious or impatient in the slow environment, as I have a bad habit of always being rushed or trying to maximize my every moment. But the images are so contemplative that viewers, including my girls, tend to stand and stare longer than they may intend or realize. We entered a meditative mood amongst these video productions and were entranced in the simple seeming though often complex scenes. Many were like meaningful paintings, but instead of stagnant, these images slowly change and move, offering vastly more possibilities and information than a still image can typically provide. DOET_Robert_Wilson_Lady_Gaga

For example, in the piece , Lady Gaga: Mademoiselle Caroline Rivière d’après Jean-Auguste-Dominque Ingres, 2013 by Robert Wilson, there are multiple references to time and the references work together in a palpable synergy. For starters, the title references a historical artist, Ingres, which immediately cues the past. Yet, as historic as the artist, background and clothes appear, there is something strikingly modern about the woman. These conflicting  impressions compress the passage of time. The reference to Ingres makes us think of a painting but that thought is interrupted by the medium, video, which indicates slightly perceptible movement of the figure – clearly not a painting. If patient, the viewer will see her blink, breathe, or move her hand. The composition allows viewers to think she is imitating an Ingres model which alludes to complex ideas about art copying life and life copying art and art copying art.

My brain gets a bit scrambled as I then start to think about art being a mirror and reflecting reality….in this case the video art seems to scream “real” but it reflects art from the past…and what was that art originally reflecting? She becomes both the Ingres model from the past and not the Ingres model from the past. Again, conflicting information distorts our sense of time. Furthermore, the model is a well known object of art in contemporary pop culture – Lady Gaga transforms herself into various confounding visual objects that distinguish her from stereotypical female vocalists and force viewers to consider her as an idea rather than a person. That realization leads me to appreciate the artist’s model choice. This is not a portrait of a woman, it is a portrait of an idea.

And of course, who can avoid the confrontational messages of Barbara Kruger? I’d seen her work in books and was delightfully surprised to find her text based installation, Belief + Doubt, in the lower level of the museum. DSC_0857

There’s much more on display at the fabulous Hirshhorn – I hope to have provided enough description to encourage you to visit if given the opportunity. Next up…a visit to the National Portrait Gallery. Thank you for reading! Laura

Click here to read about the new Director of the Hirshhorn.

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The Dangerous Logic of Wooing, 2002 by Ernesto Neto