THIRD SPACE, SHIFTING CONVERSATIONS ABOUT CONTEMPORARY ART @ BIRMINGHAM MUSEUM OF ART : 10 ART PIECES THAT SPOKE TO US

THIRD SPACE, SHIFTING CONVERSATIONS ABOUT CONTEMPORARY ART @ BIRMINGHAM MUSEUM OF ART

I travel to Alabama about once a year, one of my favorite places to visit while in town is the Birmingham Museum of Art.  A few weeks ago, I got a chance to experience their latest exhibition, Third Space: Shifting Conversations.  Third Space includes their visitors in the examination on the cultural crossing of Alabama and the American South’s relation to the Global South – the concept that the state of our cultural climate is not chained to a geographical location; that were are united by a connected past that defines our present. “It is an imagined place that ties cultures together by their common experiences and considers the voices of people who are often unheard.”

The exhibition opens up that dialogue with over 100 contemporary art pieces – most culled from the museums’ own collection.  A few of the pieces are on display for the first time, having been in storage, due to the museums’ lack of space. The works of art and the ideas that inspired them are meant to resonate regionally, as well as reach out on a global level. Photographs, sculptures, and paintings are just a few of the mediums represented here along with a rich multitude of artistic representation from Alabama, Brazil, Cuba and South Africa – to name a few.

“This important moment for the Birmingham Museum of Art and our collection of contemporary art extends an exciting opportunity to recognize and explore a shared human experience,” Gail Andrews, R. Hugh Daniel Director of the Birmingham Museum of Art, said. “Works of art offer ways to see the world from a new perspective, serve as points of discussion and can create empathy and respect, at a time when our country seems to need it the most.”

Your journey is tied to reference points that guide you in finding personal meaning within the art. The sections are: representation/agency/gaze, tradition/memory/history, landscape/nature/spirit, and migration/diaspora/exile.  Third Space will run for 2 years, during that time the works of art will change every 6 months, shifting your travels.  You can also use your iPhone or iPad provided at the museum to access the Smart Guide, an interactive feature that allows you to listen to different perspectives on selected works of art from voices of children, musicians, activists and a host of others from the Birmingham community.

And as we are invited to share our perspectives and interact with the art, in no particular order, here are 10 art piece gems in the exhibition that spoke to us:

  1. Dennis Oppenheim’s Slow Clap for Satie, 1989 (Acrylic, wood, steel, motors. ficus trees, pots, turntables, vacuum formed masks, loop recording of Erik Satie piano music)THIRD SPACE, SHIFTING CONVERSATIONS ABOUT CONTEMPORARY ART @ BIRMINGHAM MUSEUM OF ART
  2.  Jose Bedia Mpangui jimagua (Twin Brothers), 2000 (Acrylic and conte on canvas with objects) – Jose Bedia’s years studying and experiencing Afro-Cuban and Native American spirituality are reflected in the two representing men drifting together in the boat communing with and pulling their collective spiritual forces.  Is it a representation of Bedia continuing to pull the spirit and traditions of his heritage along in life?  As your eye pulls away from the boat and notices the figures on the large canvas, you have to wonder…are you staring at two figures or do they represent a blending of one?THIRD SPACE, SHIFTING CONVERSATIONS ABOUT CONTEMPORARY ART @ BHAM_Glenn Kaino, Bridge
  3. Skylar Fein See You at the UpStairs Lounge, from “Remember the UpStairs Lounge”, 2009 (latex on wood) – This is a recreation of original sign from The UpStairs Lounge,  a gay bar in the French Quarter of New Orleans.  In 1973 a fire broke out, claiming the lives of 32 men.  The fire was set intentionally, and the 15 survivors were persecuted afterwards for being at the bar. A more in depth history of the event can be heard here.  THIRD SPACE, SHIFTING CONVERSATIONS ABOUT CONTEMPORARY ART @ BHAM_Ebony G Patterson
  4. Ebony G. Patterson Among the weeds, plants and peacock feathers, 2014  (Mixed Media) – It wasn’t until we looked through the lens of the camera did we see the body scattered among beaded tapestry.  Patterson’s work explores themes of identity and class, race and gender in the media. Among the weeds draws the viewers in, revealing a heartbreaking discovery.  Too often we bypass the crushing and Patterson calls our attention to a prevailing attitude.  Third Space at BHAM_Nick Cave
  5. Nick Cave Soundsuit, 2009 (Fabric with appliqued crochet and buttons , knitted yarn, and mannequin)Third Space at BHAM_Glenn Kaino
  6. Glenn Kaino Bridge, 2014 (Fiberglass, steel wire, and gold paint) – Made from a cast of Olympic athlete Tommie Smith’s arms and fist, the sculpture harkens back to that iconic moment when, along with John Carlos, Smith raised his black gloved fist in the Black Power Salute during the metal ceremony in the 1968 Olympics.  Do yourself a favor and listen to Chenoia Bryant, Social Justice Advocate and Feminist speak on the audio companion about the larger meaning behind this piece.Third Space at BHAM_
  7. Whitfield Lovell Rise of the Delta, 2013 (Conte on wood, silver plated platters, penny, wrought iron scone ) – Lovell was commissioned by Birmingham art collectors Norm and Carnetta Davis to create this piece from of photograph of Carnetta Davis’ mother. I love the halo of silver and pewter serving plates placed around Davis’ mother.  They symbolize her mothers’ love of hosting guests in her home, while the pewter piece at her feet is reference to ‘Birth of Venus’.
  8. Kerry James Marshall As Seen on TV, 2002 (Enamel on plastic vase, plastic flowers, framed video still, wood and glass shelf with steel bracket and chain)
  9. Glenn Ligon Runaways, 1993 (Lithographs) – This series of prints are inspired by advertisements for runaways slaves from the early 1800s.  Ligon makes use of the advertisements bearing physical descriptions and personal details, wording that humanized people perceived as property, standing in opposition to the advertisements obvious lack of humanity 10-must-see-pieces-at-third-space-birmingham-museum-of-art
  10. Esterio Segura La historia se muedre la cola (History Bites its Tall), 2013 (Painted fiberglass) – Using a bound Pinocchio as a metaphor for the history of lies told us by our governments was brilliant.  Even more stinging when you think how apropos it is when applied to the lies we tell ourselves.

SPOTLIGHT: CONCEPTUAL ARTIST GLENN LIGON

 

Glenn Ligon is an American conceptual artist whose work explores race, language, and identity by engaging the subjects within wordplay. Sourcing literary gems from influential writers including, Zora Neal Hurston, Gertrude Stein, and James Baldwin, he uses language and textual experiments with legibility and eligibility to speak on challenging subject matters. His medium of choice—oil crayon used with letter stencils—transforms the texts he quotes, making them abstract, difficult to read, and layered in meaning, much like the subject matter that he appropriates.  For the viewer, the words slowly dissipate into powerful messages as the text begins to blur and morph into a larger meaning.

His later work with text-based neon signs crossed that bridge – finding a connection between the illuminated signs  and his text heavy paintings that move his message on our collective experiences forward.  Repetition is often a highlight in his work self expression;  to promote a  progression of clarity in his thoughts and meditations.

Ligon’s paintings and sculptures continue to examine cultural and social identity through found sources—literature, Afrocentric coloring books, photographs—to reveal the ways in which the history of slavery, the civil rights movement, and sexual politics inform our understanding of American society.

 

 

Glenn Ligon_ Untitled

Glenn Ligon – Untitled (I’m Turning Into a Specter before Your Very Eyes and I’m Going to Haunt You)

Stand there long enough to realize that you are re-reading a single phrase; Ligon’s repetition of this phrase begins to dissipate into a powerful message as the words begin to blur and disappears into a bigger meaning.

 

 

The More You Know:

  • VIDEO – Watch Glenn Ligon as he explains some of his more widely-known pieces.
  • VIDEO – Watch Curator Thelma Golden and Glenn Ligon in Conversation.
  • The Whitney Museum holds the largest collection of Ligon’s work.  Visit their website for a listen & learn of influential pieces in their collection.

Represent: 200 Years of African American Art

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is highlighting their collection of works made by artists of African descent with a new publication and exhibit of the same name, Represent: 200 Years of African American Art.

Represent opened to the public, January 10, 2015. The exhibition features 75+ works culled from the museum’s holdings by consulting curator Dr. Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, and Project Curatorial Assistant, John Vick.

For the majority of the public, many of the pieces in this exhibit have only been seen in photographs. The exhibition is a reflection of the history of race in the United States, it is also comprised of unique voices that separate themselves from categorization with their creative freedoms.

The hand of the artist weaves itself in and out of historical, social and personal conflict with narratives we try to understand; our engagement with these stories is a base for commonality. They make one think about the things that say true and unchanging – the importance of identity – finding a place of belonging that can hold an honest grounding within our individuality. The diversity of this approach can be seen in the presentation of works chosen.

Before you enter the exhibit gallery, notice the drawings of the exterior and interior of the Main Building of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, attributed to the architect Julian Abele. In 1902, Abele was the first African American to graduate from the architecture program at the University of Pennsylvania.

It’s a fitting beginning to the complexity of art that ranges in means and interpretation throughout the five groupings; Early America, Imagining Modernity, Abstract Approaches, Past Made Present, Facing the Collection.

Notable Philadelphians in the exhibit: Moses Williams, former slave and profile cutter in the household of portrait artist and first museum entrepreneur Charles Willson Peale; Henry Ossawa Tanner, whose painting The Annunciation was the first African American work to be acquired by an American Museum; Dox Thrash, a printmaker ; Sculptor, Barbara Chase-Riboud; Moe Brooke; Barkley L. Hendricks.

As you walk through the exhibit, don’t miss this unintentional conversation between – The Deposition by Bob Thompson and Present Futures by Moe Brooker. The paintings sit cattycorner to one another, sharing the same celebratory color palettes. [Thanks to DuBois Shaw for pointing that out]

Within the exhibit space, Kara Walker is the youngest artist shown. At 46, Walker is still a very relevant artist, but it’s worth pointing out that artist Jayson Musson (Gallery 124 in the permanent collection) is a younger voice that bookends the exhibition. Musson’s, Trying to find our spot off in that light, light off in the spot can be seen in the permanent collection, with a reference to it’s inclusion in the catalogue and exhibition.

Represent: 200 Years of African American Art runs until April 5, 2015. A wide variety of special events and celebratory programs are happening in conjunction with this exhibit. Learn about them here.

Our Highlights:

Horace Pippin – The End of the War: Starting Home
From afar it can seem a simple canvassed painting. But a closer inspection will reveal scenes that depict the brutality of war. Notice its framing of carved weapons, helmets, and tanks.

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Carrie Mae Weems – Untitled
Three of the twenty photographs that comprise The Kitchen Table Series are shown here (One of our Art Basel Miami highlights). Weems stages these stretched scenes into long unspoken sentences comprised of emotions and identity within relationships.
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Glenn Ligon – Untitled (I’m Turning Into a Specter before Your Very Eyes and I’m Going to Haunt You)
Stand there long enough to realize that you are re-reading a single phrase; Ligon’s repetition of this phrase begins to dissipate into a powerful message as the words begin to blur and disappears into a bigger meaning.

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Wille Cole – Reversed Evidence
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Moses Williams – Peale Family Silhouettes

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REPRESENT IMAGE 1.