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: Kerry James Marshall

Spotlight: Kerry James Marshall black history month

Spotlight: Kerry James Marshall black history month

Kerry James Marshall, was born in Birmingham, AL in 1955. Needless to say he was born into a world of murder, turmoil, and sadness for African-Americans everywhere. He has said in the past that it was impossible for his art not to have been influenced by his birthplace.

One of Mr. Marshall’s core beliefs is that “we all stand on the shoulders of giants.” Some of his greatest influences have been classic pieces of art, their structure and their subject matter. He developed this idea in his work and has applied many of these influences to creating his own Black masterpieces.

As Mr. Marshall would walk the hall of various museums, he noticed a striking difference between the busts of African heroes and the ones of Greco-Roman heroes. There was animation, aggressiveness, and heroism in those busts, while the African pieces were static, inert, and passive. Why couldn’t Black people be depicted as the Greco-Romans were?

From that idea came modeling his subjects as superheroes. Superheroes have been mostly White through the ages, and it was one of his ways of taking back power in Black imagery. The positive associations and feeling that superheroes engender were exactly what Mr. Marshall was seeking. Power, positivity, and heroism, long absent in representation.

For this idea, he hearkened back to his childhood and his love of superhero comic books. The irony that in this case, he stood on his own “shoulders” this time is very powerful, and he resurrected a long-dormant idea. There was power in blackness that had long been hidden, and questioned by the White world. He furthered this idea by depicting his figures as the blackest of black. This beautiful color was often highlighted by his colorful backgrounds. It was a lovely sight.

The other thing that struck this reporter about his art were his depictions of houses, all closed up from the outside, but inside, animated and warm. What went on behind the closed doors of Black folks? The maids, field hands, servants, slaves? What were their secret dreams and desires? To the rest of Caucasian America this was certainly a mystery. Exposing the secret yearnings and often sad and powerful world behind these doors is another goal of Mr. Marshall’s art. The overarching idea is that there is power and heroism in Blackness, and we need to spread the word.

“I am trying to establish a phenomenal presence that is unequivocally black and beautiful. It is my conviction that the most instrumental, insurgent painting for this moment must be of figures, and those figures must be black, unapologetically so.” — Kerry James Marshall

Spotlight: Kerry James Marshall black history month

Kerry James Marshall (American, born Birmingham, Alabama 1955)
Untitled (Studio), 2014
Acrylic on PVC panels; 83 5/16 × 119 1/4 in . (211.6 × 302.9 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Foundation Gift, Acquisitions Fund and The Metropolitan Museum of Art Multicultural Audience Development Initiative Gift, 2015

 

Spotlight: Kerry James Marshall black history month

KERRY JAMES MARSHALL, “School of Beauty, School of Culture,” 2012 (acrylic on canvas). | Collection of the Birmingham Museum of Art; Museum purchase with funds provided by Elizabeth (Bibby) Smith, the Collectors Circle for Contemporary Art, Jane Comer, the Sankofa Society, and general acquisition funds. Photo courtesy MCA Chicago

 

Learn More:

  • If you missed his latest exhibition ‘Mastery’ at The Met, not to worry.  The audio guide for the exhibit is still up on the museum’s website.  You’ll find out more about his inspirations from Renaissance masterpieces to comic books—the discussion is led by a Met curator and the artist himself as they explore details and share the remarkable stories behind select works in the exhibition.