Columbus, Ohio—May 20–July 30, 2017, the Wexner Center for the Arts at The Ohio State University will debut Gray Matters, a multifaceted survey of 37 contemporary women artists who have explored the practice of creating en grisaille—the French term for working in shades of gray. The exhibition is the first organized by Michael Goodson since he assumed the role of Senior Curator of Exhibitions at the Wex, and it further enriches a calendar year of exhibition programming in which every artist featured in the galleries is a woman.
Wex director Sherri Geldin notes, “While we didn’t deliberately set out to devote the entirety of our 2017 exhibition schedule to women, we are not unmindful of the pointed and timely message it sends. Well beyond that, however, Gray Matters aims to investigate a prevalent artistic strategy that women of varying age, ethnicity, and background—and across varying artistic media—are concertedly pursuing at this moment.”
As Goodson explains, “Gray Matters gathers work executed primarily in the surprisingly vital—if ‘colorless’—range between and including black and white. It explores the various modes in which contemporary artists persist in, yet significantly expand upon, the historical practice of grisaille. What is ultimately more interesting, however, is how the restraints of this formal conceit recede to the background as one experiences the incredibly rich and diverse range of ideas and concerns that each artist pushes to the fore.”
Goodson adds, “The exhibition also deliberately seeks to infiltrate what has been a highly gendered canon of male artists working en grisaille with extraordinary women making work now.”
The 37 artists appearing in Gray Matters range from emerging to well established. Individually and collectively, they challenge an all-too simplistic notion of colorless “neutrality” as they reveal the truly vibrant and variegated spectrum of black, white, and gray. The full list of artists appears below.
Vija Celmins, who has explored desaturated painting and drawing for most of her career, proffers the earliest work in the exhibition, the 1964 painting Heater, and provides a small burst of color in the galleries via the glowing red center of the electric space heater it portrays. In contrast, Mickalene Thomas, an artist typically associated with vividly colorful portraits of black women, narrows her palette for Hair Portrait #20—without relinquishing her celebratory use of rhinestones.
Roni Horn’s substantial glass sculptures appear as pools of water—at once surprisingly transparent and dramatically reflective, both a mirror and a lens. Xaviera Simmons’s installations use an amalgam of languages to create enveloping, text-based environments that provide an “image” of the majesty of the natural world amid blending cultures.
Julie Mehretu’s large, six-panel print exemplifies a method of constructing what she has described as “story maps of dislocation”. In the work, the columns, arches, and porticoes of the war-torn Syrian city of Damascus are part of a layered architectural and historical portrait of that city. Bethany Collins presents a beautiful and seemingly discreet installation of stark white pages with ghostlike, blind-embossed text that is actually crafted from the US Department of Justice report on the Ferguson police department.
Marlene Dumas’s Betrayal features her signature veils of ink, which create blurred, indeterminate portraits of women. Their guileless appearance, in tandem with a title that suggests something more duplicitous, urges the viewer to reflect on sameness and difference, and how time and aging affect one’s worldview. The sculptural graphite drawings of Nancy Rubins beg consideration of the intense and abundant energy expended in their making, and reconsideration of the power of the pencil as a rendering tool.
In uniting these remarkable works, Gray Matters provides a denuded, focused lens through which to see the world afresh.
Tauba Auerbach, Carol Bove, Gisele Camargo, Vija Celmins, Bethany Collins, Marsha Cottrell, Tacita Dean, Tara Donovan, Marlene Dumas, Michelle Grabner, Josephine Halvorson, Mona Hatoum, Roni Horn, Cristina Iglesias, Jennie C. Jones, Mary Reid Kelley, Toba Khedoori, Laura Lisbon, Suzanne McClelland, Julie Mehretu, Katie Paterson, Joyce Pensato, Amalia Pica, Michal Rovner, Nancy Rubins, Arlene Shechet, Erin Shirreff, Amy Sillman, Xaviera Simmons, Diane Simpson, Lorna Simpson, Avery Singer, Michelle Stuart, Mickalene Thomas, Kara Walker, Rachel Whiteread, Carmen Winant
A Spring Exhibition Opening Celebration will take place on Friday, May 19 from 4 to 8:30 PM. It features Covert Histories, a discussion with Gray Matters artists Bethany Collins, Xaviera Simmons and Carmen Winant addressing the often-overlooked histories—or gray areas—buried within our shared cultural narratives. The talk takes place at 5:30 PM in the Film/Video Theater, followed by complimentary snacks, a cash bar, and a set by DJ Trueskillz in the lower lobby from 6 to 8:30 PM.