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Oct 11, 2021
A monthly check-in with with Wex Executive Director Johanna Burton.
You may already have heard the news that I will be leaving the Wexner Center for the Arts at the end of this month to join the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles, where I will assume the role of director on November 1. Raised on the West Coast but far away from it for most of my career, I have often felt the urge to return to my roots. When this opportunity arose at one of the nation’s key contemporary art museums, it felt like the right next step for me.
It is nonetheless with mixed emotions that I write my final note as the Wex’s executive director. Since arriving here in early 2019, I’ve worked with an outstanding staff of dedicated colleagues to advance the center’s status as an essential cultural and educational resource not only at Ohio State but across central Ohio and the nation. Together, we’ve expanded the center’s education, outreach, and public programs; moved forward on strategic planning and visioning around its mission and sustainability; and made important internal changes that embrace the essential work of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. It is my sincere hope that this exciting forward motion will not only continue but accelerate in my wake.
Additionally, I’m incredibly proud to have supported staff in the making of remarkable exhibitions, performances, screenings, discussions, and events, among them abstract painter Jacqueline Humphries’s show jHΩ1:); interdisciplinary artist Ann Carlson’s epic staging of the dance work The Symphonic Body/Food; groundbreaking documentarian Julia Reichert’s 50-year film career retrospective; and a memorable public conversation on art, labor, and collective action that featured Reichert in dialogue with artist LaToya Ruby Frazier and US Senator Sherrod Brown.
Though my last day at the Wex is Friday, October 29, I hope to see and connect with as many of you as I can at some of this month’s most exciting highlights. We’re grateful that after such a long, lonely pandemic hiatus the performing arts are back in Mershon Auditorium and the Wex’s Performance Space. Join us on October 16 for the hauntingly moving music of Pakistani-born, Brooklyn-based composer Arooj Aftab, a singer whose signature style encompasses everything from Sufi devotional poetry to electronic trance to jazz. Aftab’s been hailed by Pitchfork for her brilliant “reimagining” of traditional South Asian music—and even secured a place on President Barack Obama’s 2021 Summer Playlist! Looking further into the season, on November 16, you won't want to miss a breathtaking performance by French sisters Katia and Marielle Labèque—named “the best piano duo in front of an audience today" by the New York Times—as they transport listeners with interpretations of Dessner, Glass, and Ravel.
I’d also like to call your attention to the upcoming Retrospective: Michael Schultz, which will screen in our Film/Video Theater October 14–19. Schultz may not be a household name, but his prolific career includes films like Cooley High (1975), Car Wash (1976), Krush Groove (1985), a series of movies featuring Richard Pryor, and a long list of hit television shows stretching from the 1970s to the present day that set the stage—and the standard—for generations of Black directors who followed him. Schultz will visit the Wex virtually as part of a citywide celebration of Columbus-born author Wil Haygood’s new book Colorization: One Hundred Years of Black Films in a White World (2021). A subject of that book, Schultz will engage in a dialogue with Haygood on October 18 and offer an online directing masterclass the following day.
I hope, too, that you’ll check out Unorthodocs, our annual film festival dedicated to the creative possibilities of nonfiction filmmaking. This year’s fest starts October 22 and takes a hybrid approach that combines a weekend of in-person screenings and discussions with an accessible online event that remains available through October 30. Among the esteemed lineup of filmmakers and documentaries is Melissa Gira Grant and Ingrid Raphaël’s They Won’t Call It Murder, a sobering look at police killings of mostly Black civilians in Columbus—and how these deaths have historically gone unpunished. Making its Midwest premiere and screening for free in the Film/Video Theater, this thoughtful yet emotionally charged film will be followed by a discussion with the filmmakers as well as community members who have lost loved ones to police violence.
In other news, I wish to express my delight that our Director of Learning & Public Practice Dionne Custer Edwards was recently awarded the Arts Educator Award by the Greater Columbus Arts Council in recognition of her powerful and passionate work on behalf of Columbus youth and families. Additionally, I'm pleased to announce that our microcinema and creative zone Free Space, founded a year ago, has been nominated for a Dale E. Heydlauff Community Arts Innovation Award.
Last, I want to assure you that the weeks and months of transition after my departure will be handled with the best of care by our Wexner Center Foundation Board of Trustees in partnership with Melissa L. Gilliam, Ohio State’s new executive vice president and provost. They have already appointed Wex Chief Operating Officer Megan Cavanaugh and Chief Advancement Officer Kelly Stevelt as co-interim executive directors to steward the center during the search for my permanent replacement—and I have every confidence in this collaborative team. I remain ever grateful for the tremendous honor of leading the center these past two-and-a-half years and look forward to staying in touch as a partner and friend.
jHΩ1:), 2018 (detail). Oil on linen, 114 x 127 in. The Abrishamchi Family Collection. Courtesy of the artist and Greene Naftali, New York. © Jacqueline Humphries. Photo: Jason Madella.
Like many of you, I imagine, I wake up each day struggling to get my head around new and troubling realities. As I write this, civilian evacuations continue in Afghanistan, Delta numbers are on the rise across the United States and globally, and fires rage on the West Coast, where I am from. Yet, looking out my office window, it is reassuring to see students back in person on the Ohio State campus, flocking across the Oval. Their presence feels like old times but also marks a new vaccination requirement put in place just a week ago by Ohio State’s president, Kristina Johnson.
For all the complexity of this moment, and perhaps even because of it, I am pleased to invite you to the Wexner Center for our upcoming exhibition jHΩ1:), featuring the work of renowned abstract painter Jacqueline Humphries, whose paintings remind us of the power of creative expression, in and of itself, and point to the ways that art is always responsive to the world around it.
On view beginning September 18 and guest curated by Mark Godfrey, this presentation marks Humphries’s first large-scale museum exhibition, featuring dozens of paintings and a new multipanel installation—her largest to date—created in response to the Wex’s iconic architecture. If the characters found in the title jHΩ1:) conjure for you emoticons, emojis, and digital shorthand, then you’re on the right track. The show probes the relationship between art, digital technology, and the Internet, themes sure to resonate not only with the “digital natives” in our midst—those raised on iPhones and Instagram—but with all of us, of any age, who find ourselves immersed in digital communications and online culture in our daily lives.jHΩ1:) also explores, powerfully, how something ostensibly so esoteric as abstract painting can offer a space for reflection and contemplation. Humphries likens her compositions to screens—at once shielding us from the world and offering a mediated view onto it.
Humphries is a maverick figure in New York’s downtown art scene, an artist’s artist if you will. I’ve been following her career for years, writing about her in Artforum more than a decade ago and keeping an interested eye on her evolving practice ever since. I hope you’ll come tour this timely, thought-provoking, and simply gorgeous exhibition while it fills our galleries through January 2, 2022. You’ll have the chance to hear from Humphries and Godfrey in person at an opening conversation on September 17 in the Wex Film/Video Theater (part of our Fall Exhibition Preview event) and at additional exhibition-related happenings this fall. Stay tuned to wexarts.org for details.
In other good news, I’m happy to call your attention to the recent launch of the Wex’s newly refreshed membership structure. Stemming from our commitment to make the arts accessible to everyone, this revamped program removes barriers to membership by allowing for engagement and belonging at the Wex regardless of giving level. (You can join at our Enthusiast level for as little as $1!) In addition, your membership gift now goes even farther. Joining at the Ambassador or Advocate levels allows us to offer free memberships to teachers, artists, students, and others in the community, expanding our efforts at inclusion and accessibility. And speaking of accessibility, gallery admission is free every Sunday, thanks to a generous gift from the AEP Foundation. I hope you’ll take a moment to join or renew your membership today. When you become a Wex member, you are literally paying it forward!
Lastly, if you’ve been craving live performance or a theatrical cinema experience, we’ve got you covered. On September 24, we’re hosting the indie band Moviola in Mershon Auditorium as they present an expanded staging of their 10th album, Broken Rainbows. Known for a unique DIY musical ethos and strong Ohio State ties—the bandmates first came together 25 years ago as students here—they’ll perform 11 songs composed during the pandemic in what promises to be a very special evening. Similarly, our Film/Video Department has compiled ICYMI: Recent Releases on the Big Screen, a series of five notable films that, due to the pandemic, never received the theatrical screenings they deserve. These films, from the likes of Wex fave (and past residency artist) Kelly Reichardt to emerging director and actress Isabel Sandoval, will screen September 3–23 in our Film/Video Theater. We have safety protocols, including masking and distancing, in place in all of our indoor spaces; keep an eye on wexarts.org for updates. With so many great things happening at the Wex this fall, I hope you’ll join us as we celebrate the start of a new school year!
Kelly Kivland, photo: Anna Herbst
Even as we strive to enjoy these fleeting last weeks of summer and anticipate schools and schedules resuming, we find ourselves, again, unsure of just what is on the horizon, as Delta variant numbers rise and increased safety regulations are put back into place. For the moment, all of us at the Wex are pressing on with plans for our fall season, hoping we can continue to welcome you through our doors, to gather around the arts that bring us together despite (and sometimes because of) what else is going on in the world.
To that end, we’re now in the final days of our timely exhibition Climate Changing: On Artists, Institutions, and the Social Environment. If you haven’t already experienced this important and resonant show, I urge you to see it before it closes August 15. Its critical questions about institutional access, equity, social justice, care, and community—set as they are against the public health crises of COVID-19 and systemic racism—move us to examine anew our role and responsibilities as an arts organization and reenvision our future as a community.
To help us in this reenvisioning, we’ve organized Ways Forward: New Institutional Paradigms and Practices, a virtual panel discussion on Thursday, August 5, at 4 PM, featuring arts and cultural leaders who are ahead of the curve in tackling these topics. Featured panelists Andrea Andersson (Rivers Institute for Contemporary Art & Thought, New Orleans); Ryan N. Dennis (Mississippi Museum of Art’s Center for Art and Public Exchange, Jackson); Barry Esson (Arika, Scotland); and Sally Tallant (Queens Museum, New York) will share tactics, challenges, and ongoing efforts to amplify social justice and interdependence within the structures of their own organizations as well as in their public-facing programming. This enlightening evening, free and open to the public, will be moderated by Mara Mills, associate professor of media, culture, and communication and cofounder and codirector of New York University’s Center for Disability Studies. A Q&A will follow to give space for thoughts and input from you. I invite you to join us!
On that positive note, it is with great pleasure that I welcome Kelly Kivland to the Wexner Center in the role of Chief Curator & Director of Exhibitions. Kelly joins us at the center this week. She comes to us from Dia Art Foundation in New York, where as curator she played a key role in guiding the foundation’s programmatic vision as well as its efforts toward diversity, equity, inclusivity, and access. We are thrilled to be joined by an arts leader who makes this transformational work so central to all she does, and we will draw upon her expertise as we collectively do our parts at the Wex to realize a just and equitable future. You can read more about Kelly’s impressive career here or, better yet, meet her in person this fall.
It’s always exciting to share good news with devoted Wex fans, and that’s why it’s a thrill to roll out some details about our fall exhibition. Starting September 19, a survey of works by the extraordinary abstract painter Jacqueline Humphries will fill all of our galleries. The Wex’s exhibition, titled jHΩ1:) and guest curated by Mark Godfrey, marks Humphries’s largest museum showing to date and will feature dozens of paintings, including a new multipanel installation created in response to the center’s iconic postmodernist architecture. In her practice, Humphries explores and tests the relationship between analog and digital and asks vital questions about the role of art in larger society. We cannot wait to see you at the Wex for this timely show, which truly must be experienced in person!
I’m also happy to announce that Paul Judge has been elected to our board of trustees. Paul, the president of Axium Packaging, brings to the board his extensive leadership experience and deep love of the Wex, and we’re enthusiastic about collaborating with him to shape the next phase of the center’s story.
An essential part of that story (and our mandate) is to support artists in the ideation, research, creation, and presentation of new work, and our Artist Residency Awards have allowed for particularly intimate and often longstanding relationships with artists such as Mark Bradford, Sadie Benning, the late Barbara Hammer, Bebe Miller, and Julia Reichert & Steven Bognar. I’m delighted to share the news about this year’s recipients and tell you about how we’ve deepened and enriched our resources in new ways during this critical time. We’re extending residency work with two artists from last year’s lineup—Hope Ginsburg and Jaamil Olawale Kosoko—and have now offered residency support to an incredible new roster of artists: New Red Order (Film/Video), Carlos Motta (Visual Arts), James Dennen, Jennifer Harge, Awilda Rodríguez Lora, Abby Zbikowski, and Norah Zuniga Shaw (Performing Arts). Also this year, our renowned Film/Video Studio will utilize critical new methods of funding to expand access to production support as part of its dedication to assisting filmmakers at any step of the creative process. Finally, we are emphasizing the essential efforts of our Department of Learning & Public Practice. This year, the center will engage four Ohio-based artists (Tala Kanani, Sa’dia Rehman, Jonna Twigg, and Kari Gunter-Seymour) who plan to embed themselves alongside students, educators, and members of our surrounding communities, as they pursue new modes of art activity and bridge the local with the global.
We’re also finding new and exciting ways to meet up with our neighbors. Last month—thanks to the support of our friends at CoverMyMeds—we were elated to bring Steven Spielberg’s E.T. to folks at Columbus’s legendary South Drive-In Theatre as part of our free Zoom Family Film program. Hundreds of people joined us for Jeni’s ice cream, craft bags for every car, and a beloved movie under the stars. We’re eager to return on July 15 with John Carpenter’s cult classic Escape from New York and Wexner Prize recipient Spike Lee’s groundbreaking Do the Right Thing on August 12. As an added bonus, each film will be paired with a short by participants from our Ohio Shorts showcase—Escape from New York with Black Panther Fable by Kieran Murphy and Do the Right Thing with this year’s Ohio Shorts Jury Prize winner Standing in The Blink of a Night by John Landry. It’s one more way we’re building connection points between artists in our own backyard and the international work we present.
Our devoted film fans will also be thrilled to know that we are returning to in-person screenings today. Our Film/Video Theater, home to so many memorable screenings over the years, will be back open with a series of films by the inimitable artist and filmmaker Lynn Hershman Leeson throughout July. Later in the month and into August, our film curators have handpicked a lineup of films that must be seen on the big screen for maximum impact—watching at home just isn’t the same (and aren’t you excited to be back in a theater?!). Called The Big Picture, this stellar mix of classics (Jacques Tati’s Playtime), family friendly favorites (Disney’s Lady and the Tramp), contemporary cult favorites (the Wachowskis’ Speed Racer), and plenty of other surprises extends through August. I hope you’ll stop by for a break from the heat and join us for the kind of moviegoing experience we’ve all been waiting for.
Our work continues and, as always, happens because of your support and enthusiasm for all that we do. As we move further into these deep summer months, I hope to see you at an upcoming drive-in, a film screening, or in our galleries. I remain grateful as ever for your support and enthusiasm for all the Wex does.
Top row, from left to right: Dionne Custer Edwards, Aja Davis, Kelly Kivland, Helyn Marshall, Tracie McCambridge, and Kristen Muenz.
Bottom row, from left to right: Paige Crane, Ann Hamilton, The Ohio State University President Kristina M. Johnson; The Ohio State University College of Arts and Sciences Dean Gretchen Ritter; and Pete Scantland.
One of the most satisfying things about working at the Wexner Center is collaborating with the people whose passion for the place motors both its day-to-day operations and its future aspirations. Over the course of this past challenging year, the Wex has nonetheless taken great strides. We’ve deepened and adapted existing roles and made strategic new additions to better reflect our commitment to greater accessibility. As we continue to see the profound ways in which art and culture can contribute to a more just, vibrant, and equitable civil society, it is all the more important to remember that art institutions are themselves living, breathing, evolving entities and celebrate the people who make them possible.
From time to time, I'll share news pertaining to Wex staff and board, so you'll continue to know not only what's on at the Wex but what's going on inside too. With that in mind, I wanted to take a moment to highlight some new members of our team, along with a few familiar ones who have taken on new roles:
Dionne Custer Edwards, Director of Learning & Public Practice. Having been with the Wex since 2005, Dionne has touched the lives of thousands of students and teachers in Ohio and beyond through her tireless educational outreach and the signature Pages literacy program. As the center continues to adapt in response to the current moment, we’ve restructured our education initiatives under the newly named Department of Learning & Public Practice. This shift underscores the centrality of learning, education, community engagement, access, equity, and care as core to all we do at the Wex.
Aja Davis, Associate Director of Development. Aja joined the Wex’s Development team in March from the United Way of Central Ohio where she was director of individual giving and donor stewardship. Aja’s significant experience building relationships and community are a welcome addition as our Development team works to forge stronger connections with stakeholders.
Kelly Kivland, Chief Curator & Director of Exhibitions. An accomplished arts administrator, educator, and advocate, Kelly will join us in August from Dia Art Foundation in New York, where she has worked since 2011. In her role there as curator, she organized exhibitions, led commissions, and launched public programs such as the Artists on Artists Lecture series. Her curatorial work at Dia includes solo exhibitions focused on Robert Irwin, Isabel Lewis, and Steve Paxton, as well as upcoming single-artist shows with Maren Hassinger and Joan Jonas. Kelly’s experience working across disciplines—with a focus on equity and inclusion—aligns with the Wex’s values and will help drive them forward.
Helyn Marshall, Accessibility Manager. Helyn has been with the Wex since 2005. Many of our patrons will know her as the previous head of our House Management team, where she worked with ushers, volunteers, and other staff to provide a great experience for visitors. In this newly established position, Helyn brings her passion for accessibility to a role that prioritizes it in both our physical and digital spaces.
Tracie McCambridge, Director of Art & Resilience. Another recognizable face to friends of the Wex, Tracie returns to the center in a newly conceived joint role. While retaining her title at Ohio State’s College of Medicine as the Director of Humanism in Medicine, she will draw on opportunities for collaboration between the health sciences and her work at the center promoting resilience, health, and art in programs that include Vets at the Wex and On Pause.
Kristen Muenz, the Wex’s very first archivist. Joining the staff next month from the Cincinnati Museum Center, Kristen says her goal as an archivist is “to create more inclusive archives.” In that spirit, she is a wonderful addition as we dive into the work of documenting, recording, and narrating our past—to say nothing of our future!—in new and enriching ways.
I am also delighted to announce that in the last year, our board of trustees has been joined by five new members. Community advocate Paige Crane has long been a supporter and fan of the Wex, and we’re thrilled to have her affection and deep interest in our work join the ranks of our board. As the first artist to serve on our board, Ann Hamilton (ex officio) brings a crucial and welcome perspective as we continue to deepen and expand our fundamental mission of supporting and advocating for artists. Pete Scantland, CEO of Orange Barrel Media, has spearheaded outstanding projects merging art and social impact, creating expansive platforms that gather diverse arrays of voices—he’ll bring this considerable experience, which aligns with the Wex mission, to the table as a board member. And, finally, we welcome two incredible members from our Ohio State community: President Kristina M. Johnson and College of Arts and Sciences Dean Gretchen Ritter (ex officio). Their engagement with the board meaningfully strengthens our partnership with the university, promising new avenues for collaboration and intersection.
As we move toward summer with our galleries open, I’m eager to see many of you in person. Indeed, you are just as key to what the Wex is and what it does as those of us who unlock its doors each day. After all, you walk through those same doors and, in doing so, confirm that art is where we all come together.
I’m writing this on a stunning, sunny day. Spring’s arrival, for me at least, has felt almost surreal. Flowers popping their synchronized heads out, trees budding like clockwork—reminding us that time does in fact march on, despite what felt to be the longest winter ever. Reading the paper confirms most of us feel upside down. As vaccinations roll out quickly, so do new variants of the Covid virus; as schools reopen in one state, restaurants and businesses are forced to close in another; a front-page New York Times article declares, of pandemic burnout, that “We Have All Hit a Wall.” And, even as we try to regain some semblance of “normal” life, we must recognize and reckon with the ongoing violence and oppression that erupts daily. Last week, the MLB pulled the 2021 All-Star Game out of Atlanta, in direct response to new voting laws that are predicted to disenfranchise Black voters. Derek Chauvin’s trial has begun, nearly a year after the murder of George Floyd. And after last month’s brutal, anti-Asian murders in Atlanta, there has been a surge of hate crimes against the APIDA community.
Our annual Director’s Dialogue series is devoted to considering the pressing issues of our time, and this year’s takes up directly those that define our current moment. Titled How Do We Get Well? On Public Health and Safety, and taking place on April 12, this year’s discussion brings together artists, activists, and public health leaders to discuss the relationships and deep intersections of public safety and public health. Speakers Cameron A. Granger, Baseera Khan, Dr. Shawnita Sealy-Jefferson, Kyle Strickland, and moderator Dr. Amy Acton will approach these topics from the angle of art and culture and look at what the galvanic shifts in civic engagement and protest since 2020 have meant for our communities and for creative expression. The conversation is free and available to all by registering here.
One of the most important things art does, we realized this year, is bring people together. Our beloved annual Ohio Shorts program returns for its 25th edition and to celebrate we’re headed outdoors—safely and distanced the old-fashioned way!—by hosting this year’s screening at Columbus’s iconic South Drive-In on April 15. This first-time outdoor Ohio Shorts screening will be a memorable one, as we gather to honor some of the best film and video artists across the Buckeye State. And don’t worry: if you can’t make it, the films will be available, free, online beginning April 17.
At the Wex, as we plan with excitement for our visitors to be able to visit us more often, in more ways, and with greater peace of mind, we are mindful of the role we can play in not just getting back to “normal” but in helping to imagine better ways forward. As a center dedicated to contemporary art and artists, the Wex takes its cues from makers and thinkers engaged in the work of creative place-making. Watching what comes together via exhibitions, films, performances, discussions, and educational programming feels like seeing those flowers pop up, signaling rebirth and transformation—magical, no matter how many times I’ve experienced it before.
As always, I remain grateful for your ongoing support for all that we do.
This message arrives on my second anniversary as Executive Director of the Wex. The past 730 days have been a whirlwind, but each of them—full of both challenge and promise—has been a reminder of why working to support extraordinary artists alongside this institution’s passionate staff is so deeply rewarding.
My appreciation for the storied history of the Wex predates my tenure and has only been strengthened during my time here. In the last two years, I have strived to center spaces of creativity and collaboration that are responsive and operating from a core of kindness, empathy, and openness. Ideally this atmosphere and ethos is felt in our physical spaces, via the virtual realm, and in the ways we touch each of you individually. During the pandemic it has been difficult for anybody to think beyond the day-to-day, yet even in this time of tumult, we have been looking toward the future to find new points of connection and conversation, confident that through art comes transformation.
Moving into the spring, our galleries are open to the public and our rich online offerings continue to grow. Earlier this month, we were honored to be joined by artist Torkwase Dyson (a Wex residency artist currently featured in our Climate Changing exhibition) in conversation with Ohio State Department of Art Distinguished Professor Ann Hamilton and Knowlton School Senior Lecturer Sandhya Kochar for a discussion of Dyson’s process and practice. On March 29, the Lambert Family Lecture series returns with a sure-to-be-compelling conversation with multidisciplinary artist Taryn Simon and photographer Teju Cole. And that’s just a start for this month’s exciting lineup of conversations—you can also hear a talk by artist Cauleen Smith or take part in an interactive virtual workshop with Ohio State University professors Maurice Stevens and Lucille Toth that dives deep into the themes engaged by Climate Changing.
Also this month, we’re excited to share a powerful new film series called Signs of Remembering: Women’s Resistance in Middle Eastern and North African Documentaries. Curated by Dareen Hussein, an Ohio State History of Art graduate student, and Layla Muchnik-Benali, a curatorial assistant in our Film/Video Department, the series features an intergenerational group of filmmakers bringing visibility to suppressed histories. The series, all online, begins March 19.
As ever, I remain inspired by you, our supporters. Your words of care and encouragement since I arrived at the Wex have been deeply meaningful and continue to act as a key source of motivation and mindset for all that we do. It means so much that you feel as vitalized and optimistic about what is and might be for this institution as I do.
I’m delighted to share the news that our galleries and store are back open. After closing for part of the fall due to the pandemic, it feels great to provide physical access to our extraordinary new exhibition, Climate Changing: On Artists, Institutions, and the Social Environment, as well as our thoughtfully curated store again.
While we have always strived to be responsive and timely with our programs, Climate Changing feels especially urgent. This group show, featuring more than twenty artists and collectives as well as nine newly commissioned works, poses key questions about the role of institutions and social structures amidst the entwined crises of the pandemic and systemic racism. How do artists imagine new futures? How might we collectively create the climate for real, tangible change? These are issues that have been front of my mind since joining the Wex less than two years ago, and Climate Changing engages them in compelling, challenging, and inspiring ways. With our rigorous safety protocols in place—including mandatory masks and timed, ticketed attendance—I hope you will feel comfortable visiting us and this show, organized by our Associate Curator Lucy Zimmerman, in person.
Our virtual programming also continues apace. On February 17, please tune in for our annual DeeDee and Herb Glimcher Lecture. We’ll be honoring architect-activist Pascale Sablan, who will deliver a virtual talk titled I Was Asked to Stand. This powerful presentation will encourage and activate audiences to dismantle injustice by learning about and confronting longstanding problems including the lack of representation of diverse designers and architects and the impact of a historical infrastructure that oppresses women and BIPOC architects.
The popular Cinema Revival series also returns, online, at the end of the month with a selection of films and talks that deeply engage the world of film and moving image restoration. New this year, and a sign of how we consider the field as ever-evolving, we’ll look at video game preservation and restoration with Rich Whitehouse, Head of Digital Conservation at the Video Game History Foundation. The series will also showcase often overlooked and marginalized voices in a spotlight presentation on the essential work of the Black Film Center/Archive (BFC/A). The BFC/A is the first archival repository dedicated to collecting, preserving, and making available historically and culturally significant films by and about Black people, and this program aims to ensure their vital work is shared with new audiences.
We’re also honored to partner with the Greater Columbus Arts Council and Film Columbus to offer the Art Unites Cbus Awards as a free streaming option on our website. This online premiere showcases three new short films created in response to the Black Lives Matter protests in Columbus. The filmmakers—Cristyn Steward, Donte Woods-Spikes, and Sterling Carter—created distinctive, compelling films and I hope you take a moment to watch.
I remain forever grateful to you, our supporters and advocates, for your enthusiasm and belief in art and artists during these tumultuous times. I’ve been moved and galvanized by your encouraging notes and comments and, while there’s still an uncertain road ahead, it’s thrilling to see friends like you walking through our doors.
We enter 2021 with some ongoing uncertainties—as I write, we still do not know when it will be safe to fully reopen to the public—but with hearts assured of the import and impact of all we do at the Wex. This season has lots to look forward to, including the return of our annual Cinema Revival weekend on February 25–28 and Glimcher Lecture on February 17, the latter this year featuring architect-activist Pascale Sablan. Both will take place virtually but promise to be as memorable and compelling as in years past.
On the exhibitions front, we are in the midst of installing and hope to open the major group exhibition Climate Changing: On Artists, Institutions, and the Social Environment on January 30. We continue to monitor the ongoing situation surrounding COVID-19 and keep the safety and health of our staff, guests, and artists at top of mind. We are eager to share this extraordinary exhibition with you—a timely show centering work by contemporary artists who engage institutions as sites of public debate. Climate Changing, conceived by curator Lucy Zimmerman before this year’s massive upheavals (and yet deeply resonant with them), raises critical questions as we face the entwined crises of systemic racism and the pandemic. How do we collectively create a real climate for change? What role does art and culture play in revealing legacies of oppression and violence; and how might artists help imagine other kinds of futures? Are museums—often understood to collect and protect objects—re-thinkable as places where the concept of value itself might be assigned new meanings?
After the insurrection in Washington, DC, last week, such queries about the present and future of institutions are even more vital as we evaluate next steps toward a more just and equitable world.
With regard to this vision of truly open and hospitable spaces, I'm thrilled to extend my thanks to American Electric Power Foundation. Because of their generosity we will offer free admission to our galleries every Sunday this year, beginning with Climate Changing. AEP Foundation is already a consistent supporter of the Wex, and this additional investment is a welcome and deeply impactful step in our efforts to expand arts access.
As we continue this work, I am also delighted to share the news that we have received $100,000 in project support through a $50,000 grant from The Ohio State University Seed Fund for Racial Justice and an additional $50,000 in matching funds from Ohio State’s Global Arts + Humanities Discovery Theme. The grant, reflective of Ohio State’s commitment to and support of this work, was one of 10 awarded by the review committee. This funding will allow us to deepen the already established partnerships our Department of Learning & Public Practice has with area schools and students and to reinforce our focus on diversity, equity, access, and inclusion.
I encourage you to continue following our robust virtual offerings in film/video, performance, and education as we move closer to opening our doors more widely.
I wish you and yours the very best for the coming year and thank you for joining us in our dedication to art and artists (and by extension hope and inspiration!) in 2021.
To call 2020 tumultuous would be an understatement. But together we find and make meaning still.
Over the course of the year you’ve experienced firsthand how we’ve been responding to this ever-changing climate. From the challenges and change brought about by the pandemic—including closures for public health concerns and our swift and successful move to nearly all virtual programming—to our ongoing efforts to further racial justice. It’s been a year of transformation on all fronts and your unwavering support has been crucial to keeping us inspired and on track. The other constant through it all has been the focus on how critical our work at the Wex is, no matter where or how you experience it.
The shutdown in March wreaked havoc on arts and culture, including us, in the form of drastic budget cuts, decreased fundraising, and the cancellations of events and programs across the board. Yet, in the face of those deficits, or perhaps even because of them, we have reevaluated, rethought, and reformatted: using this moment to explore how, both now and moving ahead, we might present our work in even more accessible and essential ways. In every way we’ve felt more committed to our mission and vision and to creating meaningful experiences for anyone wishing to engage art, ideas, and inspiration. We continue to find ways to actively support artists in their work and bring their practices and processes to you.
The response to our online programming since the initial March shutdown has been staggering with more than 40,000 viewers from around the globe tuning into films, performances, conversations, and other original content. Our Learning & Public Practice team has adapted remarkably as well to new conditions with a move to virtual in this era of online learning. From an ongoing series of how-to videos created by area artists to expanding its school roster (20 schools from 16 districts—urban, rural, and suburban, mostly in the Columbus area but now extending to Cincinnati as well)—these initiatives are a testament to the trust and commitment of long relationships tested and strengthened by new conditions.
All of this could not happen without you and your support. The arts are truly critical as a forum for empathy, understanding, and exchange. And just as importantly as a connector—bringing us together, even while we work and learn apart. When you watch an event online, buy a ticket to a program, donate, or join us for a program, you help support the staff, artists, and educators who make this work all possible. As we approach the end of the year, I am hopeful that we will retain and even grow your support, whether as a member, donor, or devotee, and ask that you consider an investment in the Wex and the future we can build together by making a gift online. We are grateful to you and optimistic as we look ahead to 2021.
Like many of you, we’ve been watching the developments surrounding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and have seen the troubling news that the spread continues at an explosive rate, resulting in record numbers of cases. Taking that trend into account, as well as guidance from The Ohio State University and public health officials, we have made the decision to close the center to the public beginning Friday, November 20 at 5 PM. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and determine a reopening date when appropriate. While our staff has taken extensive precautions to make visits as safe as possible, these discouraging developments only signal that this temporary closure is best for everyone’s health and safety.
We will continue to provide, on our website, a robust selection of virtual experiences. This includes films, performances, educational opportunities, related material on our blog and access to the store, so you’ll still be able to experience all things Wex.
The health, safety and well-being of our guests and supporters are our highest priority. We appreciate your patience, flexibility, and understanding during these challenging times.
We deeply appreciate your support, and we can’t wait to welcome you back to the Wex.
Take care of yourself and others.
As we stand together on the cusp of the general election—one which, even just by measure of unprecedented voter turnout to date, is among the most contested and consequential in our country’s history—I’ve found myself thinking a great deal about how the work we do at the Wex is continually part of urgent and timely cultural conversations. In fact, this work plays an ever-increasingly important role in our public’s engagement with, and understanding of, such dialogues.
This is a year that saw major, ongoing, and committed social uprisings demanding a sustained and real dedication to eradicating the cruel realities of systemic racism. Running in tandem with a widening awareness and sense of stakes around this historic crisis—and making its social disparities all the more apparent—has been the ongoing public health emergency of COVID-19. And, in the face of these entwined dilemmas, we are rightly prompted to focus more than ever on examining and rethinking not only how institutions wield their power and influence historically, but also how they can remain strong while reflecting and being responsive to their time, acting as thoughtful catalysts, and shepherds, of impactful, meaningful, and emblematic change. The next days—and undoubtedly the coming months and years—will offer an ongoing stress test of our institutions and discourses, alongside new articulations of questions around representation and access. While such themes may seem expressly the purview of politics, we must recognize how contemporary art—and, more precisely, how artists—continually engage, push forward, and provide us with incredible illumination regarding such challenging matters in society. And in their work, they often suggest visions of new futures for culture, as well as a renewed sense of possibility. The Wex, since its inception, has served as an open forum to support and make space for these inspired examinations of the culture and ideas of our time, rejuvenating audiences who enter our galleries and theaters, and this autumn is no exception.
Our current exhibition lineup offers diverse engagements with American democracy, systems of power, discourse, and civic engagement by artists working in compelling and forthright ways. I think of Love Rollercoaster, in which visual artist Tomashi Jackson’s five new paintings incorporate political campaign ephemera, details from her many conversations with local citizens, and in-depth historical research to examine voter suppression in Ohio’s Black communities. The paintings’ stunning, layered surfaces remind us how past struggles to be heard still resound in the present—not unlike the poignant calls to “Remember Me” illuminated by Steve McQueen’s neon sculptures in an adjacent gallery. I also think of how the different artworks of Gretchen Bender, Taryn Simon, and Antoni Muntadas and Marshall Reese all grapple with the endless cacophony of images and sounds that make up our experience of mass media, deluging our screens and earbuds at a frantic pace. Each of these artists navigates this barrage of media noise to show how it can be manipulated all too easily to erase histories or misrepresent beliefs. Moreover, each of these artists asks us to be cognizant of crucial and continual absences of certain voices in such mass media forums, even when the latter seems crowded or overwhelming.
If these artists suggest that ensuring all voices are heard is a core function of a working democracy, at the Wex this fundamental idea undergirds another of our projects in the galleries, titled Free Space. Serving as a community resource lounge and microcinema during the past month, Free Space actively invites participation and engagement by our audiences; in the time since the Wex galleries have reopened, we’ve been visited by area artists and fellow travelers for conversations here about issues important to them and the culture more broadly. We’ve also invited local young filmmakers to share short works for our Community Reel (inspired by our ambitious Cinetracts ’20 project) in this space, and have even seen a family come to the Wex to make a video of their own as part of this project. Perhaps most pointedly in this election season, we offered visitors to our galleries a quiet space to register to vote. And this premise of utilizing the Wex's resources to amplify people's voices also found a home in a special partnership with Orange Barrel Media. For this public project, we helped create and support a forum for artists (such as the piece by Jeffrey Gibson at the top of this message) to share original works encouraging people to get out the vote, including an Ohio-centric portion curated by our Director of Learning and Public Practice, Dionne Custer Edwards.
If you’ve not already encountered the rich in-person and virtual offerings (a current favorite of mine is a series of ongoing conversations about race with past Wex residency artist Sharon Udoh) at the Wex (or seen our partnership with Orange Barrel Media around town), I strongly encourage you to dive in and experience all they offer not only in terms of their beauty, but also in terms of how they resonate so strongly with respect to the most pressing questions facing contemporary culture—and create remarkable opportunities for the shared understanding of their urgency. Tomorrow, during Election Day, admission to our galleries will be free the entire day–just sign-up online for your timeslot.
I thank you, as always, for your ongoing support and commitment to the Wex and all that we do.
We're happy to share the news that our galleries and store are open again (with new safety and cleaning protocols in place, including mandatory masks) for limited hours. We have been preparing for a safe return since we closed our physical space in March and we're excited to welcome you back.
The galleries and store are open Tuesday–Sunday, 11 AM–4 PM (until 7 PM on Thursday) and closed Mondays. Performances, public programs, and film screenings are still all virtual for the foreseeable future. Admission to the galleries is timed and requires a ticket, which you can purchase online or by calling our ticket desk at 614-292-3535. And remember: members always have free admission.
This is your chance to see, one more time, our winter exhibitions whose runs were unfortunately cut short by the pandemic. Our reopening allows you to take in LaToya Ruby Frazier’s The Last Cruze (recently featured in Artforum); Sadie Benning’s Pain Thing; and Stanya Kahn’s No Go Backs. All three address urgent, crucial issues of labor, identity, and our changing climate, and could not be more timely, despite all that has changed over the last months. It’s heartening to know that, even if briefly, you’ll get the chance to see them again or for the first time.
Should you, understandably, not yet feel comfortable returning to our space, you can still take advantage of our robust slate of virtual film streams, free interactive educational opportunities, performances, talks, and more.
We hope to see you soon!
We miss you.
And like so many of you who've reached out, we can't wait to open the doors and welcome you back. While much of Ohio continues to slowly reopen, we are remaining closed while keeping hard-at-work planning and preparing to reopen in the best possible way. Our emphasis is on the safety of our staff and guests and I assure you that our in-house team, with guidance from Ohio State University's planning task force, continue the rigorous work in this mindful planning. We hope to share that info with you soon and, in the meantime, encourage you to continue following us online for more virtual programming and original essays and conversation.
As we continue to find our way through the health crisis of COVID-19, we find ourselves also confronting the public health crisis of racism and racial violence. Recently I took part in “The Role of the Land-Grant University in Addressing Racial Tensions: Part II,”an illuminating conversation with several Ohio State University leaders discussing the essential work of how a university can effectively respond, engage, and impact the work of taking actual, tangible action in dismantling the racism that so lives within our institutions. It is essential this work move beyond the realm of conversation and into the realm of action and change. It's in this space where we as a cultural institution can deeply engage that work and not just imagine new futures, but continue the work of dismantling and addressing the legacies of systemic racism and violence.
Much of that work begins with us looking inward at our processes, both internal and external, and generating the equity and change so desperately needed to reshape this institution for a new era. We continue to do so by taking stock of the space we occupy and how that space is utilized to share and amplify voices.
This is work that is challenging and ongoing and ever present. And it is work we are prepared to confront and wrestle with as we chart a new future of equity and inclusion.
Watching the news from around the country, including the uprisings here in Columbus, Ohio, has meant we’ve been thinking deeply and heavily about the state of our nation, the center’s role as a cultural institution, and how, both as individuals and as collective entities, we can respond most effectively to current events through the work we do and the space we hold.
The murder of George Floyd at the hands of police was brutal and unnecessary, just like so many racially based murders and abuses that have come before. At this moment, and in the context of continuing protests throughout the world, we can see clearly the stakes for our rallying—as a matter of personal and civic responsibility—to the work of producing and supporting essential, fundamental change.
As a safe, inclusive space intended for cultural exploration and understanding, the Wexner Center for the Arts stands in solidarity with those fighting for this change: seeking justice for these acts of police violence against people of color; working more broadly toward dismantling systemic racism in favor of a society that values diversity and equity; and recognizing that Black Lives Matter. We are dedicating ourselves again and anew to supporting such work institutionally. We recognize how this endeavor starts with each one of us and articulates itself in the institutions we choose to build and sustain, and which we must constantly test. Time and again, people, and particularly those in long-standing positions of privilege, must recognize and continually reevaluate their assumptions and actions if society is to serve all who are part of it. Art can possess a unique power in this necessary project.
From the day it opened some 30 years ago, the Wex has oriented its mission around artists whose work inherently challenges aspects of society, especially those that have gone unquestioned or, moreover, have been presumed to be unquestionable. The center has followed the lead of innovative thinkers and makers who create new visual and symbolic vocabularies rather than working with those they inherit or have imposed upon them. This mode of radical experimentation naturally leads to art that may clash with and reshape convention, offering a glimpse of other, and different, futures. This is art that not only reflects the intense crises of any given moment, but very often gives rise to rich possibilities beyond the poverty and pain of our immediate circumstances. By providing platforms and resources for such speculative work, the Wex creates a space for art that might propel the culture forward, helping us both grasp and engage our fraught history and present in order to arrive at something more.
This is the power of art: not only to analyze with sobering clarity the issues of society, but also to publicly and critically imagine and begin building alternative scenarios. Art reminds us, too, of our histories, rendering them not as the stuff of distant events but instead as intimate, embodied experiences. It’s one of the reasons we’ve dug into our archives to share the powerful and timelier-than-ever documentary Cincinnati Goddamn. Codirected by April Martin and Paul Hill and supported by our Film/Video Studio, it documents the trauma and civic unrest caused by the deaths of 15 African American men at the hands of the Cincinnati police between 1995 and 2001. In its look at the subsequent activism, protest, and reform efforts, the film engages in questions and concerns that continue at the fore today. If past is prologue, then Cincinnati Goddamn is an urgent primer for our current moment.
I encourage you to watch and consider what that film tells us about our past and present, and about how we may look together for new ways forward. April Martin and Paul Hill will also be joining us soon for a conversation about their film and how its relevance continues to grow. Details on that will be coming shortly.
I would also direct you to this piece from the Shumate Council, our advisory group of African American professionals, which includes essays and conversation starters that provide guidance and insight into the current state of affairs, sharing perspectives from those directly engaged with the work of justice and equality in the field. We’ve also started a collection of resources that guide our work not only here in our home of Columbus, but also around the country.
Recently, Shumate council member Mark Lomax II took part in our Wex[EP] performance series and shared this powerful, poignant introduction directly addressing the moment in which we find ourselves.
As always, I thank you for your ongoing support of the Wex and the crucial work we continue to do. Your belief in our mission, with its heft placed in the art and artists that so affectingly record, reflect, and demand more from the world around us, means everything. I hope these last few weeks, unbelievably sad and horrific as they have been on so many counts, have offered moments of introspection and catalysts for action that will establish permanent, meaningful change.
It's been two months since the Wex's physical doors were last open, and to say we miss seeing you walk through them is the true definition of an understatement. The enormity of our current state of affairs is overwhelming, and the impacts on day-to-day life are many, which is why above all I hope you and yours are safe, healthy, and weathering the ever-changing landscape with strength.
While we watch the reopening plans rolled out across the country, we remain closed indefinitely, but are working hard to ensure you can continue to experience the Wex from home. That we can stay engaged with our audiences and communities is a point of strength and pride, and we hope you will let us know if there are aspects of our programming you especially enjoy or would like to see more of.
We are committed to providing engaging, hands-on activities for families, youth, and little ones; streaming new and classic films straight to the comfort of your home; and providing platforms for new conversations with artists, critics, and thinkers. Our Box video space has also moved online. We've even got Wex [EP], a new performance series directly engaging with our current moment, going live on Thursday, May 7.
So many of you have reached out to share how you've been enjoying these offerings and resources, and your input only affirms just how crucial it is that we remain a steady presence in this uncertain time. You can find some more highlights we're especially proud of at the very end of this message. And if that picture at the top of this email makes you nostalgic, you can grab it here as part of a package of Wex Zoom backgrounds to make your next virtual meeting a bit more Wex-centric.
Your support has been truly essential in this trying time, which is why I'm excited to share the news about our participation tomorrow, May 5, in Giving Tuesday, a national initiative that sparks awareness of grassroots business, philanthropy, and engagement for communities and nonprofits around the world. You can support the Wex by giving to our Acces to the Arts fund. And you can also show your love for the Wex during this moment by sharing our new online content or encouraging a friend to take a look at all we do. We've got lots more on deck--and if you're a member, get ready for an announcement about some exclusive online events and opportunities. That news will be coming later this month to an email inbox near you!
We're so fortunate to continue our work here at the center and endlessly grateful for you and your belief in the Wex. Thank you for continuing to walk through our doors, virtual or otherwise.
At this singular moment in culture, I’m writing first and foremost hoping that you and your loved ones are safe and cared for.
I wish as well to thank you for being such a vital part of the Wexner Center for the Arts. The kind words and supportive messages from so many of you not only have proven a balm in the midst of these tumultuous times, but also have served as inspiration to think anew of how incredibly resonant the Wex’s mission remains—offering a home for creating and supporting contemporary art and artists and strengthening our community through such work.
In fact, as a place dedicated to sparking dialogue around the most essential issues of our time—and to building a sense of connection and shared experience among people—the Wex feels more crucial than ever.
Recognizing this importance for the community we serve even as we've had to extend our temporary closure through at least April 30, we have expanded our online and virtual offerings (a few examples can be found below) so you can still experience the Wex from home. Here you'll find reading lists, innovative streaming options, and new essays about artists engaged with the center. We'll be dipping into our rich archives soon as well. This is all part of a continuing commitment to deliver on our founding ideals—to promote free expression, to push forward the horizon of human ingenuity and imagination, and to offer a timely and rousing response to the most urgent of calls for cultural engagement, equity, and insight.
While we all traverse uncharted territory in the days ahead, please know that the Wex is there for you, and that we are so grateful to know you are here with us. We will be sending this letter monthly to update you on news and developments at the Wex and to remain in dialogue through art; and we will hope to hear from you as well.
We're in this together, and someday soon, we'll be here to welcome you back in person to the Wex.
I want to share an update with you on where we stand and where we’re going as we navigate the evolving COVID-19 situation. After much discussion and following the advice and guidance of The Ohio State University, state health officials, and medical experts, the center will be temporarily closed. If you already have a ticket for an event that was scheduled to occur during this time, our Patron Services team will be in touch about refunds and other options.
Conceiving ways to confront some of the most challenging issues of our time is built into the Wex's DNA, which is why we’re approaching these strange days with an ongoing slate of programming in our digital space. There’ll be plenty to read, watch, and listen to in the coming weeks in our newly launched “Off Center” series, which will allow you to experience the Wex from home. I encourage you to head to our blog and explore some of the talks, livestreams, podcasts, videos, and more.
As part of the community and the world at large, we hope that these programs, which are accessible anywhere, can generate moments of insight, creative care, and engagement as we navigate these waters and begin to imagine emerging on the other side. Until then, watch this space and our social media feeds where we will continue to update you as we know more.
As you know, we’ve been closely monitoring the growing concerns and actions surrounding the coronavirus (COVID-19) and as such have made the decision to temporarily close the Wexner Center for the Arts effective this evening through April 6.
The health and well-being of our staff, visiting artists, and guests is of paramount importance to us and we feel this decision is in the best interest of our community and follows the guidance from The Ohio State University and continually evolving advice from city, state and federal officials.
This means that our galleries, Store, and Heirloom café are closed. All events through April 6 are suspended. If you’ve purchased a ticket to an event, we’ll be reaching out via email with information on refunds in the coming days.
We are endlessly appreciative of your support and being part of the Wex. We can’t wait to welcome you back when our doors open again.
Editor's note: we're happy to share that La Neve, originally scheduled to perform in the galleries March 12, has agreed to a livestream performance for Saturday, March 14, at 7:30 PM. The stream will be accessible via the home page and the set will be archived next week on the blog.
We’ve been tracking developments regarding coronavirus (COVID-19), and have made the difficult decision to temporarily scale back our programming. We hope normal programming will resume Monday, March 30. This aligns with The Ohio State University’s actions to suspend all face-to-face instruction during this period.
This was not an easy decision and one not made lightly—we are very much in uncharted waters in many respects—but I feel it best serves the safety and well-being of our staff, patrons, and visiting artists.
As of now:
If you have purchased tickets in advance for any of the events noted above, we will be in touch with you via email regarding refund options. If you have any questions, please contact our Patron Services desk at 614-292-3535.
The health, safety and well-being of our guests and supporters are of the highest importance to us and we appreciate your patience, flexibility, and understanding during this particular moment.