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Sat, Dec 28, 2013

Maurice Stevens, Associate Professor in the Department of Comparative Studies at the Ohio State University, recently held a course that directly engaged students with our exhibition of Blues for Smoke. He divided the class into groups and we're sharing their responses. Today's entry comes from the Plum Group discussing the work of Jeff Donaldson. For more background on this series, head here.

Jampact and Jelly Tite (For Jamila) (1988) is a mixed media on linen piece by Jeff Donaldson that mashes together geometric shapes and vibrant colors to create the image of a 1920s swing band in concert. It is a moderately sized piece of 38 by 50 inches. It includes a bassist, singer, pianist, and saxophonist. Though each musician is physically different, the shapes composing them create symmetry within the piece. The artwork evokes many emotions ranging from happiness and joy to sensuality and passion. The combination of the media, shapes, and colors gives the viewer the sense that the image is moving audibly and raucously. The group was particularly struck by the colors and shapes combined with the symmetry of the piece. These components employed by the artist gave our group the sense that the piece was a celebration, in that each musician and their race are overwhelmed by blues and purples, masking their physical racial characteristics.

Jeff Donaldson (1932-2004) was an African-American artist born in Arkansas in 1932. Donaldson graduated from the University of Arkansas with a degree in art. About one year after graduation, he was drafted into the U.S. Army. After he completed his military service, he continued to pursue educational endeavors. He earned a master’s degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology and a PhD in African-American art history from Northwestern University in the 1960s. Donaldson was the first person to be awarded a doctorate in this field of study. Throughout his adult life, Donaldson joined several Civil Rights groups aiming for racial equality. He lived “with the objective of using artistic expression, especially visual art, to advocate for civil rights” (Phelps).

Jampact and Jelly Tite (For Jamila) holds a unique place within the portfolio of artwork created by Donaldson. It was meant as homage to Donaldson’s daughter, Jamila. The artwork seems to be a representation of the music itself. Like the jazz music it emulates, the piece contains various forms and subtle contrasts, similarly to jazz improvisation. One of the most striking things about this piece is the way it can appear so perfectly symmetrical, yet contain so many variances and interesting visual features.

There are many ways to dissect the intersectionality represented within this piece. Considering the visual characteristics of the piece as well as the context surrounding Donaldson’s life, the aspect of race became the most intriguing to the group. As the group brainstormed, we thought about several concepts relating to racial representation in the artwork. It was brought up that the geometric shapes seemed to reflect traditional African art. We also noticed that even though the piece is visually surreal, it still manages to reflect the everyday life experiences through the musicians depicted. In other words, it still pulsates with the vibrancy and sensuality of a swinging jazz club, even though the human forms are largely obscured.

One of the things debated by the group was if the people depicted were actually meant to display racial attributes, or, if they were supposed to be seen as “raceless”. This was discussed because the skin tone and other physical features were difficult to see clearly through the splashes of blue and purple. In addition, above the bassist and singer’s heads, there was texture created by small colored circular beads attached to the piece. It was discussed whether this added texture was supposed to represent the hair of these individuals, since it was the only place this texture was present in the piece. If it was supposed to represent hair, this would be an indicator of an African-American racial characteristic. Due to the placement of the beads, it would reflect and afro hairstyle.

As the group’s knowledge of intersectional analysis has grown, we realized that it is much more important to explore the difficult questions raised by this piece, rather than simply projecting our own personal interpretations and opinions regarding the purely aesthetic aspects. This piece is capable of raising questions about how cues of racial identity affect how we interpret artwork, and more broadly, how we experience life on a daily basis. How might the inclusion of clear and distinct racial identity change the feeling of the piece? Would the explicit inclusion of whiteness affect the legitimacy of the jazz club imagery? Even further, would the inclusion of whiteness cause a marginalization African-American (or racially ambiguous) others? How can artists display racial diversity without marginalizing a specific group? These questions do not have “right” answers. However, using these questions as a catalyst to think deeply about our culture and the affect art has on that culture can be beneficial to changing the way an individual experiences the world.

Works Cited

"Jeff Donaldson." Contemporary Art in & Out of Africa. Transatlantic Dialogue, n.d. Web.             <>.

Phelps, Greg A. "Jeffrey Richardson (Jeff) Donaldson (1932–2004)." The Encyclopedia of             Arkansas History & Culture. N.p., n.d. Web.             <>

Mon, Dec 23, 2013

Maurice Stevens, Associate Professor in the Department of Comparative Studies at the Ohio State University, recently held a course that directly engaged students with our exhibition of Blues for Smoke. He divided the class into groups and we're sharing their responses. Today's entry comes from the Blueberry Group discussing the work of Kerry James Marshall. For more background on this series, head here.

Blueberry Blog: Kerry James Marshall's Blue Water, Silver Moon (1991)

It has been a privilege for The Ohio State University's Wexner Center for the Arts to include Kerry James Marshall’s piece, Blue Water, Silver Moon in its Blues for Smoke Fall 2013 exhibit. With striking use of collage and acrylic paint, Marshall has created a piece that creates a dialogue around femininity, race, gender, mythology, and the intersections between them all.

Kerry James Marshall was born on October 17, 1955 in Birmingham, Alabama. He grew up in Southern Los Angeles where he went to college and started his career as an artist. Marshall went on to teach at the University of Illinois in Chicago where he currently lives. He uses his personal experiences and social surroundings to depict important civil rights leaders and historical events in his art. One of Marshall’s main themes in his artwork is the use of extreme dark skin tones for his characters. The abstraction between the characters and the background sets a powerful and demanding tone for the people represented in the work (Kantor, 1).

Blue Water, Silver Moon features an African American mermaid, perceived as the main subject, sitting in a body of water. The artwork is made of acrylic and a collage of other materials on linen. The piece stands out because when a person thinks of a mermaid, they usually think of Walt Disney’s Ariel character and not an African American mermaid. The artwork shows what appears to be reflections in the water from a yellow light source, possibly the moon, and in the yellow reflections are the faces of white women (

The term Mermaid is an Old English compound of mere (sea) and maid (a young girl or woman). The first known mermaid tales originated in 1000 B.C in greek mythology with the goddess Atargatis, who retreated into the sea after accidentally killing her human lover. The sea could not cover her beauty entirely, so she settled on remaining half fish, half woman. Since this account, mermaids have been documented differently depending on the culture and location of the people who wrote about them. Mermaids have always, however, held residence in the sea, and more often than not, have been faced with conflict in relation to their beauty, skills, or time having been exploited.

Mermaids have been subject to artistic interpretation and analysis since the late nineteenth century. Mermaids have been considered “another fiction of the medieval bestiaries,” and have been employed in many artistic forms to facilitate a discourse around whether or not mythology and fairy tales are appropriate subjects of art (Brink-Roby, 2). The mermaid has thus been deemed a symbol, and sometimes even a trope for what may be classified as “frivolous and impossible” (Brink-Roby, 2). Interestingly, Darwin’s evolutionary theory was attacked with the possibility of mermaids, and further discussion has lead to curiosity into the fascination humans have with mermaids, through the arts and sciences. Mermaids have been used historically to open up a dialogue surrounding mytho-folklore traditions, evolutions, and identifying humans’ place in the natural order (Brink-Roby, 4).

Mermaids are almost always depicted as women, feminine, or female. They have been associated with being luring and seducing throughout history. The Sirens of greek mythology are often compared to or associated with mermaids as evil seductive creatures. They are also seen as vain and feminine through depictions with mirrors and combs (Kokai). Beauty, feminism, and athleticism are shown often in images of mermaids. As female creatures, mermaids are shown as inherently wanting of heterosexual sex, although they are also inherently asexual as they seem to have no genitals nor ability to engage in sex. If mermaids are almost always female, then when they are male they are thought of as more feminine and not generally liked or respected as males.

In regards to African American culture, black mermaids surfaced from the ancient West African water spirits. As Europe and Africa increased contact, legends of the mermaids began to intertwine. Originally, African water spirits evolved from a half-human and half-creature to a half-fish, half-woman. Once enslaved Africans arrived in the United States, it is important to note that their traditions, beliefs, and practices were diluted and overshadowed by the American concept of mermaids.

On the plaque next to the piece, it is stated that Kerry James Marshall got his motivation for the piece from a 1980’s pop comic book which gave him the idea that African American women can be portrayed as Goddesses. After extensive research on which comic it may have been, it is found that the 1980’s comic book Monsters Attack featured a story titled Killer Mermaids in black and white that is likely the source of his inspiration. The story is about a group of people who accidentally catch a mermaid. At first they think it is a woman swimming in the water but then they notice her fish tail and see other mermaids swimming with her, all of which have sharp, carnivorous teeth. They catch her and put her on the boat and then take her and put her in an aquarium. She then seduces a guy to swim with her, where she tenderly embraces him and then drowns him. The group of people realize it is too dangerous to keep her and release her back into the water. This magazine issue is very hard to find so her exact skin color cannot be determined but this seems to have been the only 1980s comic featuring a mermaid that may have been African American ("Thread: Searching for 1980s mermaid horror comic?").

Kerry James Marshall’s piece depicts the visual intersection between blackness as a racialized color and the image of mermaids.  While blackness as visual trope is typically a negative signifier in contemporary hegemonic imagination, coding the absence of privileged whiteness and pathologized darkness, Marshall appears to pose the black mermaid as a counter image and re-assert blackness as deeply definitive to black beauty and subjectivity. The visual darkness of his mermaid figure, as conceived in the contrast between the blue waters and the mermaid’s body, importantly reminds the viewer of the visibility and corporeality of blackness, and as the most explicitly visible feature of the mermaid’s figural self, aesthetically alludes to the historical reality of black invisibility.  Blackness as a racialized category of the mermaid’s visuality demonstrates the conditions of invisibility through which black peoples “could sometimes be seen and not be seen as the same time” (Kerry James Marshall quoted in Whitehead 1).  Its apparent visuality is, at once, a form of reclaiming visibility and critiquing hegemonic reappropriation of blackness as “abstract visual property,” characteristic of normative American visual culture (Raengo 160).

Other entries in this series:



Sun, Dec 22, 2013

Maurice Stevens, Associate Professor in the Department of Comparative Studies at the Ohio State University, recently held a course that directly engaged students with our exhibition of Blues for Smoke. He divided the class into groups and we're sharing their responses. Today's entry comes from the Turmeric Group discussing the work of Kara Walker. For more background on this series, head here.

Turmeric Blog:  Kara Walker's Fall Frum Grace, Miss Pipi’s Blue Tale

The process of selecting the piece was fun. All five of us come from diverse backgrounds and we all have a wealth of information, emotion and experiences about art. Some of us had been to the Wex to explore the Blues for Smoke exhibit before we went there together as a group. But of course looking at the pieces with four other people is a whole different experience than looking at it by yourself. With all five of us exploring, we had five perspectives and it made the whole experience richer and illuminating. We met at the Wex one Thursday afternoon to see Fall Frum Grace, Miss Pipi’s Blue Tale. We sat on chairs, one of us on the floor and silently watched the short video. Afterwards, we gathered at Heirloom and discussed our reactions. We spoke about the artistry of the piece, the work that went into making the puppets. We had a lively discussion about the chronological order of the piece. We debated about the music and the motivations of some of the characters. We also talked about the racial politics behind Fall Frum Grace. It is curious that in the piece, a black man ends up being killed for having sexual relations with a white woman but it is the white woman who has a “fall frum grace.” We discussed Kara Walker’s decision to title the piece Fall Frum Grace, Miss Pipi’s Blue Tale. A lot of our engagement centered around the motivations behind centering the title around the white woman and the racial politics of around that decision.

Kara Walker was born in Stockton, California, but moved to Georgia when she was 13. She attended the Atlanta College of Art, graduating in 1991 and continued her education to receive her MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1994. Her focus in college was painting and print-making. The 44 year old artist's preferred medium is nearly life-size paper silhouettes which she arranges in narrative sequences. Walker has said, on the simplified human form a silhouette provides, "the silhouette says a lot with very little information, but that's also what the stereotype does." She also works in film and video animation, painting, drawing, collages, cut steel, shadow puppets, and "magic-lantern" projections. Her work is frequently related to slavery in the Antebellum South, as well as relations of race, gender, sexuality and power in other manners. Kara Walker's pieces often have a nightmarish, confrontational and theatrical quality. Walker now lives and works in New York City as a professor of Visual Arts at Columbia University.

One of the clear themes of the piece is that of (forbidden) sexuality. Americans "[love] to hate what we hate to love" in Walker's words (Desire and Shame). Her work can cause viewers to feel "both attracted to and repulsed by" the figures in the artwork and their interactions with one another. “Fall Frum Grace” is no exception: the viewer is a voyeur who overlooks scenes of graphic sex between a black man and a white woman as well as the brutally violent response to this act of interracial sex (particularly in the context of the piece where fears about miscegenation ran rampant). A second theme present in the work is the interweaving of history and fantasy. In her work, Walker "does not represent a necessarily truthful depiction of history" (History, Collusion of Fact and Fiction). Walker's evidently imagined account of a white woman's affair with a slave is cut with photographs that make her scenarios a little more "real." As the man is lynched by the community at the end of the piece, Walker reminds us of the historical realities behind the lynching by briefly flashing a photograph of a burnt and mutilated body. Walker may depict "fictionalized events" but she also draws attention to the "way that official history, particularly that of African Americans, is just as constructed as her stories" (History, Collusion of Fact and Fiction). 

Fri, Dec 20, 2013

Maurice Stevens, Associate Professor in the Department of Comparative Studies at the Ohio State University, recently held a course that directly engaged students with our exhibition of Blues for Smoke. He divided the class into groups and we're sharing their responses. Today's entry comes from the Sage Group discussing the work of Mark Bradford. For more background on this series, head here.

Sage Blog: Mark Bradford

At the beginning of October, our group first met at the Wexner Center for the Arts to view the Blues for Smoke exhibit. During that trip we each chose two pieces of art that we were attracted to. After gathering together to discuss the pieces, we determined that it was important that each of us feel connected in some way to the piece and that we could each see something intersectional about the art. 

After some conversation, we chose to engage with the Mark Bradford piece entitled The Idea Would Never Travel. This work of art is on a very large canvas.  The left side of the canvas is entirely black. About mid-way across the canvas there is a diagonal line from top left to bottom right where there is a break and the black paper that covers the left side has been sanded away on the right side to reveal layers of signage that all carry the same message but oriented in different ways. The phrases ‘promise land’, ‘sober living’ and ‘men and women’ are legible upon close examination, as well as the repeated appearance of numbers 5, 7, 0, presumably a phone number.  We spent some time viewing the piece together and determined that we would each like to write our own separate responses and find some background information on Mark Bradford.  Subsequently, we created a shared document where each group member could post his or her response and findings. 

The members of our group had an array of reactions to the piece. A number of interpretations were focused on the difference between the almost entirely black left side of the piece, and the words and phrases on the right. This divide was described as a ‘fault line of intersectionality’; it drew comparisons to both urban sprawl and white flight. Additionally, some saw the words and signs as emerging from the black, while others took a less hopeful reading and saw it as a black hole or void threatening to take over the whole canvas. The words and phrases on the canvas also represented differences in opinions. Some members of the group felt that they were unclear or could represent uncertainty while others felt that they were hopeful and still others felt they might be suggestive of something unknown to the audience.

Through our research on Mark Bradford, we learned that he likes to work with found materials from his surrounding environment. He often removes signage from fencing which has been erected during the demolition of buildings in his neighborhood. These signs are advertisements for different things such as barber school, child custody representation or information on how to start a sober living facility and so one. In this way, Bradford believes the signage can tell us about what is happening in anyplace at a particular time (citation: PBS). His work is described as both collage and dècollage. Bradford says about his use of layering: "It’s about…tracing the ghost of cities past. It’s the pulling off of a layer and finding another underneath" (ICA Boston).

The Idea Will Never Travel displays the layers and multiple identities that every city and individual possess. As each layer is removed, we gain a new element of understanding about that particular place or person. The beauty of that is that we each see and interpret those elements differently. Therefore, our group chose not to come to a definitive conclusion about the Mark Bradford piece as a whole. We were each able to find our own meaning; regardless of whether our individual interpretations bent toward a hopeful or negative outlook. 


Art21. (2007). Mark Bradford. PBS.

ICA Boston. Mark Bradford. The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston.

Wed, Dec 18, 2013

Maurice Stevens, Associate Professor in the Department of Comparative Studies at the Ohio State University, recently held a course that directly engaged students with our exhibition of Blues for Smoke. Maurice is also a member of the Wexner Center's Shumate Council. We'll be sharing those responses with you throughout the coming week. First, Maurice provides some background on the project.


This Autumn Semester I held a course called Comparative Studies 4921 "Intersections: New Approaches to Theorizing Difference" that argued for the interrelation of various axes of social classification or “Intersectionality” as a useful way to understand difference. Rather than imagining race, gender, class, sexuality, or ability as separate and at times additive modes of social experience, this course assumed and asked participants to investigate how these always-emergent categories work in conjunction with one another in very profound ways that produce both typical and novel contexts for social relation. This comparative and interdisciplinary course examined specific intersections while also emphasizing broad understandings of the social, political and cultural processes that shape lived experiences of difference. Students in this class engaged academic theories of difference and intersectionality.


In this course, though, in addition to an analytic framework, “intersectionality” also indexed a mode of encounter and awareness. That is, in this course we took seriously the fact that we show up in the world as subjects with political, emotional, physical, spiritual, and intellectual spheres of experience, and that these spheres are intersecting and co-productive. Thus, being able to wake-up to our multi-faceted experience of the world actually offers us more and useful information about our surroundings. Intersectionality in this sense recognizes that we are fluid and shifting. Students in this class engaged their own and their peers’ responses to course materials and experiences.


"Intersections" also called attention to the intersectionality between knowledge produced in familiar ways and places like classrooms and the academy, and knowledge that is, everyday, being produced through expressive culture as individuals and communities work to define and address their needs through creative cultural production. Typically, theories are produced in academic contexts and then applied to, imposed upon, ‘texts’ that are somehow ‘over there.’ For students in this class, taking an intersectional approach meant ‘listening in’ and ‘learning with’ creative actors in participatory and experiential ways. Students in this class will engaged expressive culture in the form of music, art, and performances hosted by the Wexner Center’s Blues for Smoke exhibition.

Finally, “intersectionality” in this course meant an interflowing of practices of Head, Heart, and Hand.

Students in "Intersections" built on earlier coursework and developed more sophisticated interdisciplinary approaches and more complex models for understanding difference. Students in this course examined the intersections of race, gender, class, sexuality, sovereign agency, and ability in various cultural sites of investigation, and engaged in interdisciplinary modes of critical thinking, reflecting, responding, and writing. Focusing on Critical Race Theory, Whiteness Studies, Sovereignty Studies, Critical Gender and Sexuality Studies, and Disability Studies as intellectual locations that sometimes make use of intersectionality to evaluate their objects of study, students in this class considered the role of social institutions in the systematic production, identification, and “management” of communities defined by difference, and the struggles undertaken by and within those communities to respond to those efforts in their own expressive practices.

A productive tension emerged in the course as students engaged academic and creative work. On the one hand, theorizing difference in an intersectional way proved to be an ideal practice. It is a theoretical movement that works wonderfully in the abstract, but proves quite difficult in its specific application as a political strategy, as it is never still, always in flux, and deeply situational. On the other hand, living and, thus, creating intersectionally is, in some ways, a strange kind of absolute experience or expression of personal truth. In a sense, people are where they are, and there’s a sense of reliability in the idea or mantra of ‘it is what it is.’ In moving through the course, weaving around various kinds of experience and ways of knowing and sharing it, our class encountered this tension again and again. It was in turns enthralling, informing, and frustrating, but our Learning Community never let this tension immobilize. Instead, we responded to what the tension between what we understand as the truth of experience and the suspicion that comes with engaging someone else’s expression demands of us.

The students were divided into groups that focused on particular works in Blues for Smoke. One facet of their work was to produce blog entries that reflected their engagement with the work. Each day in the coming week (beginning December 19), we'll be sharing those responses with you. 



Thu, Feb 9, 2012

Mark Bradford exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; photo: Nathan Keay © MCA Chicago

With the winter exhibitions under way, we thought we'd check in on two of our exhibitions that have been making their way across the country.

Mark Bradford, which was organized by and premiered at the Wexner Center in 2010, continues its massive tour of the country. Shortly it will be on the West Coast, at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (February 18–June 17, 2012), concurrent with a presentation of three Bradford works at the nearby Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, including Bradford's Detail,his "ark" of sorts for Hurricane Katrina. In a review in the San Francisco Chronicle , Kenneth Baker called it an "impressive solo show," and notes that "Bradford shows that in the new century lineages such as painting and installation thrive not by mimicking their ancestry, but by reimagining it." Before that, the exhibition, called "light and fleet" by The New York Times, was at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston in late fall 2010/winter of 2011, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago in summer 2011, and the Dallas Museum of Art in the fall. In Chicago, the exhibition was called "gorgeous, thick, meditative, relevant" (Huffington Post), while he left his mark in Boston with works "quietly radiating meanings, emotions, and no end of visual satisfactions" (Boston Globe­). D Magazine in Dallas took note of the exhibition, catalogue, and microsite: "That's the kind of generative impact that just a handful of institutions can have on the larger art world."

Elliott Hundley: The Bacchae, which was organized by the Wex and premiered here in the fall, is currently at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas. In a recent review, Dallas's D Magazine wrote about Hundley's intricate mixed-media works inspired by The Bacchaetragedy: "Their complexity practically defies description, and the range of materials is remarkable." The Fort-Worth Star-Telegram described it as  "veritable bacchanalia of textures and found objects." And the Dallas Morning News called the exhibition "thoroughly au courant." Along with the exhibition itself, the lush and fully illustrated catalogue produced by the Wexner Center "give[s] you the opportunity for further ogling and education" (alive!).

And speaking of traveling shows, mark your calendars for Alina Szapocznikow: Sculpture Undone, 1955‒1972, which opens May 19 at the Wexner Center, on the heels of a Los Angeles run at the Hammer Museum, where it's on view now through the end of April. The show, featuring about 100 works in polyester resin and other materials by the late Polish sculptor, premiered in Brussels at WIELS Contemporary Art Centre in the fall of 2011. The exhibition earned an Artforum cover feature in November 2011, and Frieze writes, "A place for Szapocznikow within the canon of art history is firmly being made." The exhibition makes its way to MOMA in New York later this year. But before New York, Columbus.
Tue, Oct 25, 2011

Created by landscape designer and artist Paula Hayes, Wexner Center Roof Garden is a new permanent outdoor installation that occupies a grassy berm that sits atop the center's Film/Video Theater, just south of the main entrance to the building and also near Maya Lin's Groundswell (a permanent site-specific installation commissioned as part of that artist's residency in 1993). Hayes's Wexner Center Roof Garden features hardy sedum plants, grasses, and perennial plantings whose appearance and character will vary and thrive throughout all four seasons and evolve over the years. It also includes several of Hayes's signature sculptural planters made of silicone. Footpaths will allow visitors to experience the garden close-up and to peer over the concrete wall onto Lin's Groundswell.

Check out the Wexner Center's fall exhibitions, one of which showcases new and existing work by Paula Hayes, through December 30.
Wed, Oct 12, 2011

Alexis Rockman's South, 2008, Collection of the Pappas Family, Boston © Alexis Rockman

The media has had good things to say about our fall exhibitions featuring the work of Paula Hayes, Elliott Hundley, and Alexis Rockman. In its September fall preview of museum highlights, Artforum called Elliott Hundley's work “ambitious, dramatic, and earnestly personal,” and noted that the forthcoming catalogue accompanying the show “should further tempt the imagination.”  Art in America also called out the Hundley show in its annual guide (which also gave the Rockman exhibition a nod). The Columbus Dispatch review of  Hundley's work described the “stunning combinations of massive scale, and minute, jaw-dropping detail….With each of the collages, the more one looks, the more hypnotic is the effect.” Widely read D.C.-based blogger Tyler Green featured the Paula Hayes garden in something of a “roof garden roundup” in his Modern Art Notes, and especially noted the time-lapse video of the installation. This Columbus Dispatch feature and sidebar included interviews with Alexis Rockman and Paula Hayes, while alive's preview called these shows “profound translations of environment.” The exhibitions as a whole are perhaps best summed up in a review in The Columbus Dispatch (“Trio with Brio”): "Collectively, [they] cover eons of time; the best and worst instincts of humanity in relation to its home planet; and the wrath of one angry, ancient god.” Come see for yourself.
Tue, Sep 6, 2011

Our fall exhibitions, opening September 16, include works that require watering, take on environmental disaster, and bring a classical Greek tragedy to life through an altogether different kind of landscape. The artists in this “green” cycle—one from L.A., two from New York—all explore or integrate elements of the natural world into their art, in works and installations in the galleries and outdoors. Wex curators Christopher Bedford and Bill Horrigan offer their thoughts about these artists and these exhibitions.

Mon, Jun 6, 2011
View of Pipilotti Rists The Tender Room
View of Pipilotti Rist's The Tender Room

Students in Candace Stout's Art Ed class titled Writing Art Criticism visited the Wex to see the exhibitions Human Behavior, Double Sexus, and The Tender Room this quarter. This post concludes our series of three essays about the three shows written by students in the class. The author is Madelaine Keim, a freshman from Cincinnati, who is studying history of art and anthropology.

My experience of today's visit to the Wexner Center for the Arts was filled with a complex dialogue between immersion and displacement. With a focus on the human body (raw, visceral, and stripped down into its component parts), surely nothing could be more relatable and universal, right? I found this to be true with the video art by Pipilloti Rist entitled The Tender Room. From the multiple panels and projectors that gave rise to Rist's own three dimensional world to the colored screens filtering the natural light coming through the windows, the installation was the epitome of immersion. Feelings of closeness to the subject matter were unavoidable but comfortable. The close-up views of the human body—particularly, of hands—experiencing the sensory high of interacting with nature was not only engaging, but also aesthetically pleasant.

With many works of Double Sexus, however, I experienced the discord between my engagement with the works and the discomfort of such proximity. While absorbing the effects of the many sculptural materials used by Bourgeois and Bellmer, I found myself wanting to run my fingers over the cool granite, feel the weight of the nickel, and grasp at those mysterious polyurethane drips. As a pure form, there is a visceral and tactile attraction to reach out and touch their smooth, rounded protrusions. But upon my own identification of the sexual subject matter, I am struck with the realization and embarrassment of the social taboo I have just contemplated. Rather than the pure and idealized figure in Rist's work, the human form was made shameful and grotesque, sexually exaggerated and abstracted. I am unsettled, and what's worse—as I stare intently at this work I am to criticize—I am made a voyeur. Exactly how much distance am I to have with these works in order to maintain my comfort level? Bourgeois and Bellmer seem to invite this confusion as they ask viewers what depictions of the human body they will deem acceptable and deserving of their association.

As a whole, the exhibitions speak to the versatility of the human form. For flesh that is so saturated with life, ironically, our bodies can be likened to a dry, old sponge—toss one on top of a puddle of toxic emotion and it soaks right up. Our bodies can be made a paragon of perfect beauty or the means for enacting terrifying cruelty and repulsion. We are in fact just as malleable as Nathalie Djurberg's clay puppets.

Complete Image Caption
Pipilotti Rist
The Tender Room, 2011
Audiovisual installation
Installation view, Wexner Center for the Arts
Courtesy the artist, Hauser & Wirth, and Luhring Augustine, New York
Photo: Kevin Fitzsimons
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