Artworks Of Color

Crystal Bridges’ 2018 choices intended to instigate conversations


By then a few months into its sixth year of operation, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art will host the first of its three temporary exhibitions of 2018. "Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, "a dive into the experience of black artists in America from the 1960s through the 1980s will make the first of only two state-side stops from Feb. 3 to April 23.

Courtesy Crystal Bridges Museum “One of the things I’m most excited by in this exhibition is someone who is very familiar with, say, ‘Jimson Weed,’ on...

Courtesy Shan Goshorn “This group of artists take native traditions and really twist it and push it to the max,” says Mindy Besaw, co-curator of “Nati...

Courtesy Crystal Bridges Museum “The [exhibition] really came from this idea of art not being created in a vacuum,” says curator Lauren Haynes of the ...

"One thing this exhibition tells us is that these conversations and these issues that are coming up in our country now aren't new -- something hopefully we all know," says Lauren Haynes, contemporary art curator at Crystal Bridges. "But I think what we can get from this exhibition is [thinking about] artists who are working now and thinking through very similar issues and how it relates to [their work], and what it means to be a black artist living in this country and making work today."


Crystal Bridges Museum

2018 Exhibition Schedule

“Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power” — Feb. 3-April23

“Georgia O’Keeffe and Contemporary Art” — May 26-Sept. 3

“Native North America” — Oct. 6-Jan. 7, 2019

The following two exhibitions -- on the legacy and influence of Georgia O'Keeffe and a presentation of works by Native North American artists -- were curated by Crystal Bridges staff and will later go on to show at other museums nationally -- and perhaps even internationally.

"We're really putting a stake in the ground that we want to see Crystal Bridges' talent and scholarship and research and ideas starting here, and then sending them out for many people to see," offers Mindy Besaw, co-curator of "Native North America."

Building on material produced in the past, all three exhibitions also incorporate works by living artists still creating today. Both Haynes and Besaw agree this offers the potential for deeper connections with the art but also with the subject matter as a whole when the audience is able to take in how people have been influenced by the same topics across time.

"I'm interested when artists use these references to American art history or history in general, and then how that gets reinterpreted, recycled, added to, changed and then comes out and can tell a completely different message on the other side -- that dialogue between past and present," Besaw shares.

"Really, artists are always taking in everything that's happening, right?" Haynes muses. "Even from Colonial works and more strictly portraiture -- the people they're choosing to paint or are commissioned to paint -- to contemporary artists who make abstract work that maybe you're like: 'I don't quite get that.' The connection point that you have to realize is that these artists are living in the same world we're living in. So they're responding and reflecting to what's going on [around us]."

Beginning in the 1960s with a collective of black artists who got together to determine their role as creators in relation to the Civil Rights Movement, "Soul of a Nation," organized by the London museum Tate Modern, comprises more than 150 artworks -- from artists across the country, across mediums and of varying styles. Divided into 12 sections, it traces the impact of the social and political movements of the time on artists of color.

"I think the group of artists in this exhibition are some of the most important American artists who ever lived, regardless of race," asserts Haynes. "I know there are a lot of artists who are coming up today, regardless of their race or background, who are very much influenced by artists in this exhibition. The impact that they had, and continue to have, is really amazing."

In the same vein, examining work influenced by themes the iconic Georgia O'Keeffe presented in her own work was the idea behind "Georgia O'Keeffe and Contemporary Art," on show May 26-Sept. 3. In creating the exhibition with former Crystal Bridges curator Chad Alligood, Haynes was inspired by the idea of considering the subjects O'Keeffe became known for -- landscapes, florals, abstraction and in some ways, the body -- and placing contemporary works emerging in those themes next to O'Keeffe's own pieces, making connections around that new conversation.

"With landscape, sometimes you are seeing something from the artist's perspective, but you're also seeing where they are, what they have access to, or even what is their ideal landscape," says Haynes. Especially in placing these modern pieces next to O'Keeffe's, Haynes points out the potential for discerning deeper meaning from the exhibition as a whole -- realizing a picture of a landscape can be so much more than just a nice view.

"Particularly in this moment with all the talks about who can live where and who can go here and there, I think there's no way to separate these topics from what's happening," she goes on. "Seeing O'Keeffe's work in the context of 'now' I think will allow us to think differently about her work, and how she was able to move through the world in a way really that was rare for women at that time."

The final exhibition of 2018, "Native North America," opens in October and will highlight the notion of "native art" as indeed American art. By presenting a group of contemporary works from the 1950s to the present from artists who are challenging the notions of what "native art" is, Crystal Bridges is again asking the viewer to consider artists blending the past and the present, and how their work is affected by our modern world.

"One of [the important things about the exhibition] is this insistence and just persistent voice that Native people are stuck in the past," Besaw explains. "They're very much alive, dealing with the same issues many of us are dealing with today. So [it's] that show of, 'We're here and this is our voice.' So how can we even expand our notions of contemporary art when we look at contemporary art and issues through the Native lens?"

In considering the significance of next year's temporary exhibition schedule -- hosting the American debut of "Soul of a Nation," as well as two of the three exhibitions being self-produced -- Haynes sums up how the schedule reflects the mission of the museum:

"It speaks to what our ethos is and what we hope to do with Crystal Bridges, which is bringing world class, important artists and exhibitions to where we are. Because there's no reason why these shows or these projects should only exist in big cities."

NAN What's Up on 10/05/2017

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