Walking in the Loop

Posted by Thomas Alix Johnston in Blog, 1 comment
The Kinsey African American Art and History Collection

The Kinsey African American Art and History Collection

After being able to start going again to museums and galleries this summer, first in Chicago and Milwaukee, it was exciting to return to the Pacific Northwest in time to see a beautiful exhibition at the Tacoma Art Museum: The Kinsey African American Art and History Collection. In its final week, the exhibition closes on December 5th before going on to its next venue Pepperdine University in early 2022. This is an extremely beautiful and powerful show from the private collection of Bernard, Shirley, and Khalil Kinsey.

Their collection of paintings, sculpture, prints, photographs, and historical documents is personal – art that speaks to and resonates with them – and it’s universal as well, speaking to all who have the opportunity to view it. It is a testament to the Kinsey’s generosity that they are sharing these magnificent works with the public, that for some months they are being separated from these deeply moving artworks and documents.

Among the many art works of note is a portrait of Charles White in front of his mural in 1943 by acclaimed photographer Gordon Parks (born this day in 1912). Another portrait is Elizabeth Catlett’s exquisitely drawn portrait of Jackie, a black and white lithograph from 1985. Close by is a lithograph by Robert Blackburn, a noted print artist who shared his love of and knowledge about printmaking via opening his NYC studio to all.

Mixed in with the artworks are letters, poetry, and books. One poem is Dinner Guest, Me, typewritten and signed by Langston Hughes. A letter from Malcolm X to Alex Haley in 1963 talks about getting together in hopes of finishing the book they were working on. The Autobiography of Malcolm X was published in 1965, the year that Malcom X was assassinated.

In the adjoining gallery are many early photos, documents, books, that record “the achievements and contributions of black Americans from before the formation of the United States to the present times” – and also how they were enslaved and then brutally discriminated against across this nation. One document, a page of the 1801 New York census, records a voter as one person if free, 3/5 if a slave; it is difficult to find words to describe this, to see it, and to comprehend that this was accepted practice. Another wall presents covers of The Crisis, the official magazine of the NAACP; the accompanying wall text describes the beginning of the NAACP.

 

 

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Toward Common Cause: Art, Social Change and The MacArthur Fellows at 40

Toward Common Cause: Art, Social Change and The MacArthur Fellows at 40

While in Chicago this summer, I was fortunate to be able to see parts of the multi-site project, Toward Common Cause: Art, Social Change and The MacArthur Fellows at 40, curated by Abigail Winograd, organized by the Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago, in collaboration with other Chicago institutions.  Some of the exhibitions are open for another few weeks, others continue longer.

Here I will share with you two that are in their Dernier Jours. Carrie Mae Weems: A Land of Broken Dreams, at Logan Center Exhibitions through December 12, 2021, is an especially powerful installation. At the Smart Museum, a group show by the same name as the entire project features compelling, pivotal artworks or installations by 12 of the 29 artist fellows. These and other of the Toward Common Cause exhibitions I saw were dense, profound, and inspiring. It is always uplifting to see works by artists one admires, works one is familiar with and works not seen before, something like seeing old friends and meeting someone new. Seeing these new works by someone you’re familiar with brings a new level of admiration. The large-scale drawings of Toba Khedoori were especially memorable – she is an artist I look forward to seeing and learning more about.

I’m sharing a few photos from my iPhone of Weems’ installation and hope they will inspire viewers to visit the exhibitions and websites for detailed supporting background information, on this installation and the other artists and venues.

 

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Barbara Kruger at The Art Institute of Chicago

Barbara Kruger at The Art Institute of Chicago

When I learned that the Art Institute of Chicago was presenting a show of Barbara Kruger’s work, I knew I had to see the show. I thought I knew the work, having followed her development since first seeing her art in NYC in the early eighties, the text-based works that became her signature style.

This current show is so much more than I was expecting, and I left the galleries overwhelmed and uplifted. I was impressed with how Kruger has continued to evolve; the text-based works have continued to grow in scale and in subtle ways, as found throughout the museum through interventions, using video, sound, surveillance, and time.

After leaving the exhibition, as always, I wandered through the museum, discovering different works, coming across quite remarkable artworks in a quiet gallery or hallway. Among the treasures I found on this day, were Munch, Pollaiuolo, and a beautiful Schoengauer; I had them all to myself.

In a sculpture gallery on the level below the Barbara Kruger installation I saw a gleaming, white sculpture set amongst a gallery full of life-sized neo-classical marble sculptures. I did a double take, stepped back, and was drawn in to explore what it was that caught my attention, why it seemed like something was out of place. At the back of the gallery sits the 1916 bronze sculpture Abraham Lincoln by Daniel Chester French. Here at the front, the life size statue of two figures – entwined, in an embrace, kissing, one with leg bent back, ecstatic – was shinier, smoother, bulkier than those other sculptures. Closer inspection revealed the figures are two middle-aged men in tight embrace: one submissive, wrapped in the stripes of the flag with the field of stars furled across his ass and with an engraved heart on the sole of his upraised high heel: Hoover & Cohn.  Justice, from 1997, is an aspect of Kruger’s work I was unfamiliar with and here I am presenting a few images from the installation.

I’m old enough to remember many aspects of what Hoover and Cohn did to influence the American way of life. Roy Cohn was the prosecutor in the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg espionage trial and was instrumental in arguing for their execution. His legacy continued as Chief Counsel for Joseph McCarthy and into the future, even aiding Roger Stone in Reagan’s presidential campaign. A thoroughly researched book by Seth Rosenberg Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power details the symbiotic relationship of many of these public figures, especially Hoover and Reagan. It is a book I highly recommend and one that is difficult to put down once you begin reading.

If you’ve ever hung a picture on a wall, curated an exhibition, you know the importance of good exhibition design; how works are grouped to amplify each other, yet retain individuality. Creating an intelligent flow from one work to the next, one gallery to the next is a demanding task. The curatorial team, designers, installers, and artist collaborated in the process to make this exhibition a success. The Art Institute has shared some of the process in this excellent presentation: Building an Exhibition with Barbara Kruger: Five Perspectives from Five Collaborators.

THINKING OF YOU. I MEAN ME. I MEAN YOU at The Art Institute of Chicago, through January 24, 2022

 

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Barbara Kruger – Chicago

Barbara Kruger – Chicago

These projections on The Merchandise Mart, are part of the exhibition THINKING OF YOU. I MEAN ME. I MEAN YOU at The Art Institute of Chicago, on view through January 24, 2022. The projections run through November 25, 2021.

Whose Hopes?  Whose Fears?

Whose Laughter?  Whose Tears?

Whose Values?  Whose Justice?

 

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