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Montclair Art Museum Presents Two New Transformative Exhibitions

Montclair Art Museum Presents Two New Transformative Exhibitions

Andy Warhol (1928-1987) Twelve Cadillacs, 1962; Silkscreen on canvas. Museum purchase; prior bequest of James Turner and Acquisition Fund 1998.9

(Montclair, NJ) -- Montclair Art Museum (MAM) has announced two new exhibitions ("Transformed: Objects Reimagined by American Artists" and "By Our Own Hand: Frontline Arts in collaboration with Donna Bassin"
will open this fall, in addition to Color Riot! How Color Changed Navajo Textiles. All three exhibitions will open on September 11, 2021. Museum members will be invited to an Exhibition Preview on September 10, 2021. 

“I am very excited about the re-installation of our galleries with new and exciting work on view in almost all of our exhibition spaces. Taken together, this season’s exhibitions emphasize MAM’s many strengths – with historic and contemporary work by a diverse community of artists,” said Ira Wagner, Executive Director of Montclair Art Museum.

Transformed: Objects Reimagined by American Artists (September 11, 2021–January 8, 2023) “Take an object Do something to it Do something else to it.”    ~ Jasper Johns, 1964  

Inspired by the note Jasper Johns wrote to himself in his sketchbook in 1964, Transformed: Objects Reimagined by American Artists features more than 60 artworks from the Museum’s diverse collection from 1829 to the present in which artists take objects as their points of departure, transforming them to reflect their varied cultural backgrounds and viewpoints. This exhibition is organized thematically to represent these diverse perspectives including still lifes, alphabet letters as objects, urban and industrial motifs, found objects, collages, and constructions, as well as dolls and mannequins.

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“Jasper Johns’s untitled work of 1983 inspired me to think about other American artists who also take objects as their creative points of departure and transform them—whether in a historic still life painting or an avant-garde construction of everyday found objects,” explains MAM’s Chief Curator Gail Stavitsky. “I also began thinking about how objects can be reflections of–or break with–society and cultural norms. They can function as indications of identity, as well as social and cultural values. All objects and things are imbued by us with potentially multiple and symbolic meanings beyond their appearances.”

Stavitsky adds, “The wide range of works on view in Transformed by artists from a variety of cultural backgrounds showcases the diversity of MAM’s collection and embraces the multifaceted aspects of contemporary American society.”  

Montclair Art Museum Presents Two New Transformative Exhibitions

On special loan from the Art Bridges Foundation, Jasper John’s major early painting Alphabets, 1960-62, plays a significant role in the Transformed exhibition. With this work, Johns charges the viewer to look past familiar objects, something, he explained as “things the mind already knows,” to experience the paint itself as subject matter. Johns’s Alphabets affords unique opportunities to explore visual and conceptual relationships with other works in the show, mostly drawn from the Museum’s collection. For example, the repetitive imagery and grid format of Warhol’s Twelve Cadillacs, 1962, can prompt a dialogue about mass production (stenciled letters, cars) versus Johns’s personal gestures of brushy paint strokes and the off-register irregularities of the silkscreen process in Warhol’s work.

Montclair Art Museum Presents Two New Transformative Exhibitions

Also pertinent is Jaune Quick-to-Smith’s painting with collage elements, War Shirt (1992), which incorporates the letters and ironic language of advertising to explore racist stereotypes. For example, an egg crate label proclaims “Sleepy Eye Brand/Chief Sleepy Eye” as a “Brother Hawk” comic strip is juxtaposed with the headline “Chasing the American Dream.” Smith’s references to cultural appropriation are embedded in her painterly style rooted in her appreciation of the work of Johns and Rauschenberg (also represented in the show). Viewers’ understanding of Quick-to-Smith’s work and that of other Native artists is greatly enriched in juxtaposition with Nicholas Galanin’s I Think It Goes Like This (Gold), 2019, also on loan from the Art Bridges Foundation. 

Montclair Art Museum Presents Two New Transformative Exhibitions

A newly acquired work by Sanford Biggers, BAM (Seated Warrior Queen), 2019, perhaps provides the most compelling set of comparisons for a fresh appraisal of Galanin’s sculpture. Like Galanin, Biggers transforms found objects that originally have had ceremonial functions. He refers to the “dubious origins” of these African objects that he collects, which are now mostly made for export rather than use in a ritual context. These wooden African sculptures are dismantled through ballistically resculpting them via gunshots–a process that he directs rather than engaging in himself and that is captured on a video that accompanies the sculpture. They are then recast in bronze of varying patinas that, like Galanin’s use of gold leaf, visually unify the surfaces.  With BAM (Seated Warrior Queen), Biggers refers to the history of killings of unarmed Black civilians in America. The serene pose of the figure is in contrast to the violence done to its body. Biggers sees himself as a collaborator with the African artists/artisans who came before him, borrowing, altering, and memorializing their work and struggles through his own object-making. This process can be compared to Galanin’s reclamation of the tourist totem poles as Indigenous art.

Over time, this exhibition will itself transform with rotations of works that expand further upon its themes.

Montclair Art Museum Presents Two New Transformative Exhibitions

By Our Own Hand: Frontline Arts in collaboration with Donna Bassin (September 11, 2021–August 14, 2022) - This exhibit also deals with the theme of transformation. MAM presents this year-long, site-specific installation in Laurie Art Stairway, in collaboration with Frontline Arts and Donna Bassin. On view are approximately 800 sheets of handmade paper created from veterans’ uniforms and provided by Frontline Paper, an initiative of Frontline Arts.

Inspired by the ancient practice of Tibetan prayer flags hung to mark an important and challenging occasion, By Our Own Hand refers to the toll of veteran deaths by their own hand as well as to the resiliency and creativity from transforming military uniforms into handmade paper. This craft as a connective practice brings the diversity of veterans’ experience into culture—away from silence, and with this installation, opens a dialogue around veteran suicide. While the actual number of daily suicides among the veteran population has fluctuated between 17 and 22 per day since 2001, it consistently remains at a rate more than twice that of the rest of the population.

The handmade paper workshops create a platform for veterans and non-veterans to come together and share stories, providing a new language, and much-needed discourse between veterans and society. In casual drop-in sessions, on college campuses, in community centers, at pop-up street corner workshops, and at VA and military hospitals, Frontline Paper artists teach the art of papermaking and printmaking to veterans of all service eras.

The exhibition is accompanied by a video with excerpts from writer-director Donna Bassin’s award-winning documentary The Mourning After (2015-16) featuring poet veterans Eli Wright and Maurice DeCaul. As Bassin notes, “One doesn’t heal from war; one learns to surrender to its complicated traumatic impact. As veterans struggle with their losses, they have found ways to address and work through the moral injury and PTS with which they contend. They witness their losses via engagement in community activism, memorializing rituals, and acts of artistic and poetic creation.

By Our Own Hand: Frontline Arts is curated by artist, activist, and educator David Keefe, co-founder of Frontline Arts and President of the Board of Trustees, with Donna Bassin. She is a fine art photographer, clinical psychologist/psychoanalyst, and award-winning documentary filmmaker. They have worked with MAM’s curatorial department staff, especially Osanna Urbay, Registrar, Bruce Rainier, Preparator, and Gail Stavitsky, Chief Curator. The sheets of paper on view were made by many veterans in workshops offered by Frontline Paper, as well as veterans facilitators at Frontline Arts in Branchburg, NJ, and a papermaking studio run by veteran artists in Trumansburg, NY.  

The Montclair Art Museum (MAM) is located at 3 South Mountain Avenue in Montclair, New Jersey.  It boasts a renowned collection of American and Native American art that uniquely highlights art-making in the United States over the last 300 years. Works in MAM's Native American art collection span the period of ca. 1200 C.E. to the present day. The Vance Wall Art Education Center encompasses the Museum’s educational efforts, including award-winning Yard School of Art studio classes, lectures and talks, family events, tours, and the mobile MAM Art Truck. MAM exhibitions and programs serve a wide public of all ages, from families and seniors to artists, educators, and scholars.

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All Museum programs are made possible, in part, by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts, and by funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, Carol and Terry Wall / The Vance Wall Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, and Museum members.

originally published: 07/26/2021

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