2015 News and Events

Johnson's Cartoons Encourage Our Kids' Interest in Science and Technology

Charles Johnson (National Book Award and MacArthur “Genius” Award recipient) began to develop drawing skills in his adolescence and now, in later life, is sharpening those skills by illustrating the Adventures of Emery Jones, Boy Science Wonder series of books for young readers. 

Emery's World of Science calendar coverWith Jim McWilliams, professor of English and chair of the Dickinson State University Department of Language and Literature, Charles Johnson has produced the Emery’s World of Science calendar of important African American scientists. 

Published in December 2015, Emery’s World of Science features Johnson’s color cartoons about the adventures of Emery Jones, middle-school inventor, and McWilliams’s text about the scientists. They hope the calendar will inspire children of color to find an interest in the STEM fields.

 A peek into the calendar shows the text for the date of March 22:

“George Alcorn, Jr., was born March 22, 1940. He is an aerospace engineer and joined NASA in 1978 to work on manned space flight. He holds more than 20 patents, including one for an important innovation in the imaging X-ray spectrometer. In 1984 NASA named him its inventor of the year.”

The calendar is available at selected bookstores and on amazon.com. Johnson and McWilliams intend to update it annually with new cartoons and additional capsule biographies of African-American scientists.    

For more IRAAA+ coverage of Charles Johnson and his Emory Jones series, visit here.

Coco Fusco Appointed to Endowed Chair Position

Coco Fusco (Alessandra Chemollo) Coco Fusco will join the faculty of the University of Florida's School of Art + Art History as Andrew Banks Family Endowed Chair and a professor in January 2016.

“Coco Fusco is a prolific interdisciplinary artist, writer and critic who exemplifies the importance the arts and culture have in framing the critical issues of our times,” said UF Provost Joseph Glover. 

Fusco has performed, lectured, exhibited and curated around the world for nearly three decades. Her work explores the politics of gender, race, war and identity. Working in a variety of formats, she has staged multi-media productions incorporating large-scale projections, closed-circuit television, web-based live streaming performances with audience interaction, as well as performances at cultural events that actively engage with visitors.

Fusco was MIT’s MLK Visiting Scholar for 2014-2015. She was a 2014 CINTAS Fellow, was a recipient of a 2013 Guggenheim Fellowship, a 2013 Absolut Art Writing Award, a 2013 Fulbright Fellowship, a 2012 US Artists Fellowship and a 2003 Herb Alpert Award in the Arts. Fusco’s work was selected for the 56th Venice Biennale and is currently on view there. Through the years her work has been presented at numerous biennials and festivals and has been shown at the Tate Liverpool, The Museum of Modern Art, The Walker Art Center and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona. She is represented by Alexander Gray Associates in New York. 

Coco Fusco as Dr. Zira in her performance piece, Observations of Predation in Humans: A Lecture by Dr. Zira, Animal PsychologistHer most recent performance, Observations of Predation in Humans: A Lecture by Dr. Zira, Animal Psychologist, revives the character from Planet of the Apes to offer a commentary on contemporary forms of aggression that is supplemented by multimedia illustration.

“This position offers me a wonderful opportunity to join a vibrant intellectual and creative community and to advance my own research on contemporary Cuban culture,” said Fusco. “I am happy to see that the University of Florida provides such strong support to its arts students and faculty.” 

Conversely, Lucinda Lavelli, dean of the College of the Arts, said, “Coco Fusco is an artist of international repute who will greatly contribute to the School of Art + Art History and the College of the Arts’ mission of fostering creative activity, scholarly and artistic excellence and innovation across disciplines. Her appointment is another tangible benefit of the essential role the arts play at the University of Florida.”

Fusco is the author of English is Broken Here: Notes on Cultural Fusion in the Americas (1995), The Bodies that Were Not Ours and Other Writings (2001) and A Field Guide for Female Interrogators (2008). She is also the editor of Corpus Delecti: Performance Art of the Americas (1999) and Only Skin Deep: Changing Visions of the American Self (2003). Her new book, Dangerous Moves: Performance and Politics in Cuba, was published in October 2015 by Tate Publications in London.

She received her B.A. in Semiotics from Brown University (1982), her M.A. in Modern Thought and Literature from Stanford University (1985) and her Ph.D. in Art and Visual Culture from Middlesex University (2007). 

Fo Wilson Is Among 3Arts Awardees

Fo WilsonFo Wilson is among 10 Chicago artists who received Allstate’s 2015 3Arts Awards. The award of $25,000 is made with no strings attached. Artists may use the awards to defray expenses, pay off debt, purchase equipment, and focus on their creative process—or in any way they see fit.

The awards recognize exceptional Chicago-based women artists, artists of color and artists with disabilities.

The freedom and security provided by a 3Arts Award are expressions of gratitude for their art and a demonstration of how deeply they are valued in Chicago.

Wilson’s solo exhibition, Eliza’s Peculiar Cabinet of Curiosities, will open at the Lynden Sculpture Garden in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 2016.

Fo Wilson's life and work are detailed in this 2015 IRAAA article.  

Mickalene Thomas and Dawoud Bey Get $50,000 Awards

Mickalene Thomas (photo: the artist's website)Mickalene Thomas and Dawoud Bey were among 37 fellows—including six visual artists— who received United States Artists awards of $50,000 on November 10, 2015.

Dawoud Bey, a Chicago-based photographer received the USA Guthman Fellow award and Brooklyn-based, multi-media artist Mickalene Thomas received the USA Francie Bishop Good & David Horvitz Fellow Award.  

Founded in 2006 by the Ford, Rockefeller, Rasmuson and Prudential Foundations, the USA Artists award is currently funded by a broad range of philanthropic foundations and individuals. It has distributed over $20 million in support to 442 artists during its lifespan. Past recipients of USA Fellowships include visual artists Glenn Ligon, Kara Walker and Theaster Gates.

Rapper's Putative $30 Million Art Collection Reportedly Among Items Seized By Police

Bad boy in the soup again!

More street cred and ever more sales for this rap rebel.

Wonder what art pieces Lil Wayne will buy to replace the seizures? 

$150m and counting........

 Lil Wayne's Miami Beach residence (Sotheby's International Realty)Hold up!  On November 3, 2015 when the Miami Herald broke the story about about police raiding Lil Wayne’s Miami Beach home to confiscate property to settle a large debt, it did not mention the nature of the property.  It just cited an affidavit which “attested that there were assets inside” the home.

Elaborating on the story, gossip maven TMZ said that according to its sources, “Wayne has $30 million worth of art in the mansion, and cops took some of the pieces.”

TMZ’s unnamed sources also said that several plaques were also seized. The specificity of the sources’ details lends some credence to their report. However a cursory Web search yields no results that associate Lil Wayne with an art advisor who purchases the art, art galleries, art museums or art conoisseurship in general.  

With an estimated wealth of  $150 million, the 33-year old performer may not be sweatin’ the small change or the legal fees from his latest trouble. But it doesn’t look like he’ll be joining Usher and Swizz Beatz among the hiphop art-patron elite any time soon.  The news of his property seizure came as we were putting the final period on this story about Swizz Beatz' distinguished art patronage.

Victor Davson Gets Gold Rush Award

Victor DavsonUnder Victor Davson's visionary leadership as executive director of Aljira, the center has become a leading showcase for contemporary art, not just in Newark, but in the NYC-NJ region. 

Davson also is an accomplished artist in his own right.

Work from Davson's Bad Cow Comin' seriesHe was honored by brothers Russell Simmons, Daniel Simmons and Joseph “Rev Run” Simmons at the 2015 Gold Rush Awards in Brooklyn, NY on October 24. The award recognizes "New York’s best and brightest cultural figures who all foster growing art communities and create opportunities for emerging artists to share their visions.” 

Victor Davson’s Full Circle retrospective at the Ramapo College Art Galleries Mahwah, New Jersey (September 9-October 16, 2015) spanned 30 years and five bodies of work by the artist encompassing both abstraction and figuration. 

Davson’s work is a long exploration of the roots of his identity and embodies memories, as well as anti-colonial politics, associated with his childhood in Guyana. 

Njideka Akunyili Crosby Awarded Joyce Alexander Wein Prize

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Nwantinti 2012The Studio Museum in Harlem has awarded the tenth annual Joyce Alexander Wein Artist Prize to Njideka Akunyili Crosby. The Wein Prize, one of the most significant awards given to individual artists in the United States today, was established in 2006 by jazz impresario, musician and philanthropist George Wein to honor his late wife, a long-time Trustee of the Studio Museum and a woman whose life embodied a commitment to the power and possibilities of art and culture. The $50,000 award recognizes and honors the artistic achievements of an African-American artist who demonstrates great promise and creativity. 

Inspired by his wife’s life-long support of living artists, George Wein envisioned the Wein Prize as an extension of the Studio Museum’s mission to support experimentation and excellence in contemporary art. In conferring the award, Thelma Golden, director and chief curator, said: “Selecting Njideka Akunyili Crosby this year was especially meaningful, as she is an alumna of our signature Artist-in-Residence program and truly represents the global nature of the Studio Museum’s mission and reach. Her work embodies the ideals of innovation and promise that were so important to Joyce Alexander Wein. George Wein’s support of the prize is a fitting tribute to his late wife Joyce Alexander Wein and an incredible force in the lives of the artists who have received it.” Thelma Golden and more than 800 guests celebrated the tenth annual Wein Prize at the Museum’s Gala 2015 on Monday, October 26, 2015. 

Born in Enugu, Nigeria, in 1983, Njideka Akunyili Crosby received her BA from Swarthmore College (2004) and her MFA from Yale University School of Art (2011). Her work is currently being exhibited in Njideka Akunyili Crosby: The Beautyful Ones at Art + Practice, Los Angeles, in conjunction with Hammer Projects: Njideka Akunyili Crosby at the Hammer Museum. Akunyili Crosby’s work is informed by her Nigerian heritage, contemporary postcolonial African cosmopolitanism and her life in the United States. The tension between these experiences is critical to her work.

Jeffreen Hayes to Head Chicago's Threewalls Contemporary Art Organization

Jefreen HayesOn Oct. 16, 2015, after a competitive nationwide search, Threewalls announced that art historian and curator Jeffreen M. Hayes will become its executive director. Hayes comes with a wealth of experiences in the field of arts management, merging administrative, curatorial, and academic practices into her cultural practice of supporting artists and community development. 

Hayes joins Threewalls following the departure of founding executive director Shannon R. Stratton to become chief curator at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City.

Founded in 2003 to provide greater support and visibility for the visual arts community, Threewalls is a 501(c)3 organization dedicated to increasing Chicago’s cultural capital by cultivating contemporary art practice and discourse. Through a range of exhibition and public programs, including symposiums, lectures, performances and publications, Threewalls creates a locus of exchange between local, national and international contemporary art communities.

Hayes has developed a curatorial and leadership practice that invites community participation. She experienced success with this approach in Birmingham, Alabama as the Andrew W. Mellon Post-Doctoral Curatorial Fellow at Birmingham Museum of Art from January 2012 – June 2013. At the msueum, Hayes organized performance art projects and the exhibition Etched in Collective History which commemorated Birmingham’s civil rights history. 

Since arriving in Chicago in 2013, Hayes has worked at Rebuild Foundation where she served as the executive director.  At Rebuild, Hayes provided organizational structure and supported Rebuild neighbors in the creation of a space for themselves within the organization. 

Currently, Hayes is a chief executive community and culture fellow, in a program facilitated by National Arts Strategies. Hayes works with artists, including Jan Tichy, Marissa Lee Benedict and David Rueter, to build community and artist collaborations.

Jeffreen Hayes earned a Ph.D. in American studies from the College of William and Mary, a MA in art history from Howard University, and a BA from Florida International University in Humanities. She has worked for several museums and cultural institutions, including Hampton University Museum, Library of Congress and the National Gallery of Art. Hayes held fellowships at Ithaca College in the Art History department and in the Cartoon and Caricature Division at Library of Congress as a Swann Foundation Fellow.  

Thelma Golden Will Receive Prize for Curatorial Excellence

Thelma Golden photo from Bard College announcement.The Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College has announce that Thelma Golden, is the recipient of the 2016 Audrey Irmas Award for Curatorial Excellence. The award will be presented at a gala celebration and dinner on Wednesday, April 6, 2016 at 6:30 pm in New York City.

Tom Eccles, executive director of CCS Bard states: “Through her timely exhibitions, critical thinking, and eloquent, intelligent advocacy, Thelma Golden has demonstrated that curating is of crucial importance, raising issues and developing ideas that are central to our time. Her commitment to the Studio Museum in Harlem is both exemplary and inspirational.” 

The award has been designed by artist Lawrence Weiner, and is based on his 2006 commission Bard Enter, conceived for the entrance to the Hessel Museum of Art at CCS Bard. The award also comes with the Audrey Irmas Prize of $25,000.

Thelma Golden has served as director and chief curator of The Studio Museum in Harlem since 2005. The Studio Museum is the institution where she began her career in 1987, prior to a decade at the Whitney Museum of American Art. She returned in 2000 to be the Studio Museum’s Deputy Director for Exhibitions and Programs.

The Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College celebrates the individual achievements of a leading curator or curators whose lasting contributions have shaped the way we conceive of exhibition-making today.

NMAAHC Update 

The NMAAHC building on the Mall. (NBC News)Another milestone in the 30-year history of  the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) has been reached.  

The Smithsonian project officially began in 1985 when Texas congressman Mickey Leland advocated a resolution to fund an African American museum on the National Mall.  

Architect Phil Freelon near construction site. (NBC News)The exterior of the NMAAHC is now complete and the final one-year phase of completing the interior and installing exhibitions has begun.  

Architect Phil Freelon, who leads a team of architects and designers on the project, discussed the status of the construction and the design philosophy for the building, including the significance of the building’s striking corona, in this September 18, 2015 NBC News Report.

Rowena Stewart (1932-2015)

Rowena Stewart (The History Makers)Rowena Stewart, a leader of the African American museums movement which began in the 1970s, transitioned on September 19, 2015. Between 1975 and 2002, Stewart served as director of the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society, the Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum, the Motown Historical Museum and the American Jazz Museum.

Stewart was director and curator of Philadelphia's Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum from 1985 to 1992. According to the Philadelphia Inqurier, she is credited with "bringing a sense of purpose and stability to the museum and turning a visit there into a lively, interactive experience. Under her guidance, the museum's collection grew from 5,000 items to more than 400,000. Attendance rose from 67,000 to 350,000 annually." But she continue to worry about funding for African American museums because few have large endowments or philanthropic support.

In 2002, Rowena Stewart retired, moved back home to Jacksonville, and worked as a museum consultant. In 2006, she was interviewed by The History Makers. That interview and her biographical statement is here.

Harris Gets Endowed Position at Georgia Art Museum

After a nationwide search, the Georgia Museum of Art at the University of Georgia has hired Shawnya L. Harris as its first Larry D. and Brenda A. Thompson Curator of African American and African Diasporic Art, effective August 18, 2015. The position is both an endowed chair and an endowed professorship.

Shawnya L. HarrisHarris comes to the university from Elizabeth City State University, Elizabeth City, North Carolina, where she taught courses in African American art, 20th-century art and art appreciation, as well as survey courses on the history of Western art. She holds both master’s and doctoral degrees in art history from the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, and she received her bachelor’s degree in African American Studies from Yale University. 

In addition to teaching at UNC Chapel Hill and Middle Tennessee State University, Harris has a wealth of museum experience. She served as director of the University Galleries at North Carolina A&T State University, in Greensboro, North Carolina, for eight years, during which time she developed and planned its annual exhibition schedule, programmed artists’ talks and lectures related to the art and culture of the African diaspora, developed a student volunteer group and internship program, worked to commission art and schedule artists in residence, helped implement her museum’s first digital collections database and initiated and sustained a conservation initiative working with the Winterthur Conservation Institute and the University of Delaware art conservation department. Prior to that directorship, she worked as an art consultant at North Carolina Central University’s art museum and as a research assistant at UNC Chapel Hill’s Ackland Art Museum.  As the first curator to occupy the position at the Georgia 

Henry O. Tanner, Still Life with Apples, oil, 1890s.  Georgia Museum of Art Collection

William Underwood Eiland, director of the museum, said, “Dr. Harris’ arrival at the museum as our first Thompson Curator marks not only a new initiative for the museum, but also endless possibilities for collaboration with other departments at the university and with our communities of service in Georgia. She will, in effect, transform and fulfill our mission.” 

The Thompsons made the initial gift toward the endowment that funds Harris’ position when they donated a significant collection of works of art by African American artists to the museum in January 2012. Both Larry and Brenda Thompson have ties to UGA and the museum. Larry rejoined the law school at UGA this fall as the John A. Sibley Professor in Corporate and Business Law. Most recently, he served as executive vice president, government affairs, general counsel and corporate secretary for PepsiCo. Brenda Thompson has long been a patron and leader in the arts. She serves on the Board of Trustees for the Barnes Foundation and the Board of the Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries and is the chair-elect of the Georgia Museum of Art’s Board of Advisors. 

Horace Ballard Joins Birmingham Museum of Art as New Curator of Education

Horace BallardThe Birmingham Museum of Art has announced the appointment of Horace D. Ballard, Jr. as the new curator of education. Ballard joins the Museum most recently from his position as an educator at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). He began his duties at the Museum on August 10, 2015.

As the curator of education, Ballard will oversee the development, implementation, and management of the museum's wide-ranging education programs including gallery interpretation, studio classes, public programs, docent training, community engagement, arts camp, teacher and school services, and volunteer recruitment. In 2014 alone, the Birmingham Museum of Art presented nearly 1,100 educational opportunities to the public.

At RISD, Ballard worked at the Museum of Art where he taught courses, developed programs, and facilitated community engagement for the Continuing Education Department and School & Teacher Programs division. He focused on the Museum's K-12 audience, coordinating tours for students and professional development opportunities for teachers. During that time, he served as a graduate lecturer at Brown University and a graduate collections manager at the Haffrenreffer Museum of Anthropology in Rhode Island. He also has acted as a consultant and curator of American art for the last ten years. Other past experience includes public relations, marketing, and development for several other leading cultural institutions, such as the Monticello/Thomas Jefferson Foundation, the Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Yale University Art Gallery.

Ballard recently finished writing his dissertation on 19th-century American photography at Brown University. In addition to receiving his Ph.D. by the end of the year, Horace holds an A.M. in American Civilization and Public Humanities from Brown University; an M.A. in Religion from Yale Divinity School; a B.A. in American Studies, and a B.A. in English Language and Literature from the University of Virginia. Ballard has contributed to numerous publications on various subjects ranging from race and religion to American and contemporary art. He lectures regularly at museums and universities across the country.

Speaking Out Without Saying A Word

As Dominicans sit in the waiting room of the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo, a work of art may induce them to reflect of the country's history of bias against its darker-skinned citizens that has included genocide and its current ethnic cleansing campaign.  Indeed, some of the Dominicans in the Kehinde Wiley Young Artists After Siamesas 1960, 2015, oil on linen, 107 x 150room may be there to apply for visas because, even though they were born in the country, they have been stripped of their citizenship.  The country's Constitutional Court has passed a ruling that makes all residents born after 1929 aliens unless one of their parents is of Dominican ancestry. The sudden aliens are of Haitien ancestry.

The embassy's new work of art is by Kehinde Wiley and it was installed there as part of the State Department's Art in Embassies (AIE) program.

Detail, Young Artists After Siamesas 1960 As part of the commission, Wiley visited the Dominican Republic to learn about its culture and to research issues of racial identity. He spent a lot of time with art students from the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo, Facultad de Artes and the Altos de Chavon School of Design.  Four students from these schools are depicted in the commissioned painting.

It's significant that Wiley depicted the darker and lighted skinned students in positions of parity.  The depiction is an opinionated statement without words — a visual manifesto of equality.

Despite using a small army of assistants to paint the background of his works, Wiley still seems to infuse the central figures with his own sensibility and artistry.

In addition to the students in this painting, Young Artists After Siamesas 1960, Kehinde Wiley references historical works by two major 20th century Dominican artists: Celeste Woss y Gil's Desnudo Feminine (1940) and Gilberto Hernández Ortega's Siamesas (1960).

For more on the Dominican Republic's ethnic cleansing campaign, see here.

Planning Begins for Art of African Blacksmithing Exhibition

Young Kuba blacksmiths. Photo: Federation of the Free States of AfricaRoyal Kuba knives. Photo: Federation of the Free States of AfricaThe planning of an exhibition on the history of the art of blacksmithing in sub-Saharan Africa, 500 BC to the present, by UCLA's Fowler Museum begins in Fall 2015.  On July 29, 2015, the National Endowment for the Humanities announced a $75,000 award to the Fowler that will support this initial phase of the project.  

The planning will cover the exhibition which will travel, the catalog and public programs. The principal investigator is Marla Berns, director of the Fowler.  Berns received her Ph.D. in art history at UCLA in 1986, specializing in African art

The art of blacksmithing exhibition and catalog will add to the interpretation of the extensive collection of metal items in the Hampton University Museum’s Kuba Collection. It also will contribute to the understanding of the intersection of science and technology and artisanal crafts in the history of African and African American material culture.

Cole Elected President of the AAMD

Dr. Johnnetta Cole. Photo: Jessica Suwaroff, Smithsonian National Museum of African ArtJohnnetta Cole, director of the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. was elected president of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) at its 2015 Annual Meeting in Detroit, in June 2015. 

Founded in 1916, and incorporated as a professional organization in 1969, AAMD currently has 242 members, all directors of art museums in the United States, Canada and Mexico. The organizations's stated mission is is to support its members in increasing the contribution of art museums to society. The AAMD accomplishes this mission by establishing and maintaining the highest standards of professional practice, serving as forum for the exchange of information and ideas, acting as an advocate for its member art museums, and being a leader in shaping public discourse about the arts community and the role of art in society according to its website.  The group offers a wealth of information of use to all museum and arts professionals, not just directors, as you can see here

Johnnetta Betsch Cole, Ph.D., is a distinguished scholar, educator, and humanitarian who has led the National Museum of African Art since 2009. She has served as the president of Spelman College and Bennett College for Women, and is also  a professor emerita of Emory University, from which she retired as Presidential Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, Women’s Studies and African American Studies. 

In April 2015, Cole delivered the keynote address on how diversity is inextricably linked with the social value of museums at the American Alliance of Museums' Annual Meeting in Atlanta.

Mickalene Thomas Continutes to Stretch As Muralist

Untitled, 2015, vinyl and enamel paint mural, 39'6Mickalene Thomas’ latest mural commission was unveiled at the Queens Museum of Art on June 30, 2015.  Thomas says that one of her inspirations for this mural was the Museum's Panorama of the City of New York, “which starkly presents the interlocking grids that organize the city.”  Explaining that connection, she says: “Transposing the crosshatch from a fabric that recurs in my work, I've used the grid motif here to structure and intercede in a collage landscape.”

Mickalene Thomas Barclays Center muralThomas has gravitated easily from large-scale paintings which show a strong design sensibility (e.g., her Interior: Monet’s Blue Foyer ) and geometric fragments (e.g., Le Jardin d’Eau de Monet) to her work on murals. With the instincts of a graphic designer, an interior designer and an landscape architect all rolled up into a painter, Mickalene Thomas is primed to blow up big-time as a muralist.   

Detail, Mickalene Thomas Barclays Center muralHer other mural commissions include wall treatments for the Norton Museum in Palm Beach, Fl, and an interpretation of the Brooklyn built environment (using her signature elements of textile fragments and grids) for the Barclays Center.

Mickalene Thomas lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. Her elaborate paintings composed of rhinestones, acrylic and enamel find inspiration from a range of sources including her long study of art history; the 19th century Hudson River School; modernists running from Monet through Matisse; and 20th century heavyweight Romare Bearden. 

Met Museum Launches Second Season of Online Video Series The Artist Project

Willie Cole participating in the Artist Project. Screenshot from ProjectGlenn Ligon participating in the Artist Project. Screenshot from the project.The Met’s vast collection is a source of contemplation and inspiration for contemporary artists. In the Museum's Artist Project series, artists focus on a single work or gallery from the museum’s collections and describe their responses such as how the art has provoked thought, influenced creativity or provided aesthetic delight.  

For example, in the second installment (launched on June 22, 2015) Willie Cole recalls that when in high school during the tumultuous 1968-72 era, a new curriculum focus on African history and culture led him to The Met and discovery of an Bamana (Mali) peoples sculpture, Ci Wara, in its African collection. And Kerry James Marshall marvels at what he calls the "pictureness" of Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres’ Odalisque in Grisaille, riffing on the artist’s precision (accuracy of line) and choices (level of detail). 

Kerry James Marshall participating in the Artist Project. Screenshot from the ProjectArtists included in the second installment are: Roz Chast, Willie Cole, Teresita Fernández, Spencer Finch, Roland Flexner, Jeffrey Gibson, Y.Z. Kami, Il Lee, Glenn Ligon, Robert Longo, Nalini Malani, Kerry James Marshall, Mariko Mori, Robert Polidori, Rona Pondick, David Salle, Pat Steir, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Sarah Sze, and Hank Willis Thomas.

Hank Willis Thomas participating in the Artist Project. Screenshot from the ProjectOver the course of a year, the series will feature 100 artists who have been invited to choose individual works of art or galleries at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The series is being presented in five seasons of 20 episodes each. The first 20 episodes premiered on March 25, 2015 and featured Cory Arcangel, John Baldessari, Nayland Blake, Nick Cave, Enrique Chagoya, George Condo, Walton Ford, Natalie Frank, Zarina Hashmi, Deborah Kass, Nina Katchadourian, Nicola López, Alexander Melamid, Izhar Patkin, Tom Sachs, Katrín Sigurdardóttir, Mickalene Thomas, Kehinde Wiley, Xu Bing, and Lisa Yuskavage. 

In launching the series in March 2015, Met director Thomas P. Campbell said that the staff is interested in looking at contemporary artistic sensibilities through the prism of the museum’s historical collections: "The Artist Project gives you a glimpse of just what we mean when we talk about that kind of connected view of contemporary art."

Marisa Williamson Unveils Latest Iteration of Her Project on Sally Hemings of Monticello

Still shot from a Marisa Williamson Hemings and Jefferson videoStill from Marisa Williamson interview with Monica Lewinksy at a spaWhitney Independent Study Program (WISP) fellow Marisa Williamson’s project video is in the format of a talk show hosted by the artist’s perennial alter ego, Sally Hemings— the enslaved mistress of Thomas Jefferson.  Hemings is joined on the show by Monica Lewinsky, Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, Marilyn Monroe, Ben Affleck and Tituba of Salem Village. The video, Hemings and Hawings, is on view at the Studio Exhibition of 2015 WISP fellows work, June 9-June 27, 2015, EFA Project Space in New York.

In a previous video, Williamson’s Sally Hemings and Monica Lewinsky discussed their experiences of being a presidential concubine. In this video, Sally's description of her feelings about power, pleasure (hers as well as his) and victimization could also be the words coming out of Kara Walker’s silhouette of a dusky plantation seductress. A newly edited version of Williamson’s film, Hemings in Paris, which imagines the past, present and future of Sally Hemings, was shown during the WISP showcase on June 10.

Marisa Williamson received her B.A. in visual art from Harvard University and M.F.A. from California Institute of the Arts. See here to learn more about the artist and her work.

Bethany Collins Wins Hudgens Prize

Bethany Collins (3rd from right) with Hudgens Prize jurors (l-r) Teresa Osborn, Angela Nichols, Shannon Fitzgerald, Hamza Walker and Buzz Spector Photo: Dylan YorkOn June 13, 1015 Bethany Collins was awarded the $50,000 Hudgens Prize at the Hudgens Center for the Arts, Duluth, GA. In addition to the cash award she gets a solo show at the Center.  Funded by an anonymous donor, the prize is intended to elevate the importance of the arts in Georgia and offer a transformational opportunity for one Georgia artist. 

The 29-year-old artist’s best-known works are from her “White Noise” series, which she began in response to class critiques in graduate school. Bethany Collins was the only person of color in the program. “Conversations about my work in that setting were awkward — well-meaning but always awkward,” Collins says. Collins is of mixed race: her father is black, her mother, white. Like many mixed-race people, she identifies as black because that is how she is perceived. She grew up in Montgomery, Alabama, where she was always assumed to be black. “In Atlanta, people aren’t as sure,” she says. “There are more possibilities” of ethnicity. In 2013-14, she was an artist-in-residence at the The Studio Museum in Harlem.

Atlanta critic Cinque Hicks, who selected Collins for “Talent Loves Company” at Barbara Archer Gallery in 2014, admires her intellectual ambition and ability to tackle issues without sacrificing aesthetics. “She avoids easy answers to complicated questions — questions that need to be asked now,” Hicks says.

Read more about the artist and her life and work, here, here, and here.  

Tina Dunkley Steps Down

Over the past 35 years, through sheer, unceasing will, Tina Dunkley has made the Clark Atlanta University Galleries fulfill the illustrious potential that befits their foundation: the Atlanta University Annual exhibitions of the 1940s to 1970s that gave early exposure to African American artists such as Romare Bearden, Hughie Lee-Smith and others who went on to renown. 

Now Tina Dunkley has announced her resignation.  A creative force in her own right, she’ll finally have time to devote full attention to her artwork and, we’re surprised to learn, singing in Portuguese!

We caught up with the jocular museum director in 2014 when she was "in recovery" after presenting two big events that she'd been "insane" to schedule so closely together. That article is here.  We’ll be back in touch with her soon for her reflections as she looks forward.

Two Museums Aquire Major Aaron Douglas Paintings

Aaron Douglas, Let My People Go, oil of masonite. Collection Metropolitan MuseumOn May 14, 2015, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Art announced that they have each acquired a significant work by Aaron Douglas (American, 1899–1979). The two paintings Let My People Go (ca. 1935–1939, Metropolitan Museum of Art) Aaron Douglas, Judgment Day, oil on masonite. Collection National Gallery of Artand The Judgment Day (1939, National Gallery of Art) are based on the acclaimed, illustrations Douglas created for James Weldon Johnson’s 1927 book, God's Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse. Together, these critical acquisitions assure that the artist’s rare easel paintings are represented in two of the nation’s most prominent public collections. Both were acquired from the private collector who purchased the works from Douglas in 1978.

Let My People Go is on view in Gallery 900 of the Met’s Lila Acheson Wing for modern and contemporary art. The Judgment Day will go on view this summer in the National Gallery of Art’s West Building, American Galleries.  The National Gallery’s acquisition comes after its staff’s long search for a major painting by Aaron Douglas.

At the age of 28, Douglas was invited by James Weldon Johnson to illustrate God's Trombones. The resulting eight, black, white and grey-tone illustrations to Johnson's poems rank among Douglas's most accomplished works. Douglas revisited, enlarged, and revised these compositions in easel paintings through the 1930s. Let My People Go is the seventh painting in the series and The Judgment Day is the eighth. 

Many Years and Miles

 Photo by Jacob Wheeler, Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld GalleryThere are many years and many miles between Betye Saar’s birth in Los Angeles in 1926 and her retrospective in the Netherlands opening in June 2015.  Perhaps that’s why the exhibition is called Still Tickin.’

More than just tickin,’ Saar has been kickin.’  Her busy year includes another exhibition, Betye Saar, Jan. 16, 2015–May 31, 2015 at Gund Gallery at Kenyon College.  On April 23, 2015, Saar was in Hartford for “Matrix Artists in Conversation: Betye Saar & Michael C. McMillen” at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. (Saar and McMillen are “Matrix Artists” because they previously were showcased in the the Museum’s Matrix series of exhibitions, performances and lectures.)

Betye Saar, Still Tickin’ at Museum Het Domein, Sittard, Netherlands will be on view June 28, 2015 - November 15, 2015.  This first solo museum of Betye Saar in Europe covers six decades of  work through three central themes — nostalgia and remembrance, mysticism and ritual, and political and racial representation, and is accompanied by a publication.

Walters Museum-Morgan State Partnership To Develop Art Programs and Increase Opportunities for African Americans to Work in Museum Professions 

Julia Marciari-Alexander and David Wilson announce agreementOn April 28, 2015, Julia Marciari-Alexander, the Andrea B. and John H. Laporte Director at the Walters Art Museum and David Wilson, President, Morgan State University, announced a new multi-year agreement between the two organizations. The partnership will promote exhibitions, develop educational and artistic programs and create professional development opportunities for students and faculty at Morgan, an HBCU, and staff of the Walters.

“The strategic partnership, formalized today, focuses on opportunities that will benefit both institutions, as well as the diverse citizens of the Baltimore region,” said Julia Marciari-Alexander. “Through this unique relationship, we hope to create deep systemic organizational change and have a creative and economic impact on the city.”

Over a period of three to five years, the Walters Art Museum and Morgan State University expect to collaborate in a variety of areas such as:

  • Host and co-sponsor art exhibitions;
  • Conduct and publish  joint research;
  • Exchange expertise in the collection, storage, preservation, and exhibition of the museums’ holdings; and
  • Develop courses related to art and museum management and exchange employees for teaching, study, research, or professional development opportunities.

“This historic partnership marks what is sure to be the beginning of a long relationship between two respected Baltimore institutions, allowing both organizations to benefit from collective resources,” said David Wilson. “Through our strategic collaboration we not only further a connection between academia and the art community, but we are establishing a foundation on which future achievement can be built.”

Rashid Johnson's Highline Commission

When IRAAA+ last checked up on Rashid Johnson in 2013, we said that “his installation art of potted green plants, gilded rocks, mirrored tiles and open, black shelf systems generate an ambiance of uber, 20th-century modernism while also evoking a sense of ancient, future and timeless mysteries.”  We had visions of plant-filled atriums in 1980s corporate headquarters, glass-backed shelf systems in elegant, bachelor pads circa 1970s and ancient jungle ferns. The gold rocks evoked the sense of timeless mysteries. 

Rashid Johnson. Photo: Cosmic StudiosAnd now on New York’s High Line, walkers and runners will see how the elements in Johnson’s site-specific commission weather the outdoor installation. 

Installed among the vegetation of the High Line at Little West 12th Street, the sculpture will transform as it interacts with the surrounding plant life over the course of its almost year-long residency in the park.  Titled Blocks, the work will be on view from May 2015 to March 2016.

Related IRAAA+ article

Artist TAFA and Clinton Discuss the Mythic Power of the Sports Arena

Bill Clinton and TAFA talk artClinton views TAFA painting, Game Overtime Former president Bill Clinton and TAFA discussed the artist’s work on March 24, 2015 at a private viewing at the Clinton Foundation in Harlem, NY.  In the background is Game Overtime, an oil on canvas in the artist’s series that depicts huge crowds like jeweled specks around a brightly lit basketball court or boxing ring in an arena.  

In 2010, TAFA was named Sport Artist of the year. “Myth, worship and ritual is what attracts me, the arena as a landscape or the athlete or player as portraiture is not what inspires me,” says TAFA (Tafa Fiadzigbe).  “Sport as a metaphor for life and faith fascinates me — our collective allegiance and dedication to the gods and deities of the game, the mass psychology and identification, almost prehistoric and primal. It is the mythic power of the stadium, the arena, which has become the new basilica and pyramid, synagogue and temple.” 

And now Bill Clinton joins former New York Mayor David Dinkins, newscaster Bryant Gumbel, New York Giants linebacker Carl Banks, the late Johnny Cochran and others who have acquired TAFA's paintings for their collections.  

Art Historian is New President of Spelman College

Mary Schmidt-CampbellArt historian and former NYU Tisch School of the Arts dean, Mary Schmidt Campbell has been elected the 10th president of Spelman College. On March 28, 2015, the Spelman's Board of Trustees announced the appointment effective August 1, 2015.

In a video interview at the College,  Campbell says that she was intent on completing a biography of Romare Bearden and did not want to take on new work.  However, she explained, she could not decline the opportunity to lead Spelman because the college is involved in much that defines her own interests and experience. She emphasized the college’s excellence in the arts and in producing graduates who excel in the STEM disciplines.  One of her primary initial goals will be to put the “A” (for “art”)  in STEM, she says, to create an integrated  STEAM program at the college.

During a visit to Spelman last September to confer with the art faculty about a new arts facility, Campbell realized that she never been on a college campus with as much “energy and passion” as Spelman.  That experience paved the way for her acceptance of the appointment.

A graduate of Swarthmore College, Campbell has a master’s of science degree in art history and a doctorate in humanities from Syracuse University. In the 1980s,  as the executive director of the Studio Museum in Harlem, she led it to becoming  first accreditation of a black fine arts museum in the nation. Campbell also  served as New York City’s cultural affairs commissioner and in 2009, she was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve as the vice chair of the Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, a non-partisan advisory group.

The interview with Mary Schmidt Campbell about her interest in, and vision for, Spellman College is here. 

Oh Really?

Kanye West, curator and artistic director?An individual or group called BiennalYe is advocating Kanye West be selected as the 2017 Venice Biennale artistic director in a Change.org petition to Biennale director Paolo Baratta. The genius of this movement is tri-fold: it forces the aspirations of a wildly popular entertainer into a realm of gravitas and ‘renaissance man’ status that adeptly elides high and low; it re-envisions what constitutes an art expert or authority, while no doubt roiling the art establishment with its gamesmanship; and it cleverly markets the Kayne West brand.

West's association with Takashi Murakami undoubtedly has been edifying but does he have the eye and the knowledge of storied connoisseurs? That question is answered quickly in the negative by the painting that West is shown proudly holding in the photo on the petition. Should the 21st century public seek that traditional expertise in today’s art leaders? Is it relevant? Whatever your answers, this campaign will foster debate and reflection around these issues, and make you think about Mr. West’s purported capability as curator/director — joke, performance art or prophecy? By getting us to reflect or act, BienielYe has already achieved success, even though its statement contains pretentious art talk: "With contemporary art lingering confused in a mannerist phase, and architecture having abandoned its ambitions of changing the world...."  Despite the bluster, we applaud Kanye West's interest in visual art and new approaches to curating. 

Odili Donald Odita Public Art Commission

Odili Donald Odita In celebration of its first decade, the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University has announced plans to commission a mural by abstract painter Odili Donald Odita in downtown Durham, and also a large-scale wall painting inside the museum. The artist gave a Odili Donald Odita, Kiasma Helsinki installation, 2011talk about his work at the museum on March 17.

“We are very proud to bring Odili Donald Odita to Duke to kick off the celebration of our amazing first decade and the decades to come,” said Sarah Schroth, Mary D.B.T. and James H. Semans Director of the Nasher Museum. “His beautiful, abstract wall paintings demonstrate a rare use of color and pattern executed through a rigorous process. Odita’s colors reflect his vision from his travels around the world. His painting inside the museum will visually connect with a monumental wall painting in downtown Durham, symbolizing our enthusiastic commitment to the community.”

Odili Donald Odita. Virginia Tech installation, 2014Odili Donald Odita, Surface Charge 2, 2014The Nasher Museum is working with city officials, the Durham Arts Council/SmART Initiative, the Durham Public Art Committee and others to identify a location for the mural. Both of Odita’s mural projects have inspired educational initiatives and public programs that will strengthen the museum’s ties to Duke and the community in new ways.

In a partnership with Durham School of the Arts, the Nasher Museum will train high school art students to educate the public about Odita and his murals. While Odita and his assistants produce the murals, both at the museum and downtown, the students will be at each site to share information with the public, answer questions and, at scheduled times, lead hands-on art activities.

Related IRAAA+ articles are here and here.