Serendipity and Collage

November 2, 2012

The meaning of ser en dip I ty: The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way: “a fortunate stroke of serendipity”.

I recently posted a blog about visiting the Studio Museum in Harlem (NY) to see the Bearden Project (closed Oct. 21, 2012).

2011-2012 has been a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the artist’s birth with museum and gallery exhibitions all across the United States. Bearden was one of the great artists of the 20th century and is best know for his collage paintings. Read about his life and art at the Bearden Foundation.

I knew in advance the exhibition at the Studio Museum didn’t include works by Romare Bearden (1911-1988). It was the 3rd and final installation of the Bearden Project, with paintings, collage, mixed media and sculpture done by mostly young contemporary artists who were inspired by Bearden as they were growing up.

The link to the Bearden Project website allows you to see all the works and read (or listen to) comments about how each artist was influenced by Bearden.  It also includes images of works by Bearden each artist selected for the Project.

The trip to the Studio Museum was a bonanza. There were 4 important exhibitions.  All the shows closed on Oct. 21, 2012.

Ebony G. Paterson, Untitled Species I

The lobby gallery featured postcards by 4 artists in an installation titled Harlem Postcards. Museum visitors were invited to take a card. You can see the cards and send a postcard from the website link.

The main event was the exhibition titled Caribbean: Crossroads of the World, which was organized by El Museo del Barrio in collaboration with the Queens Museum of Art and the Studio Museum in Harlem.

I kept returning to look at the mixed media work on paper by Ebony G. Patterson, Untitled Species I, 2010-2011 (see above). It’s cut papers and fabric embellished with glitter, 62 x 50 inches. It was fascinating to see the cut-outs, glitter and embellished surfaces.

I also got to see the exhibit titled Illuminations: Expanding the Walls 2012 (photography).

After checking out the Bearden Project on the lower level, I walked upstairs to the mezzanine to see Primary Sources: Artists in Residence 2011-12.

What Serendipity. The 3 Artists in Residence included Meleko Mokgosi, Xaviera Simmons, and Njideka Akunyili.

The exhibition catalog says each artist uses appropriated source material and imagery and reinterprets and re-contextualizes content through different media: painting, photography, drawing (and collage). The Museum curator, Lauren Haynes, wrote: “Through their investigations of primary sources, either their own life stories, political histories of nations in flux, historical texts, or images found on the internet, these artists create artworks that will themselves become primary sources about contemporary art in the 2nd decade of the 21st century.

Meleko Mokgosi, Sikhuselo-Sembumbulu, 2012

The image by Meleko Mokgosi, seen above, was a grand painting in multiple parts that wrapped around the gallery walls. The artist uses wide-angle perspective and large-scale imagery. Many images are appropriated from wedding blogs, newspapers (from Botswana), magazines and his own photographs. The catalog says Mokgosi is a conceptual painter who uses the language of film and works like a film director to create his large scale tableaux – painted montages with figures, objects, furniture and still lives where his frames, like movie sets, fade one into the other.

Xaviera Simmons, Index 3 Composition 2, 2012

The image by Xaviera Simmons, seen above, is a color photograph, titled Index 3 Composition 2, 40×55 inches. In the catalog essay, Luc Sante writes: “Her alchemical touch transforms every kind of rag and bone, variously drab or cold or ponderous or high-hat in both their original states and artistic implications, turning them all into vehicles for adventure…The entire African diaspora is contained in those clusters of pictures and objects clothes-pinned to a tumbling skein…”

Amazing Collage

I got to view the most amazing collage paintings I’ve seen in years by the artist Njideka Akunyili.

It was a perfect example of serendipity – I went to the Studio Museum to see the Bearden Project, and in the last gallery I visited, I found the collage paintings by Njideka Akunyili.

Njideka Akunyili, Witch Doctor Revisited

Her work took my breath away. It is so masterfully done.

The image above, titled Witch Doctor Revisited, 2011, is acrylic, charcoal, pastel, colored pencil, collage and Xerox transfer on paper, 76×51 inches.

In a review, Alex Fialho wrote (Art Fag City, October 17, 2012): “… what makes Akunyili’s work the principal success of Primary Sources (is that) at just 28 years old, Akunyili seems to have already fleshed out a practice that recasts a disparate array of sources and materials into a cohesive aesthetic sensibility.”

He says Akunyili’s work loses much of its tactility and detailed nuance in reproduction. You have to see it in person. I was so lucky to see her work at the Studio Museum. I believe she will be an important artist with a great future.

Njideka Akunyili, Efulefu: The Lost One

The image above by Njideka Akunyili is titled Efulefu: The Lost One, 2011, is acrylic, charcoal, colored pencil, collage and Xerox transfer on paper, 40×30 inches.

Rose Oluronke Ojo writes about the autobiographic content of this painting in the Primary Sources catalog essay titled “The Dance.” She says: “Akunyili’s series of multimedia works reference multiple discursive formations, as well as supposed opposites: black African and white American, European painting traditions and traditional African art, conservative African courtship rituals and an interracial couple in coital bliss…This dance of the opposites in Akunyili’s work is reflective of the multicultural, multi-local nature of contemporary African art.”

Njideka Akunyili was born in Enugu, Nigeria in 1983. She received her MFA from Yale University School of Art (New Haven, Ct) in 2011. She participated in the Bearden Project earlier in 2011 at the Studio Museum.

A final review: Holland Cotter wrote about Primary Sources: Artists in Residence 2011-2012 in the NY Times (July 19, 2012). He starts with Njideka Akunyili and mentions the autobiographical content in her large collage paintings. He comments on the political content in Mokgosi’s works, and has a lot to say about Xaviera Simmons, who – he says “has been playing audacious photographic games with the African in African-American, by scrambling categories like ethnic authenticity and historical objectivity.”

Your comments are Welcome

Please let me know if you were able to see the exhibitions at the Studio Museum in Harlem and comment on the artists I’ve written about here.

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One Response to “Serendipity and Collage”

  1. Carol A. Says:

    Thanks so much for sharing. I would never have become aware of these otherwise. I particularly liked Patterson and Akunyili.


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