White Privilege in Museums

I recently attended a two part conversation “Talking About Racism in Museum Education” organized by Marit Dewhurst (Director of Art Education/ Assistant Professor of Art and Museum Education City College of NY) and Keonna Hendricks (Reviewers and Critics Program Manager, ArtConnection; Freelance Educator, Family Programs, MoMA). The title alone interested me and sent me thinking about the permanent collections of MoMA and the Whitney that I teach in, and the classrooms I have visited over my many year involvement with object based teaching. I have done my best to present artworks made by African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asians, women and anyone else that seems the slightest bit outside of museum collection norms.
The symposium asked us how we racially identify, and how often that identification impacts our teaching. I honestly feel that whiteness, my whiteness, never enters my mind. My colleagues of color said they are ALWAYS aware of their racial identity and how others perceive them. They can’t shake it if they tried. They often feel invisible because of their color, or challenged by museum audiences as to their knowledge and understanding of the art objects. They noted that the security guards, maintenance workers, food service workers are often people of color, and it is much more rare to meet a curator or director of color. The power positions in museums are frequently held by white people.
Still the show featuring Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series in MoMA’s One Way Ticket is an outstanding exception, a show that begs for discussion on this difficult subject. I have had many opportunities to bring racial issues to the center of my programs and into my teaching agenda, through studying this exhibition. This spectacular series of sixty paintings by Lawrence examines the many reasons that Black Americans migrated from the rural South to the Urban North–fleeing in great numbers from the persecution, the abuse, and inequality in hopes of finding employment, better living conditions, and opportunities to raise and educate children and live in a safer environment. The way Jacob Lawrence tells this American story–it wasn’t as easy as that. Prejudice existed in the North and restaurants served whites on one side of the restaurant and blacks on the other. Experienced as farmers, many of the migrants were suddenly working in steel mills where they crossed picket lines and caused skirmishes with union workers. Riots broke out in Northern cities and tensions mounted. People were forced to live in overcrowded conditions. And still the migration continued.

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16. Although the Negro was used to lynching, he found this an opportune time for him to leave where one had occurred.

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22.Another of the social causes of the migrants’ leaving was that at times they did not feel safe, or it was not the best thing to be found on the streets late at night. They were arrested on the slightest provocation.

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49.They also found discrimination in the North although it was much different from that which they had known in the South.

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51.In many cities in the North where the Negroes had been overcrowded in their own living quarters they attempted to spread out. This resulted in many of the race riots and the bombings of Negro homes.

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58. In the North the Negro had better educational facilities.

(all captions by Jacob Lawrence, 1941)

This show is an opportunity to look at the world today and at our National news that has been full of violence that is racially motivated. Racial tensions, horrific events of police brutality and murder, soaring incarceration statistics, and prejudice of many kinds–racial, sexual, religious, ethnic, gender–the world today does not feel that different from the many stories that are told in One Way Ticket.

Marian Anderson singing in front of the Lincoln Memorial on film is enough to bring you to your knees. And don’t miss Billie Holiday singing “Strange Fruit” either. Photographs of migrants, literature and journals, music, poetry, and the paintings of Jacob Lawrence’s contemporaries fill out the show. Go with a friend or your family and spend some time talking about the lynching of innocent people, arrests for the slightest provocations, and the unfairness and inequity in the world. We all have a responsibility to change and end the injustices in our community.

Given an assignment to record all of the instances of racial prejudice that I observe in myself for seven days has at times left me worried and confused. When I picked my seat on the subway away from the smelly homeless man who happened to be black, I found myself questioning, ‘is that a racist act’? Momentary confusion aside, “Talking about Racism in Museum Education” was a way of bringing this further into focus for me, both generally and in my work. But then again, I can only teach to what’s on view. And I can only speak from secondhand knowledge of this kind of systematic oppression. The greater responsibility lies with curators and museum administrations to make choices and invite new voices that will shape a space for art that is more representative of reality, and of our communities.

ONE-WAY TICKET: Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series and Other Works is on view until September 7th at MoMA

Let’s talk about it part 2

Nick Cave’s fall show at Jack Shainman’s Gallery was a knock out and continues my investigation into difficult subjects that need to be talked about. “Made by Whites for Whites” brings together Nick Cave’s obsession for collecting and repurposing objects in his work. Unlike his “sound suits” the work in this show was not meant for performance. These stand alone sculptures, both floor and wall works, are not the fantastical costume-like works that we have come to expect from the artist, nothing like the feel of his herd of dancing horses that we saw last year at Grand Central Station.

In a talk at the NYPublic Library that I attended in answer to the question, ‘Where do you get all of your materials for your work?.’ Nick explained that he goes to O’Hare airport and takes a flight somewhere in the US, rents a truck, and drives back to Chicago filling it with materials purchased from flea markets and garage sales along the way. I found this explanation to paint an astonishing image—to fathom the proliferation of these prejudicial objects across the country and what their existence and sustained value as collectibles might suggest about our country, so many years after their production. The exhibition put these objects that could be referred to as “Negro Memorabilia,” “Racist Propaganda,” or politically incorrect collectibles on display; a shoeshine bench, a stable boy figurine, a Golliwog costume from a minstrel show all find their way into Cave’s constructions.

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And he uses these collected objects to instigate dialog. The origins of the objects were potent and present in the sculptures, as they invoked in me curiosity, confusion, and astonishment. “King of the Hill,” a work that assembles two towers of crocheted afghans that create a mountain on which sits a child’s sized Golliwog costume. The afghan blankets perfectly folded and expertly crocheted represented for me the caring attention of countless invisible black women. Subjugation, abuse, slavery, all found their way into this show through objects startling and to me as a white woman, embarrassing. The spittoon that Nick found labeled as such in a flea market shaped like the head of a black person with exaggerated red lips and white teeth was now  the centerpiece of a work about the slave trade.

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In “Sacrifice” a pair of cast hands come out of the wall to hold an inverted head which is described on the wall text as a carnival artifact. “Part of a game from the 1930’s or 1940’s, the figure would most likely have had an object in his mouth that was either knocked out or used as a ring toss. It was very common during this time period to shoot, hit, dunk, and otherwise target black likenesses in aggressive acts taking the form of lighthearted games.”

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The trench coats hanging on the wall and opened to reveal chain necklaces and jeweled watches of the sort that hip hop rappers have made fashionable intrigued me in their ability to deliver several messages and associations all at once. I thought of Canal Street where Africans sell knock offs of expensive watches and gold chains and hide them inside of their jackets to protect themselves from the patrolling police. I also thought of how young black men have taken the shackles and chains of slavery and flipped it around to become decorative, defiant, and powerful jewelry. So many of the works have a cage-like scaffolding of metal that help display a flock of birds surrounding a figure like in “End Upheld” which has an elaborately carved wooden piano stool with a black figure who would hold up the seat for, and of, the piano player. “I know why the caged bird sings.”

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This exhibition of Nick Cave’s work has obvious commonalities with Kara Walker’s since they are both bringing up the stereotypes of African Americans that I would like to see go away. I wondered about this when I first saw Kara Walker’s work and felt that she was perpetuating a view of blacks that was better left forgotten. But I am aware that the painful history of African Americans is still current history—that prejudice, injustice, profiling are all apart of our everyday experience. One way to move beyond these lingering perceptions is to have them painfully put in our faces to confront, to question, and to talk about. Nick Cave has provided us with an opportunity to talk about these artifacts in a new and powerful context, sending another message about what art can be and what it can do.

Let’s Talk About It- part 1

I have been thinking about the past few months of major works in the city that confront race, racial stereotypes, oppression, and shame, and I have had the opportunity to teach to and discuss these artworks with students, colleagues, and my own family at the dinner table.

 

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Going back to early June, I stood in line to get into Kara Walker’s A Subtlety at the abandoned, and soon to be demolished, Domino Sugar factory. It was sponsored by good old Creative Time, whose commitment to challenging work and social issues is unparalleled in this city. The line was long and I was excited by the diversity of demographics represented, young and old, who were waiting with me to see the giant female “mammy” Sphinx that we knew was inside. As we have seen Kara Walker do before, she shook us up by her use of racial stereotypes. Her black Sphinx was made out of white sugar, just for starters. There was a group of attendant children made out of molasses that accompany the Sphinx in this cavernous space that still carried a strong olfactory memory of what used to be done in the building. The saccharine smell was almost sickening. By the time I saw A Subtlety many of the figures of children were decomposing and decaying with an arm broken off and lying on the ground in a pool of sticky molasses oozing on the floor. The work was powerful and disturbing. It conjured up plantations from the old south, slavery, the oppression of blacks especially women and children, as well as the gentrification of Williamsburg, the reminder that another condominium means the displacement of a factory and all of the workers that were employed there. The loss of jobs. The movement out of the poor, making room for the rich.
Everyone had their cameras and phones out and were talking photos like mad. Pictures of smiling families standing beside a molasses baby, a young man perfectly placed so it would appear that he was tweaking the nipples of the Sphinx, or licking her vulva. Creative Time asked for people to post their shots on social media and many of these made their way to Facebook and my own newsfeed. View some examples at your own risk here.
It struck me that people were not paying attention. ‘Are they simply amazed at the enormous size of what Kara Walker has made? In awe of the huge expression of effort to create monumental work that is temporary and will be destroyed at the end of the exhibition? Are people not thinking about what is being said here? Does the meaning escape them?’ Here was an opportunity to talk about race, the subjugation of the black woman, the gentrification of a neighborhood, the history of slavery and blacks forced to work on sugar plantations. And what about sweets: our sweet tooth, our addiction to sugar?
It feels like only a short time later I was working at the New School in my friend Jean Taylor’s class and preparing students to engage with a Kara Walker piece that is installed between two floors of the building on 13th street on the walls of two opposing stairwells. Event Horizon is one of her black silhouette works permanently affixed in this public space. The figures are of blacks being forced or chased down a tunnel by a white man with a stick or a whip. The characters are made clear with the overt use of and the exaggeration of stereotypes. The profiles with protruding lips, the braided hairstyles, bandanas, and tattered clothes are all indicated through the intricacies of shape and contour. We know who is wearing shoes and who isn’t, we see disembodied appendages, the tunnel itself is deep and narrow.

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Interesting that the color is not the defining feature that identifies the characters in this drama. Some figures are falling down while others appear to struggle to climb back upwards. The reaction of the diverse group of students was complex. Some resisted identifying the figures racially, some were upset by what the tunnel suggests to them. One student described a couple underground to be “just chillin.” The conversation was difficult and challenged everyone. Some hesitated to speak.

I feel strongly that these are the conversations that we need to be having. Especially away from the limited points of view of our own families. This is what school should be, a way to challenge what we think, what we know, and what we believe to be true. Our ability to express ourselves, to agree and disagree, about history and what happened and how the world changes and stays the same, is yet another muscle we need to exercise and a habit to develop. This is the social and political obligation that artists and educators share, to talk about the world that we all live in.

Kalamazoo-zoo- zoo, I am crazy for you-you-you.


It was an honor to be invited back to Kalamazoo and Education For The Arts’ Summer Institute this past month through Lincoln Center Education—a wonderful week introducing artists and educators to aesthetic education with a fabulous team including dancer, Deb Norton, our teacher partner, Nancy Neva Gagliano, and lead facilitator, Nick Mahmat. Our workshop was centered at WMU and I had a group of outdoor sculptures to focus on. Highlights of my teaching were beautifully captured in the photographs that Nancy took.
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How can you take shapes viewed in the landscape and abstract them into sculptural elements? Working from photographs of landscape, shapes were selected and strategies were brainstormed to change them through adding and subtracting, stretching, and fragmenting techniques. Everyone was working on constructing their black oak tag shapes into free standing sculptural forms using SLOT, FOLD, and TAB.

 

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Working hard at solving all of the problems that constructions present. You could sense everyone’s satisfaction with the completed sculptures as the many individual shapes gathered, became attached, and stood up.

 

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After looking at all of the work that was made and talking about it, we headed outside to see a public sculpture by David Hayes, Mid-Western Landscape, and even though it was raining, we had a rich and thorough discussion around the sculpture.

 

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The teachers were excited to find that the sculptor was using slots, tabs, and folds to assemble his flat metal shapes into sculpture. The abstraction of the landscape was more easily understood by our recent experience of doing the same, and we went away with lots of questions about the artist and his work.

A new Roxy Paine Containment 3 had also just been installed on campus and it was an opportunity to look at the laws of growth in botanical forms.

 

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Small groups spread out to examine a plant that had been chosen and marked with a balloon. Drawings, notes, and analysis of the forms developed in preparation for our art making.

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Taking the lead from Roxy Paine by repurposing materials, we rolled paper bags of different sizes into tubes of various diameters and strengths and assembled them into a variety of observed organic forms.

 

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These activities always impact how much more we can observe in the work of art and how much more seriously we attend to it. The possibility of having a meaningful transaction with the art is much increased by the process of art making, questioning, reflecting, and learning some contextual information about the artist and their working methods.

 

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When my workshop for EFA was over I launched into a four day workshop for R&F Handmade Paints teaching a comprehensive encaustic course. The idea of this was born over brunch back in March, grants were written, and here we all were getting to work with this ancient painting process. The artists: Mary Whalen, Honore Lee, Karen French Hall, Nancy Neva Gagliano, Kathy Murphy, Kellen Deau, Gayle Reyes, and Nick Mahmat learned the basic techniques, and in very short order, were applying what they had learned to the making of paintings. We had a great time together and I hope that we will be able to do this again!

 

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Thank you, especially to Nancy Neva Gagliano who is a whiz at documenting what happened in the workshops and was kind enough to offer me these photos. To Bryan Zocher, Nick Mahmat, and all my friends in Kalamazoo-zoo- zoo, I am crazy for you-you-you.

Maxine Greene

photo 1 Maxine Greene has died and left us at 96 years old. I have a plant—a silver queen, I think it is called—that she sent me when I got married in 1988. My sometimes superstitious nature has made me care for this plant in a particularly caring way. It is sturdier than other house plants I own which is good because I would never want it to look neglected or ignored.  Soon after I received the news about Maxine passing it bloomed, a signal perhaps, a sign. You could talk about anything with Maxine. She longed for some of the subversive activity of the 1960’s to swing back into action. She wanted education to be better for all. And she stood behind the importance of  artists and educators working together. She was always asking questions that were worth puzzling over, leading to multiple answers and interpretations. She believed and searched for ambiguity and encouraged others to do the same. She had a witty sense of humor and could make some shockingly frank pronouncements. She was a trip. We all adored her. Maxine’s teaching assistant remarked at her funeral in his heartfelt eulogy that she continued to teach all semester, but had missed the last class having, entered the hospital with pneumonia. Leading up to that session she had become quieter in class and he saw that she was preparing the class to get along without her. I am worried that I might forget some of the things she has said about The Blue Guitar, and “seeing the world as if it could be otherwise.” I have more than 30 years of memories of her: Summer lectures at Lincoln Center Institute, visiting the Richard Serra show at MoMA together, sitting in her living room, where she would address her huge fan base of educators and artists, Greene Team pot luck dinner parties at her apartment, and even watching a performance of Jean Taylor’s The Wild Hair, Living Room Tour in that same apartment. When we first met, she told me how the paintings by Cezanne at the Metropolitan Museum of Art were sitting there asleep waiting for someone to go in there and wake them up by taking the time to really look at them. Her notion that artworks were resting dormant until someone brings themselves to them to make the transaction complete between artwork and viewer, artist and audience, present and alive, is a belief that all of my teaching is based on. Dear Maxine, I hold that torch high and will do my best to get along without you. photo 2

The Artist’s Statement


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The artist’s statement has taken on an importance in recent years that seems out of control. There are full chapters devoted to writing them in the business-oriented books written for visual artists. The suggestions offer how to craft a unique statement, cite your influences, and place yourself into an historical context. One should: make the statement personal, talk about your unusual materials, your ethnic background, answer your frequently asked questions, use artspeak, but don’t use artspeak, and be able to shrink it down to a single page, and then even further if you happen to be on an elevator with a critic or curator. Really? Is this what we have to do?

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I gave an artist talk recently to art students, faculty, and teaching artists at the Frostic School of Art at Western Michigan University in conjunction with AN OPEN BOOK: Work by Barbara Ellmann  curated by Sophia Marisa Lucas. In the question and answer portion, a student remarked on the fact that she had looked at the gallery desk for my artist’s statement and did not find one. What about that? I answered that this particular exhibition, without wall text, titles, dates, media, and explanation posted nearby was the idea behind AN OPEN BOOK. The show invites the viewer to make sense of the exhibition and to construct their own meaning. It is my belief that there is plenty of visual information there to help you make meaning out of what you can observe. There are even suggestions presented in visual terms in the laboratory space that could help you look more deeply at the work, to see where the abstraction comes from, how the ancient material of encaustic is worked with here, where the artist lives and works, and that the arrangements are unfixed installations created specifically for this occasion. It is an exhibition that trusts the eye and the opinion of the individual viewer.  It places the ideas that you receive from the work as importantly as what was on my mind while making it. This transaction that takes place between artist, art work, and audience is what I stand for as an artist and as an educator and more than an artist’s statement, it is my manifesto. If works of art can be inexhaustible sources for study, if they can morph and change their cultural significance and meaning over time, if the infinite variations in personal experience and prior art knowledge can all be embraced in this exchange, then what I am asking for is that you enter the exhibition and bring yourself towards the work and feel confident in your own engagement and dialog with it.

PICTURE IT!

Since AN OPEN BOOK, Work by Barbara Ellmann opened in Kalamazoo, Michigan on Feb 19th, the 20-part installation, PICTURE IT, has undergone three changes in its arrangement. The app that was designed for the show allows gallery visitors to make decisions about how the installation could be rearranged. Visitors then submit their ideas to a Tumblr feed. Every week the curator, Sophia Marisa Lucas, and I select a new configuration from those submitted. The art handlers make the change on the gallery wall Monday morning before the gallery opens.

I thought I would explain how the concept of allowing others to rearrange my installations originated. My work has been modular for many years, and I have gone from producing individual works to creating installations of multiple panels that are site specific. Many times panels will appear in one arrangement in an exhibition and reappear in a different grouping many months later. The installations themselves are unfixed, meaning that the larger group gathered together can shift and change. I have on my website a game-like feature, which encourages visitors to create a grouping of their own design. So it seemed a logical extension that as part of this exhibition some exploration into the ideas of arrangement could be part of the contextual information lab space. Sophia envisioned the interaction with the public extended through our selection of a new configuration from those submitted and would be a way of staying connected to the public as they explored the exhibition, so we had an app developed to accommodate this.

As Joseph Albers explored through his color theory exercises, every color is dependent on light and what color it is adjacent to. Our perceptions are affected by each individual change. That is true in the making of these multi-paneled installations, where the moving of a part changes what we see and notice. Moving them is like putting the same actor into a new drama. The role has changed. One panel moves forward and another moves back, You might see a section for its blueness and in another shifted arrangement it is the vertical movement in that panel that stands out and becomes what is noticeable. The relationship between the parts is an exercise in making connections. What is it that allows you to put them together? Is it color, shape, pattern, some other repetition or motif? These are the questions that visitors are wrestling with in Kalamazoo,  and here are some of their solutions.

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This is the original arrangement of the work PICTURE IT as it appeared at the beginning of the exhibition.

 

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Change #1 The first change was this one which Sophia and I chose. We picked it because of the light central column and the darks pulling away to the right and to the left.

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Change #2- Sophia and I chose this because we found an interesting symmetry in the overall composition, which the viewer referred to as an attempt to create “easy eye movement.”

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Change #3- Sophia and I chose this because it moves from left to right, working from darker to lighter paintings, creating an effect of moving from winter to spring.

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One classroom teacher posed this problem after visiting the exhibition which made me realize that there is a math problem that could result in all the possible combinations of PICTURE IT.

 

Here come the young people of Kalamazoo!


I have taught to other people’s painting, sculpture, and photographic works of art for as long as I have been involved with aesthetic education at Lincoln Center, and as a museum educator working at MoMA, the Guggenheim, the Whitney and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. For over thirty years, through this teaching, I have continually reevaluated my own work, imposing higher standards on myself, inspired by the objects I teach to. Additionally, this teaching nurtured the development of my philosophical position on helping others engage with works of art, and has expanded my tastes and increased my interest in every artwork that I encounter. My teaching has made me a better artist and my painting has made me a better teacher.
So, imagine the rush of feeling as I saw 75 young people enter the exhibition of my work AN OPEN BOOK at the Richmond Center for Visual Arts at Western Michigan University! These first student visitors came from 12th Street Elementary with their art teacher, Karen French Hall, and their teaching artist from Education For the Arts (EFA)., Paddy Aiden. Paddy had already been working with these students in preparation for this visit, using art-making activities that explored color and pattern, and then playing with the results of the classwork to create larger compositional arrangements, made of the many individual parts. When the students arrived at the gallery, their heads were spinning around to take in the whole show before settling down before one of the installations with an expert facilitator. Paddy, Nick Mahmat, and Nancy Neva Gagliano then led their groups of 25 by guiding their looking with open-ended questions, into a rich discussion of the work. To sit in the gallery and watch the students waving their arms for a chance to speak, to share their observations and insights, was a thrill. Looking for recurring motifs was one brilliant way that Nick directed his group. Seeing repetitions of the compositional tropes: “X” shapes, radiating forms, repeated stars or polka dots, horizontal stripes, and plaids were all ways of connecting the parts of OUR BELIEFS.

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Nancy had students draw a map of the way their eye moved through the installation TURNING TOWARD. This is something that the curator, Sophia Marisa Lucas, and I did when creating the installations for this exhibition.

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Paddy introduced the students to the lab and its activities by asking students to explore the lab and then take what they learned out into the exhibition space. Many students found making the connections between the photo cards and the paintings was a satisfying way to make sense out of abstraction and its many influences from the lived world.

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As the students prepared to leave the gallery,  Karen French Hall introduced me to the students and we did a brief Q&A before they boarded the bus. The students did a wonderful job making meaning out of the work, and I was so lucky to be able to witness the enthusiastic responses of the students to my painting. This was just the beginning of five weeks of students who are involved in aesthetic education in Kalamazoo visiting the show.

 

AN OPEN BOOK, Work by Barbara Ellmann, curated by Sophia Marisa Lucas at Western Michigan University’s RCVA.

catalog online

purchase a catalog

Abstraction Continuum


I have been thinking about abstraction and representation. At the Metropolitan Museum of Art I looked at portraits by Modigliani and Picasso of Jeanne Hebuterne and Dora Maar in an Armchair.  Since we recognize them as women we might see these works as representation. But the images are not representation in the manner of portraits from earlier centuries or even of contemporary times like the work of Photorealists. What does it mean to abstract—to embellish, exaggerate, or reduce what is seen in the lived world? What is observed, felt, and experienced about a person, and how does it get translated into painting? If you were to create a continuum between the extremes of representation and abstraction where would you place these two portraits? I was recently working with this question in a graduate class, and together with the students we thought about the relativity of these terms.

At the recent exhibition of Rene Magritte:Mystery of the Ordinary 1926- 1938 at MoMA I am reminded of another conundrum concerning representation and abstraction. In the painting “Threatening Weather” Magritte has created a sky with fluffy clouds that also appear as a female torso, a tuba, and a chair. This reminds me of looking at clouds and calling them by the names of associated forms. Is it a natural impulse to make abstract forms into things that one is reminded of as a way of making sense of one’s experiences? I can hardly count the number of times when standing in front of a pure abstraction, a Kandinsky for instance, when I have heard someone say, “this looks like a dog”, “a person’s face”, or something equally preposterous. Thinking back to Magritte Ceci n’est pas une pipe (this is not a pipe), I am reminded that we are looking at paintings not pipes, not people, not clouds. 

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THE TREACHERY OF IMAGES [ Ceci n’est pas une pipe (this is not a pipe)] Magritte

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 JEANNE HEBUTERNE Modigliani 



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DORA MAAR IN A CHAIR Picasso 

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THREATENING WEATHER Magritte

In my new installation WHERE TO STOP there are paintings that sit in between the extremes of representation and abstraction combining aerial views, construction scaffolding, the rhythm of moving traffic, apartment building windows, window fans, and my embroidered Indian scarf. That I can identify the sources of these works is only because I made them, for it is not my intention that my audience see any of these things. How the paintings work on one another, to either move it toward abstraction or representation, is part of the idea of grouping these paintings into larger installations The pleasures of making abstract paintings, as well as viewing them, is in the freedom of association, metaphor, and memory that it encourages in all of us- if you let it.

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WHERE TO STOP, 2013

WHERE TO STOP is included in AN OPEN BOOK, Work by Barbara Ellmann, curated by Sophia Marisa Lucas at Western Michigan University’s RCVA.

catalog online

purchase a catalog

 

Repetitive Actions, at Home and on the Road




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I have been involved in making a repetitive series of drawings that goes back nearly thirteen years and has stretched, extended, and morphed into an examination of a formal compositional constraint–a square with four corners and a center and divided into quadrants with a vertical and horizontal axis. The drawings started as a response to Parcheesi, the game whose compositional plan I was obsessed with at the time. I was being evicted from a much loved studio, and the courtroom battles reminded me of the competitive structure of this childhood game. Thinking about Parcheesi led to mandalas, as I began noticing their compositional connections, and that took me towards a variety of other sources. The formal structure took on the qualities of a sieve that all of my observations were forced through. Variations based on the geometry inherent in the design but drawn with a spontaneous unmeasured hand, thinking about asymmetry within symmetrical forms, responding to observations in nature or my on going love of patterning, all found their way into these drawings. Controlling the cool palette of blues, grays, and silver was my way to connect all of them and make them a part of one large project.

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The portability of the drawings meant that I could take the project away from the studio to see new things, and be inspired by my experiences keeping my work growing as I was away. I can find in these drawings the diaristic as I worked on them at Pine Lake sitting at a picnic table making checks, on the Veranda at Haslla in South Korea noticing the new tendrils of a plant, in my studio at the Hermitage Artist Retreat in Englewood, Florida watching the moon’s reflection in the water, while sitting in a church in Sienna looking at the mosaic floor, or in Lincoln Nebraska where the Indian dancer began her performance by making a devotional rice drawing on the floor.

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Finding connections between unrelated things, seeing patterns in the world, are some of the pleasures of these GAME BOARDS.


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A large installation of my drawings is featured in AN OPEN BOOK.  See the catalog online.

For details on the Kalamazoo show: see the RCVA website

For inquiries on the exhibition email anopenbooktour@gmail.com

See the wonderful Window on the Work produced by EFA’s Nick Mahmat, including an interview and an overview of encaustic.