Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Must-see exhibit of new Kara Walker works on display at Cleveland Museum of Art

If you're at all like me, you have a tendency to miss going to extended art exhibits that come to town because there's no sense of urgency. Three months is plenty of time to get there, I tell myself. But then work obligations, family responsibilities, or a baker's dozen of life's inconveniences intrude eat away our time and then the show is gone, never to be reassembled so close to home.

Works in process, 2016. 
Kara Walker (American, born 1969). 
Courtesy Kara Walker. Photo: Ari Marcopoulos

Fortunately, a visit from out-of town friends coincided with a D0 NOT MISS show, and their initiative resulted in five of us gathering at the Cleveland Museum of Art this past Saturday to see the remarkable Kara Walker exhibition now on display through December 31. 

The verdict was unanimous: go see it and don't wait!

I'm likely the most amateur artistically of our group from an experiential or temperamental standpoint, so what follows are my own views and not those of my savvier companions.

Kara Walker might be the most compelling contemporary artist in America today. She uses prodigious technical skills, a deeply informed and wide-ranging historical perspective, and a MacArthur-certified genius to present a unique and uncompromising vision that simultaneously inspires and challenges how you might see the world, the United States, Christianity, race, gender, and so much more. 

Walker typically works in silhouette, and her monochromatic style will deceive the hurried passerby into overlooking the acuteness of her artistry. So gripping is the emotional and intellectual power of her imagery that it is easy to overlook the technical skills that enable her to achieve so much in a two-dimensional black and white frame.

I don't remember when I first became aware of Walker's work. It was likely a couple of decades ago when some of her deceptively simple pieces began to appear on my horizons. I was drawn to her work because the artist's intelligence was so evident but unobtrusive. The work draws you in; the more you look, the more you see. That's one reason I plan to return several times before the show is over.
Monomentality, 2016.
Kara Walker (American, born 1969). Ink on paper; 90.8 x 120.7 cm.
© Kara Walker, courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York.

Walker is an African American woman whose body of work reflects a profound understanding of race, gender, identity, culture, and history. Her work can simultaneously attract and repel. It cannot be ignored.

This stimulating exhibit is a precious gift for our community in this political season. It sheds much necessary light on the zany and frightening nonsense into a proper context. 

A 2007 article, The Overwhelming Whiteness of Black Art, uses an earlier Walker exhibit to riff on the museum attendance habits of blacks and whites. It would be a shame if people of any race stay away from this important and exciting exhibition.

Hey! Admission is free. You will be poorer if you don't go.
• • •

Exhibition Notes:
The Ecstasy of St. Kara is accompanied by a catalogue produced by the Cleveland Museum of Art. The publication features intimate photographs of Walker at work taken by acclaimed artist and filmmaker Ari Marcopoulos as well as a text by Walker in which she bridges her new drawings with current events and explains the influence of the residency in Rome on her new work. The contents also include a Walker essay situating this body of work within today’s political climate.

“With her new series of large-scale drawings, Kara Walker continues to challenge us to look closely at the blind spots in history and our current society.” — Reto Thüring, curator of contemporary art and co-curator of the exhibition.

“Walker has long been one of the most innovative voices in contemporary art. Her work remains vital for its ability to speak to current-day politics surrounding racial injustice by questioning historical fact and fiction.” — Beau Rutland, associate curator of contemporary art, and co-curator of the exhibition.

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