The exhibition explores the lines of inquiry inherent to collecting. This prominent collection features a diverse array of contemporary art that spans medium and nationalities. From the United Kingdom to South Africa, the United States to Argentina, the artists in this collection explore issues of identity and materiality. A common through line in this collection, the works and artists in this collection asks viewers to relate how the materials used in an art object not only to the image presented but to its meaning.
One of the highlights is Untitled, a large metal work by Greek artist Jannis Kounellis. Kounellis was a key figure in the Italian art movement called Arte Povera that incorporated unconventional but everyday objects to disrupt the commercialization of art. In this monumental work, the incorporation of iron is both a nod to an everyday material used in ways seen and unseen but there is a subtle hint of the human hand at work. This is not raw ore but shaped and usable iron. Kounellis always thought of himself as a painter despite the use of unusual materials. In this work the placement of the iron bars suggests planes of color that a more traditional painter would apply to the canvas. Although devoid of figures and recognizable media in paintings, this work centers itself around humankind in its material and form.
Another highlight is Theaster Gates’s Convex Concave. Convex Concave takes custom-made bricks that Gates had previously used for Black Vessel for a Saint at the Walker Art Center and repurposes it into a painting-like sculpture that references both minimalist artist like Sol LeWitt, the labor of making bricks, and the original context of the bricks for the installation at the Walker.
William Kentridge also deals with issues of labor by way of his exploration of time via performance, the history of colonialism, and political revolutions. As viewers approach and walk around World on Its Hind Legs, what appears to be an explosion of steel and CorTen coalesces into a globe before dissolving back into chaos. The meeting point of material, perception, and participation underlines the fragility of global unity. Phenakistoscope is in a state of potential energy, waiting to be activated. Moving, it is an animation of a man passing his burden to others; static, it is a procession of laborers. The sculpture brings together time and performance to explore issues of perception and labor.
This same play of perception is alive, metaphorically and seemingly literally, in the sculpture of Evan Penny. The sculpture’s realism suggests a portrait but the title No One In Particular (Old) hints that this is an imaginary person. Playing with scale and photorealism, Penny brings up questions of identity and portraiture and demands deeper contemplation on viewer on what it means to be human and an individual.
Turning to painting, the works by Ashley Bickerton, Gary Hume, and Guillermo Kuitca, use the materiality of the paint to explore identity. From Bickerton’s investigation of the Caribbean identity in the imagination and nationality to Hume’s use of household, glossy paint, these painters push the medium to new heights by finding the intersection of material and selfhood.
The stunning works from this prominent Midwest collection reveals the way we follow threads of curiosity and in grouping the works together, themes emerge, in this case studies of materiality and identity. The artists in this exhibition push the boundaries of the materials to delve into deep questions of what is the value of our labor, where do we come from, where are we going, and what does it mean to be human.