30 Americans Exhibit Closes

On Saturday, September 7, I spent several hours on what would be my last visit to the 30 Americans exhibit on display at the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM). While I do not have official numbers of visitors that day, it was wall-to-wall. I personally knew several people who were going this weekend to see it just one last time—the exhibit closed today, September 8. As one of the Wisconsin 30, I have gone often to participate in the related events, listen to speakers, et cetera—but it’s been so much more than this privilege afforded me. Like many others I was drawn back to it over and over again—each time attempting to absorb the magnitude and wealth of knowledge and information it had to offer. It’s hard to believe that it is over.

Even before the thought of the exhibition’s last showing loomed into view I was aware of what would soon take place. The reality slap came when I received the email from MAM staff giving instructions for the retrieval of my artwork. Many emotions have begun to manifest and I find myself asking, “Is this exhibit the beginning of many things to come (meaning, will similar provocative work find its way to MAM’s doors)? “Was this just another ‘one-of-a-kind’ event that comes once in your lifetime similar to Halley’s Comet?” “Will the timeless historical, cultural, societal, and political relevancy of this exhibit continue to reverberate throughout the hearts, minds, and souls of those who experienced it first-hand?” “Will it just remain ‘colorful eye candy’ to the shallow and simple-minded who wonder how did they (a particular ’30 American’ artist they admired) make it (the piece they were particularly drawn to)? “Is the significance and timing of 30 Americans coming to Milwaukee meant to be esoteric?” “What effect will it have on me and my work?” “What will the youth that visited the exhibit learn from it?”

As I ponder possible answers to these questions my belief that whether you have taken a panoramic or microscopic view of 30 Americans you will admit you are not the same you were before attending. Will you allow that changed person to move you to do something more—to be something more?

Most artists attempt to communicate to the viewer in their work—that’s what we do. It might sound crude, but whether you get it doesn’t really matter—we still has to get it out. The 30 Americans artists were not just speaking loudly—they were shouting!! Did you get it?

Nina Chanel Abney Lecture at MAM

On Thursday, August 1, Nina Chanel Abney, one of the 30 Americans artists’ gave a lecture at the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM). Abney, originally from Harvey, a Chicago suburb, currently lives and works in New York. Although she is known as the “youngest artist of the 30 Americans;” the evolutions of her works over the past few years have undeniably “experienced” her. Below is one of her pieces currently on display at the MAM:

Khaaliqua and Jeff

Khaaliqua and Jeff

The rubber gloves are used in her work to signify those who may be involved in some type of dirty work they don’t want to be made liable for or, for those who are trying to protect themselves from something harmful.  Nina’s boldly colorful acrylic paintings began to grow in size at the encouragement of a college professor who suggested that she work large-scale.  A picture of her studio showed the walls covered with enormous canvasses of works in progress.  She also creates smaller watercolors as a relief from her primary work.

Nina’s work brings together influences from political, social, and cultural issues while purposely distorting their original focus or meaning.  At times Nina forces us to face typical societal  stereotypes, offering a playful view that though surreal is painfully all too real.  I adore her senior class thesis painting “Class of 2007” in which she painted her classmates black while she, the only African-American in her class is displayed as white.

Class of 2007

Class of 2007

I do identify as I recall my college days of often being the only “one.”  When creating, she has a definite path of where the painting is going—yet there is no point of assuming you have a handle.  According to Nina the work flows better when she creates intuitively at the canvas never really planning ahead what she is going to do.  However, once she gets started she does gather information from research, newspapers, the Internet, etc., for reference.  It seems Nina may continue to work in a state of flux to keep the viewer ever wondering.  I dig that about her!