From the Director - Fall 2016

With his seminal 1992-93 Mining the Museum project at the Maryland Historical Society, the artist Fred Wilson launched what became known as his “interventions” in museum collections:  he manipulates, combines, and contrasts works, creating new contexts for – and thus new interpretations of – them, leading visitors to more nuanced understandings of their meanings. This academic year, the AMAM is honored to partner with Wilson on not one but two exhibitions; one, Wildfire Test Pit, follows this premise. Using works from the AMAM collection – including plaster casts that date to the museum’s opening in 1917 – and loans from neighboring partners, Wilson engages visitors with art that poses questions about time, memory, exclusion, and redemption in a setting both interactive and inviting of contemplation. This project has been several years in the making; in 2008, Wilson’s work was first exhibited at the AMAM, and since a visit by the artist to the museum in early 2013 we discussed the possibility of collaborating more closely. Continuing a tradition of presenting new work by contemporary artists, it is thus all the more exciting that the AMAM is also exhibiting a selection of Wilson’s works from 2003 to 2014 that similarly deal with issues of race and remembrance – as well as display practices – in Fred Wilson:  Black to the Powers of Ten.

As with all AMAM exhibitions, both will be integrated into college classes and tours, where we expect their themes to resonate strongly with students, faculty, and our broader public. And as the AMAM’s exhibitions this year are linked by the theme of “Time” it is especially fitting that Wilson’s exhibitions not only deal with issues of contemporary importance, but also integrate works from the museum’s earliest days while unflinchingly engaging with issues of race and discrimination that are fundamental aspects of Oberlin College’s own history. I am deeply grateful to the many donors who have contributed funds towards these exhibitions, including significant support from Agnes Gund.

Time’s inexorable movement has been much on my mind as the staff and I prepare for the AMAM’s centennial, which will be celebrated during 2017-18. We’ve had the chance this year to help a sister institution, the Cleveland Museum of Art, founded in 1916, mark its own such milestone, through the loan from May through July of the AMAM’s important Barnett Newman painting Onement IV as part of the CMA’s Centennial Loans program. One of the joys of museum work is the chance to loan to other institutions, where works can be appreciated by different eyes in new contexts.

Another joy, of course, is to receive. This semester the AMAM has the happy opportunity of exhibiting Mondrian’s Abstraction (1939-42), generously loaned by the Kimbell Art Museum. While the AMAM, whose collection is known for works created by artists early in their careers, has the artist’s 1904 Brabant Farmyard, it does not have a work in the style for which Mondrian is best known. Displaying these works side by side gives us an exciting educational opportunity to contrast these two aspects of his practice.

None of the programs and accomplishments detailed in this newsletter would be possible without the AMAM’s stellar staff. After five years in which she has made innovative and significant contributions to our exhibitions and outreach, Denise Birkhofer, Ellen Johnson ’33 Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, leaves us in September for the Ryerson Image Centre in Toronto; we will miss her and wish her very well. Other staff changes include Kevin Greenwood’s promotion to Joan L. Danforth Curator of Asian Art, and the addition of Mir Finkelman (OC ’16) to our Office of Academic Programs. I’m enormously grateful to our team – and to you, our visitors – for making possible our wide range of projects and programs. Thank you for your support.

Andria Derstine
John G.W. Cowles Director

Read previous Director's Letters here.