AMAM Exhibt: Worldly, Eclectic, Contemporary
by Scott Weaver

The Ellen Johnson Gallery opened Sept. 25 with an eclectic exhibition of works by contemporary artists from around the world aquired by the Allen Memorial Art Museum over the past four and a half years. Curated by John G. W. Cowles Director Sharon F. Patton, the exhibit will be on display only through the end of the semester, a relatively short time for an exhibit of this size. Patton sees this exhibit as a chance to inform audiences of the type of contemporary works added to the collection as it may be years before they appear on display again. This exhibition marks the first time many of the works have been on display to the general public. In 1997, the Allen received a series of generous gifts from Cristina Delgado and Stephen F. Olsen, five of which are now for the first time being included in a major exhibition at the Allen.
The show includes a number of unique works from a variety of different artists working in a wide range of mediums. The artists themselves range from well-established artists, like Chuck Close, Jim Dine, Gene Davis, Claes Oldenburg and Romare Bearden to mid-career artists such as Rimer Cardillo and even to emerging artists like Rashid Johnson and Robert Melee. As the media range from paint on canvas to found-object sculpture, the visitor is presented with a broad view of contemporary art.
Over the past few years, it has been one of the Allen’s important goals to broaden the accepted definition of contemporary art by increasing the representation of artists of different cultures and ethnicities. Indeed, this exhibit represents what one could see as a number of different trends in the art world. Works such as those from Jan Schoonhoven, whose works focus on the form of paper and meticulous organization lines, find expression in a distinct minimalist aesthetic.
A number of works contain narratives, both personal and political. Cardillo’s “Untitled” (1996), from the Vanishing Tapestries series, is a series of silk-screened images of extinct species on canvas. The piece comments the destruction of Uruguayan life and culture. Similarly, works such as Rashid Johnson’s photographs “Jonathan” and “Jonathan with Hands” (1998-99) explore the human condition in an urban environment. Also, in an effort to dispel the notion that the epoch of Asian art ended in the 19th century, the exhibit includes three works from contemporary artists of China and Japan.

What’s interesting and surprising about this show is the apparent lack of continuity among the works. While Patton wasn’t trying to create a show with a theme, an exhibition of recent acquisitions presents a number of curatorial difficulties. Patton recognizes that it can be frustrating for the viewer because it is hard to classify contemporary art. The variety of works in the exhibition, dating between 1964 and 2000, make it clear that many of these artists were working from very different contexts. This unstructured setting can make the individual works of art rather unapproachable, but Patton contends that she made a conscious decision to pull back the authoritative tone of the show. She believes that the threads of continuity in this exhibition exist in the associations the viewer already has with contemporary art.

Recent Acquisitions in Contemporary Art will be on display until January 13, 2002.

October 5
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