June 6-September 12, 2010
Works by artists Fred Wilson, Odili Donald Odita, Jeff Donaldson, Carrie Mae Weems, and others reveal how African-American artists incorporate design and decoration into their work for a variety of reasons. The exhibition includes photographs, works on paper, sculpture, and quilts from the Museum’s permanent collection.
Among the works on view will be a Nick Cave Sound Suit, a beaded and sequined Haitian flag, AFRICOBRA founder Jeff Donaldson’s family portrait (a recent addition to the Museum’s collection acquired with Sankofa Society funds), Odili Donald Odita’s abstract canvas Gravity’s Rainbow, Fred Wilson’s photographs of antique dolls from his series, Old Salem: A Family of Strangers, and a Gee’s Bend quilt. Several of these works are making their Museum debut in this exhibition.
January 13 - May 10, 2009
The human body has been an important subject for artistic expression since prehistoric times. Indeed, the most fundamental training for any artist long consisted of the study of anatomy and life drawing. While some artists depict the human form to hone their technical skills, others use the body to convey emotions and actions that underscore our common humanity. Comprising male and female nudes from the late 19th through mid-20th centuries, Body Image explores the ways American artists have represented the human form in prints, drawings, photographs, and sculpture.
Birmingham artist Amy Pleasant is creating a site-specific drawing installation that wraps the four walls of the Museum’s Lower Sculpture Garden. This will be the artist’s first wall drawing created without her signature figurative imagery. The work will be a “cloudscape” executed in black exterior paint directly on the walls of this “outdoor gallery.” Suspended evolved from a series of drawings the artist made while viewing the clouds from a plane window.
Upon entering the space, viewers insert themselves into the cloud imagery and interact with it as an actor does on stage amidst a set. In keeping with the idea of the theater, Pleasant is creating several sculptural works that will extend the “cloudscape” into three dimensions. While Pleasant’s project draws upon her interest in formal issues like line and perspective, her cloudscape can also be interpreted metaphorically as a spiritual passage into higher consciousness.
January 24 - May 23, 2010
This second installation in our African-American art gallery explores various aspects of Prentice Herman (P.H.) Polk's work. Polk (1898-1984), a Bessemer native, became one of the most important photographers of the 20th century through his role as the official photographer of the Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) from 1939-1984. Polk became the leading chronicler of campus life, capturing scenes of social, historical, and artistic signifcance and recording for posterity images of George Washington Carver, the Tuskegee Airmen, Eleanor Roosevelt, Joe Louis, Paul Robeson, and many other prominent individuals.
Amalia K. Amaki, PhD, Professor of Art History, University of Alabama, and Curator of the Paul R. Jones Collection, serves as the guest curator for this exhibition.
March 25 - July 15, 2009
Mary Lucier is considered one of the pioneers of video as an art form. The artist’s 18-minute, five-channel video installation employs four video projections, two plasma screens, surround sound, and various rescued objects and artifacts to tell the story of the seismic changes sweeping the American Great Plains. Agri-business is supplanting family farms and changing small town life as we know it. The Plains of Sweet Regret is a lyrical ode to this region as it moves toward an uncertain future.
Lucier's The Plains of Sweet Regret addresses a dying way of life on the Great Plains, with its lone ranchers, cowboys, farm hands, and migrant workers forming small towns across the prairies and plains. Now replaced by large agri-business, the rural towns with their family farms are becoming a thing of the past.
The shift from rodeo man to desolate land is set to the music of George Strait's country song "I Can Still Make Cheyenne."
Lucier is considered a pioneer of video installation as art, concentrating on the medium since 1973. She has since created more than 50 major pieces, has shown internationally, and is represented in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. This is her second installation capturing loss in the Northern Plains. Her first, Floodsongs, was named Best Video Exhibition in 1998-9 by the International Art Critics Association.
Mary Lucier: The Plains of Sweet Regret has been made possible the City of Birmingham and Donald and Doris Fisher. General exhibition support is provided by the Alabama State Council on the Arts, with assistance from the National Endowment for the Arts.
The Museum has devoted its Arrington gallery to the exhibition of folk art. Objects on display are from the Museum’s permanent collection, augmented by an occasional private collection loan. The term "folk art" is used broadly to encompass work that has been variously labeled as outsider, naïve, primitive, visionary and self-taught. All of the artists represented are American – many African-American – and most are from the Southeast.
These artists have various motivations and inspirations, including religious beliefs, the desire to chronicle family history or daily observations, or the impulse to bring forth imagery suggested to them in natural forms or objects. Sometimes they feel compelled to visually describe an unusual personal vision or narrative. All of these objects demonstrate how creativity and artistic talent has no set path and knows no bounds.
Objects in this gallery will rotate throughout the year. Please visit often to see the changes in this gallery.
Through March 8, 2009
Fabric of Life compares the cultural roles of African textiles and southern quilts, studies what is known about the artists who made them, and celebrates visual affinities and traces of influence from across the Atlantic.
Through March 1, 2009
Kente in the Community features treasured objects borrowed from the Birmingham community made of Kente cloth or bearing the Kente design. Kente cloth symbolizes achievement, pride, and excellence for many African descendents throughout the world.
Fabric of Life and Kente in the Community and associated programs are generously supported by the Wachovia Foundation. Fabric of Life is also supported by The Birmingham News. General exhibition support is provided by the City of Birmingham and the Alabama State Council on the Arts, with assistance from the National Endowment for the Arts.
September 21 - December 31, 2008
As a female photographer in the 1930s, Marion Post Wolcott was required to cover fashion stories and events for the ladies’ pages. Frustrated, she sought and landed a job with the Farm Security Administration in 1938. Following the path of earlier FSA photographers Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, and Arthur Rothstein, Wolcott traveled the South to capture images of rural America and demonstrate the effectiveness of the New Deal Administration’s programs in improving quality of life. Through this enduring public art project, Wolcott shaped our historical understanding of life during the Depression by documenting social concerns such as race and poverty, while evoking empathy for the subjects she encountered.
Wolcott was no stranger to involvement in social issues. Her mother was a women’s health activist and was a contemporary of early family planning advocate Margaret Sanger, and Wolcott’s initial career path was in early childhood education. While studying at the University of Vienna, Wolcott witnessed the rise of Hitler before returning to the U.S. for her own safety. Back in New York, she became active in the League Against War and Fascism and helped Jews, including her former photography instructor, immigrate to the U.S.
Marion Post Wolcott has been supported in part by the Wachovia Foundation.
This exhibition brings together twelve of Charlie Lucas’s (Pink Lily, AL) large-scale sculptures in the Museum’s outdoor Sculpture Pit. Assembled from machine parts and other cast off materials, Lucas’s sculptures are remarkable for how ingeniously he fits an assortment of unwieldy parts into a cohesive whole. Each of Lucas’s works, whether taking animal, human or even alien form, comprises a series of symbolic or literal references to his own family history or to more universal social conditions. The works in the sculpture pit are both free standing and wall bound sculptures.
March 30 - July 27, 2008
For thousands of years, the indigenous people of the Amazon Basin of South America have depended on the vast rainforests surrounding them. Today, some 300 tribes continue to rely on the land’s natural resources for their survival, and to maintain age-old ceremonial and ritual traditions central to their cultures.
From March 30 to July 27, The Birmingham Museum of Art presents Vanishing Worlds: Art and Ritual in Amazonia, an exhibition showcasing spectacular and rare works of Amazonian material culture, including full body costumes, masks, feather headdresses, body ornaments, baskets, weapons, pottery, and textiles.
The carefully crafted and vibrantly colored objects were made for use in rituals and ceremonies central to the life of Amazonian peoples, and range in age from 30 to 100 years. Many were worn by shamans and other community members during rituals such as name-giving ceremonies for the young, initiation into adulthood, and rituals surrounding death and bereavement, harvest, and healing.
“The incredible art and material culture of the Amazon has not been widely shown or published - it is not well known. These masterful works are compelling not only for their brilliant forms, but for their profound significance within the culture,” says Emily Hanna, Curator of the Arts of Africa and the Americas at the Birmingham Museum of Art. “We are very pleased to be able to bring these works to Birmingham."
The objects in Vanishing Worlds exhibit exquisite artistry and, although they are utilitarian, are masterpieces of color and design. They are made from materials gathered from the forest, including wood and bark, beetle wings, grasses, shells, seeds, clay, and beeswax. Perhaps the most visually stunning objects are made with brilliantly colored feathers of some 40 species of birds, including parrots, macaws, and herons. These artworks give shape to belief, and embody tightly woven relationships between the human community and natural environment, and between the visible and invisible worlds.
The exhibition highlights eight tribal groups, including people of the Ka’apor, Karajá, Tapirapé, Ticuna, Shipibo-Conibo, Shuar, Kayapó, and Xingu River regions. These groups inhabit a vast area that ranges from the Atlantic coast of Brazil to the foothills of the Andes in Peru and Ecuador. Prior to European exploration in 1500, some three to five million people lived in the Amazon River basin. Today fewer than 100,000 Amazonian tribal people survive in an area that covers 2.5 million square miles. While most of the cultures represented by artifacts in this exhibition are still in existence, the vast majority of the tribes of the Amazon have disappeared. The unique and fragile works in Vanishing Worlds reflect the threatened existence of their creators, as well as the crisis of the rainforest environment in which they were made.
This exhibition was organized by the Houston Museum of Natural Science, and has been shown at the Cantor Art Center of Stanford University, the Mayborn Museum at Baylor University, and the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Art and Archaeology. The Birmingham Museum of Art is the final venue for the exhibition.
Vanishing Worlds has been made possible by the Vulcan Materials Foundation and the Corporate Partners of the Birmingham Museum of Art.
Children, Let's Protect Our Forests
A companion exhibition never before shown outside of Peru, Children, Let’s Protect Our Forests, features paintings by Peruvian children of the Amazon. The art project was organized by the Federation of Indigenous Organizations of the Peruvian Amazon and supported by the Swiss aid organization Nouvelle Planète. The children produced hundreds of paintings about changes and damage to the ecology of the Amazon that were exhibited in Iquitos, Peru. The exhibition helped raise Peruvian consciousness about the importance of protecting the environment.
June 8–September 7, 2008
During the immediate post-war period, the German ceramics industry experienced an explosion of form, decoration, and color on a scale unlike anything else in the 20th century. While classic forms were decorated with bold new glaze combinations, new and exaggerated forms appeared in solid colors or gentle earthtones. Post-war German potters and ceramics manufacturers absorbed it all, giving traditional products a new look. A New Twist: German Ceramics from the 1950s brings together more than 29 pieces of German ceramics drawn from a private Birmingham collection. The exhibition will address issues of form, color, and decoration used in the German ceramics industry after World War II, the technical processes that were employed, and the rediscovery and use of older techniques.