By Joanna Wilson, BMA/UAB Curatorial Fellow
This January marked the opening of University of Alabama at Birmingham’s long anticipated Abroms-Engel Institute for Visual Arts. With its striking architecture, state of-the-art lecture and studio spaces, and three beautiful galleries, this building signals the University’s deep commitment to supporting and fostering a vibrant art community in Birmingham. The AEIVA’s communal mission was highlighted by the organization of its inaugural exhibition, Material Evidence: Art in Search of Identity and Representation, which was the fruitful result of several collaborations. The BMA happily accepted UAB’s invitation to curate a contemporary show for the AEIVA with works drawn from Birmingham private collections; with more support from discerning collectors than we had space to include, Material Evidence was truly a community effort.
My involvement in the planning and execution of Material Evidence is the result of yet another successful collaboration. For the past four years the BMA has offered a competitive twelve-month curatorial fellowship that provides valuable, in-depth career training and experience to one UAB Art History graduate student each year. As the current UAB/BMA Curatorial Fellow, I was keen to contribute to this new joint endeavor. By offering me the opportunity to tackle as much curatorial responsibility for AEIVA’s collaborative inaugural exhibit as I was prepared to take on, the BMA was stating their faith in an existing partnership with UAB, as well as their commitment to expanding that partnership. I would never have been selected or prepared for BMA’s curatorial fellowship if not for the UAB Art History faculty and staff’s excellent instruction and commitment to my success. Similarly, I could never have met the challenges associated with a show like Material Evidence if not for the Museum providing me with an immersive learning environment where Museum-wide support and guidance supplied me with the tools necessary for this highly demanding and equally rewarding curatorial experience.
There were only a few months between the conception of what was an untitled project for UAB and the opening of Material Evidence. In those months I had the incredible opportunity to visit art collections all over the city, gaining inspiration from the wealth of great work I encountered, as well from the insights of each collector. One of the most challenging aspects of this project was taking the very long list of potential works available for the show and editing it to a checklist of forty cohesive pieces. There is an incredibly diverse array of contemporary art in Birmingham, and deciding how to convey some of that variety and range, while still communicating something meaningful and coherent, was an exercise in creative determination. In the end, the theme we chose to unite the exhibit was inspired by the very diversity that initially made the decision difficult. What better theme than the complex shades and variations of “Identity” to understand the diverse works coming from 33 artists, 14 countries, and 17 collections?
To see another collaboration between BMA and UAB, be sure to visit the upcoming exhibition at AEIVA, After “Sosaku Hanga”: Creativity and Modernity in Japanese Prints of the 1960s and 1970s (June 5–July 17, 2014), in conjunction with BMA’s Shin Hanga: Japanese Prints from the Early Twentieth Century, which will be on view outside of our Asian galleries.