The Union for Contemporary Art
January 14–March 25, 2017
Alexandria Smith explores the transformative girlhood experiences that shape the women we become as she illuminates the complexities of Black identity. Try a Little Tenderness presents Smith’s paintings and collages in which she obsessively deconstructs images of the female body. Legs, hands, and pigtails, for instance, become characters and landscapes—a topography of the artist’s psyche. Although her abstract tableaux have been interpreted as performances or aftermaths of violence, they actually represent bodies in flux: not-quite-adolescent girls beginning to develop senses of themselves as independent from the environments they inhabit. Collectively, they tell a mythical coming-of-age story that centers on the mental and emotional processes of self-discovery.
With the title of this exhibition, Smith refers to Otis Redding’s best-selling track that implores men to show caring toward women. Many have found deeper meaning in Redding’s lyrics, believing that he was also singing about women’s class struggles and heteronormative values that equate womanhood to ideals of beauty and male companionship. Smith’s art conjures up these different interpretations while tethering Redding’s song to the present: the phrase “try a little tenderness” is Smith’s call for greater human compassion in response to violent acts on Black bodies. Her exhibition creates a space for remembering, in her words, “the humanity of Black women and girls” and “every woman’s capacity to give and receive intimacy."
Smith is recipient of the first annual Wanda D. Ewing Commission, which supports the production and presentation of new work by a woman artist of the African diaspora.* Wanda Denise Ewing (1970–2013), the Omahan artist for whom The Union's gallery is named, was influenced by folk-art aesthetics, craft traditions, and the limited depictions of Black women in Western art history and popular culture. Through her art, she celebrated Black bodies and explored the complex interplay of race, gender, and sexuality. The commission was established to carry forth Ewing’s legacy and to create a vital cultural opportunity for Greater Omaha, where narratives of Black female experience are too often absent from the arts discourse. —Nicole J. Caruth
*The Wanda D. Ewing commission was established by Caruth during her tenure at The Union for Contemporary Art, where she was Director of Pedagogy + Public Practice.
Top: Alexandria Smith. Something in the way of things, 2016. Oil on panel; 30 x 30 x 2 inches. Bottom: Alexandria Smith. Procession to the Rooting Place, 2013. Acrylic and glitter on panel; 48 x 48 inches. Courtesy the artist.
McColl Center for Art + Innovation
January 27–March 25, 2017
The World is a Mirror of My Freedom was organized in response to the increasingly visible, lawful violence against Black bodies in the United States. Since 2012, people across the country have protested the killings of Black boys and men—often at the hands of police—and the systems that uphold violence and oppression. The stories of the recently deceased (including Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and Keith Lamont Scott, to name only a few) have become synonymous with a social movement and the era. Bringing together works from five of McColl Center’s current and alumni artists-in-residence (AIR), this exhibition offers some answers to these questions: How are artists aesthetically addressing these recurring tragedies and the traumatic spectacle of lifeless Black bodies? How are the public outcries for justice and change mirrored in art, now?
This exhibition takes as its starting point Intergalactic Soul, a multimedia project by the Charlottean artist duo Marcus Kiser and Jason Woodberry (2016–17 AIR). Begun in response to the 2014 police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Intergalactic Soul combines the artists’ mutual love of comic books, science fiction, and hip-hop music with their perspectives on the plight of Black American men. Works by the artists Shaun Leonardo (2010 AIR), Dread Scott (2013 AIR), and Charles E. Williams (2015 AIR) further examine race and power, linking contemporary media and movements to histories of tyranny and resistance.
Artists have long addressed racial injustice, articulating their struggles and hopes as they hold up a mirror to society. “An artist's duty is to reflect the times,” said the singer and civil-rights activist Nina Simone, some fifty years ago. Simone’s words remain relevant, resonating with this exhibition and the political climate: “At this crucial time in our lives, when everything is so desperate, when every day is a matter of survival, I don’t think you can help but be involved . . . We will shape and mold this country, or it will not be molded and shaped at all.” As we cross the threshold into a new presidency, let us remember what artists and art can do when our lives feel endangered or devalued: bear witness to human experience and reassert our full humanity.
Top: Dread Scott. Let 100 Flowers Bloom, Let 100 Schools of Thought Contend, 2007. Inkjet prints, wood, flowers; 8 x 19 x 1 feet. Courtesy the artist. Bottom: Charles E. Williams. Confrontation III, July 17, 2014, 2016. Oil on panel; 48 x 48 inches. Cover: Dread Scott. On the Impossibility of Freedom in a Country Founded on Slavery and Genocide (performance still), 2014. Pigment print; 22 x 30 inches. Project produced by More Art and photographed by Mark Von Holden. Collection of the artist, Brooklyn.
Museum of the African Diaspora, San Francisco, CA
April 27–September 18, 2016
The Grace Jones Project explores the influence of model, actress, and singer Grace Jones. The exhibition brings together more than twenty works by an intergenerational group of artists working primarily in photography, video, and performance. Some artists pay direct tribute to Jones while others demonstrate a Jones-like sensibility in their engagement with the black body and queer identity.
Central to the exhibition are vintage album covers and performance videos that highlight the music and stage personae that made Jones a cultural icon, and one of the most important performers to emerge in the late twentieth century. Featuring works from Rashayla Marie Brown, Gerard Gaskin, Heather Hart, Lyle Ashton Harris, Simone Leigh, Wangechi Mutu, Narcissister, Harold Offeh, Jacolby Satterwhite, Xaviera Simmons, Cauleen Smith, and Mickalene Thomas.
Artwork: Harold Offeh, Arabesque, Covers: Arabesque, After Grace Jones, 1978 (video still), 2008-2009; Gerard Gaskin, Gisele, Latex Ball, Manhattan, NY, 2008. Archival inkjet print, 16 x 20 inches; Rashayla Marie Brown, The Island Pose, 2013. From the Black Betty series. Photo on masonite, 24 x 36 inches. All images courtesy of the artists.
Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts
February 4–May 14, 2016
Multidisciplinary artist Derrick Adams presents the third iteration of his ongoing radio station project. At the Bemis Center, the radio station is attached to a life-size, interactive game board. Comparable to musical chairs, the game calls for visitors to move across the board to the beat of the music, which includes selections from jazz, blues, rock, classical, R&B, rap, and pop. When the music stops, the deejay/game host poses questions about historical facts gathered from library books as well as from residents of Omaha. Using the space of the exhibition, Adams aims to temporarily dissolve cultural boundaries of knowledge that may separate one person from another. Visit the project Tumblr: www.crossroadradio.tumblr.com.
Images courtesy the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, Omaha, NE. Photographer: Colin Conces
Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts
February 4–May 14, 2016
In September 2012, the American filmmaker and writer Benjamin Tiven visited the video archives of the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) in Nairobi. KBC was the national television network from 1964 until 1989. Its collected video and film materials are historic but are not cataloged according to any official mandate for accuracy or completeness, and the collection is not open to the public. Much of its holdings are deteriorating or are in outmoded media formats that require equipment the station no longer has. Over the years, various governmental agencies have permanently withdrawn selections of footage to satisfy ulterior agendas. Despite the technical lapses and omissions, KBC’s archive represents an original effort by a state to fashion its image and to legitimate its power through control of visual mass media. Everyday Static Transmissions featured the film that emerged from Tiven’s visit, A Third Version of the Imaginary, and a suite of related photographs.
Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, 2015
In their ongoing series of projects that use fruit as a material to investigate culture and explore social engagement, Los Angeles–based art collaborative Fallen Fruit (David Burns and Austin Young) created a discursive exhibition about the history of Omaha. The artists took the apple as their focus, probing its rich symbolism and regional provenance, dating back to the Oregon Trail.
During a research trip to Omaha in April of 2015, Fallen Fruit began to mine the Great Plains Black History Museum collection that was being temporarily stored at the Bemis Center. “As we opened boxes, some of them molded from years of dampness, the objects began to construct a complex picture about the things we leave behind,” said Fallen Fruit. “In time, the objects that once held meaning to us are rediscovered by others, telling them intimate stories about people and place.”
Continuing their research, Fallen Fruit visited the Joslyn Museum, El Museo Latino, the Phillip Schrager Collection of Contemporary Art, and Omaha Public Library. The artists gathered an eclectic mix of borrowed books, letters, tchotchkes, domestic objects, and works of art — including pieces from Bemis Center’s collection of artworks by past artists-in-residence — and assembled them against the backdrop of their signature fruit-themed wallpaper.
Images courtesy the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, Omaha, NE. Photographer: Colin Conces. Video by Clark Creative.
Fallen Fruit is an art collaboration originally conceived in 2004 by David Burns, Matias Viegener, and Austin Young. Since 2013, Burns and Young have continued the collaboration. Urban Fruit Trails was organized in conjunction with the exhibition Fallen Fruit: Power of People, Power of Place.
Urban Fruit Trails invites the public to explore urban space through a network of apple trees that form a series of walking trails. Planted along sidewalks and interstitial urban spaces, the pathway of the apple trees aims to connect Omaha neighborhoods from north to south. Bilingual signage (Spanish and English) placed at each tree reads: “These fruit trees belong to the public. They are for everyone, including you. Please take care of the fruit trees. When the fruit is ripe, taste it and share it with others. This apple tree is ripe in September/October.”
Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, 724 S. 12th Street, 68102
Gene Leahy Mall, corner of 13th & Farnam, 68102
Joslyn Art Museum, 2200 Dodge St., 68102
Liberty School, 2021 St Marys Ave, 68102
Siena/Francis House, 1702 Nicholas St, 68102
North Star Foundation, 4242 N 49th Ave, 68104
Carver Bank, 2416 Lake Street, 68111
Long School Neighborhood Association, 2123 N. 27th Street, 68111
Malcolm X Foundation, 3448 Evans St, 68111
Neighborhood Action and Facts Community Garden, 25th & Manderson Street, 68111
South Omaha YMCA/Intercultural Senior Center, 3010 R St., 68107
Gifford Park, 3416 Cass Street, 68131
Urban Fruit Trails Omaha was organized in collaboration with Diana Failla, CEO at the Urban Bird & Nature Alliance; Teal Gardner, Kent Bellows Mentoring Program Community Coordinator at Joslyn Art Museum; and Brent Lubbert, co-founder of Big Muddy Urban Farm. Ten of the twenty-four trees were planted by teens in the Kent Bellows Mentoring Program, under the guidance of Gardner as well as Kyle Johnson, Joslyn Museum Landscape Maintenance Technician.
The project was funded by generous grants from Lincoln Financial Foundation and ReTree Nebraska.
Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, 2015
The 2010 British Petroleum (BP) Deepwater Horizon oil spill is considered the largest environmental disaster in United States history to date. Three months after the explosion and sinking of the oil rig, which claimed the lives of eleven workers, the well was capped, but by then some 206 million gallons of oil had leaked into the Gulf of Mexico, creating a 124-mile wide “kill zone” that eradicated countless marine animals. It is estimated that half the oil spilled remains in the Gulf, which is an important fish and shellfish source for millions of people in North America as well as in Europe.
Artist, biologist, and environmental activist Brandon Ballengée responds to the aftermath of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the global crisis occurring in the world’s fisheries with Collapse—an installation of 26,162 preserved specimens, representing 370 species of fish and other aquatic organisms. Gallon-size jars are carefully arranged between sheets of glass in a seemingly precarious seven-foot pyramid suggesting the fragile interrelationships among Gulf species. From deep sea isopods to eyeless oil-stained shrimp with lesions, Ballengée’s collected specimens are reminiscent of silhouettes or apparitions. Empty jars represent species in decline or those already lost to extinction.
This exhibition was initiated by Amanda McDonald Crowley.
Images Courtesy the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, Omaha, NE. Photographer: Colin Conces
Brooklyn Museum, 2008–2009
Co-organized with Maura Reilly, Burning Down the House: Building a Feminist Art Collection was an exhibition of nearly fifty works from the Brooklyn Museum’s collection. Inspired by the feminist masterpiece The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago, this exhibition featured artists who have risen above the narrow roles imposed on women and whose work has challenged the status quo, particularly within the canons of art history. The exhibition title refers to the idea of the “master’s house” from two perspectives: the museum as the historical domain of male artists and professed masters of art history, and the house as the supposed proper province of women. Included in the installation were works by Nayland Blake, Kiki Smith, Tracey Emin, Tracey Moffatt, Miriam Schapiro, Lorna Simpson, Kara Walker, Carrie Mae Weems, and Hannah Wilke.
“Burning Down the House shares a lot of artists, ideas, and assumptions with Global Feminisms: New Directions in Feminist Art, one of the largest, most ambitious, and well-publicized exhibitions devoted to feminist art in 2007. But perhaps because expectations for the current exhibition were not so high, and the curators didn’t feel compelled to provide overarching definitions of feminist art, Burning Down the House is more rebellious and complicated.” —Kimberly Lamm, Brooklyn Rail
Center for Book Arts, New York, 2011
Inspired by discussions and debates about food in contemporary culture, this exhibition brought together approximately forty works in which food is subject or medium, including limited-edition art books, lithographs, digital media, and performance.
Featured artists and collectives: Nava Atlas, Carissa Carman, Atom Cianfarani, Conflict Kitchen (Jon Rubin and Dawn Weleski, with Brett Yasko), The Counter Kitchen (Stefani Bardin and Brooke Singer), Critical Art Ensemble, Mindell Dubansky (with Miriam Schaer and Toby Dubansky), EIDIA (Paul Lamarre and Melissa P. Wolf), Joy Garnett, Marti Guixe, Heather Hart, Barbara Henry (with John DePol), Gretchen Hooker, Marisa Jahn (with Noa Treister), Susan Johanknecht, K Yoland, Robin Kahn, Isabelle Lumpkin, Emily Martin, Katharine Meynell, Scott McCarney, Aleksandra Mir, Elaine Tin Nyo, Hugh Pocock, Susan Roma, Leah Rosenberg, John Ross (with Sam Joffee), Mara Scrupe, Steve Shada, Maya Suess, Tattfoo Tan, Robert The, and Rirkrit Tiravanija.
The exhibition catalogue/cookbook is available via Oak Knoll.
With Food in Mind develops art-based approaches to food education and food injustice, with a focus on childhood obesity and nutrition disparities in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.
Lower East Side Print Shop, 2013
Everything Is Not All There Is featured recent prints and drawings by Lower East Side Printshop residents Shanti Grumbine, Naomi Reis, and Julian Wellisz.
"Digital technologies have made it easier to share and receive information, yet our constant circulating of data can obscure messages as easily as we deliver them. Artists have and continue to probe this daily deluge of stuff to reveal more about contemporary communication and experiences than might be discerned through any one interface. The artists in the exhibition collectively explore newspapers, blogs, software, and structural designs. They trace flows of data, unveil unseen narratives, decode systems, and sift cultural memes. Their works speak to the vitality of analog and print alongside newer modes of communication."
Harvestworks Digital Media Art Center, 2008
This three-night video art festival featured works by nearly thirty artists, including Julia Brown, Nanna Debois Buhl, Brendan Fernandes, Stephanie Hough, Amy Lynn Kazymerchyk, Jefferson Pinder, Shelley Silver, Federico Solmi, Donna Szoke, and Traci Talasco.
Veejay/Performance Artist: Danielle Abrams
Why Do You Like Video Art?, 2008
Where’s the Party At?, 2006
Nanna Debois Buhl
Postcards- Tivoli, 2006
White Noise, 2008
Buried Treasure, 2004
The Evil Empire, 2007-8
Amy Lynn Kazymerchyk
What don’t you understand about “I’m leaving… again” ?, 2005
Men and Women, 2008
Performance Artist: Coral Short
Why Do You Like Video Art?, 2008
Get the Bones from 88 Jones: Because She Also Eats Meat, 2008
Hole in the Floor, 2008
Mai Yamashita & Naoto Kabayashi
When I Wish Upon a Star, 2004
Star HD 108, 2007
Loop Loop, 2007
Inside Out, 2007
Heartaches and Toothaches, 2006
Veejay/Performance Artist: Tommy Mintz
in complete world, 2008
American Vernacular, 2007
Nanna DeBois Buhl
There is This House, 2008
Image: Brendan Fernandes, Foe, 2008. Courtesy the artist.