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“Protest Art and Activism” examines art world’s activism

Bell Gallery hosts work borrowed from Whitney Museum’s “An Incomplete History of Protest” show

Co-organized by the David Winton Bell Gallery and the Brown Arts Initiative, “On Protest Art and Activism” is a series of exhibits currently on display at the Granoff Center for the Creative Arts. The series “highlights the work of artists and the differing ways they engage the social and political issues of their time,” wrote Ian Russell, curator of the Bell Gallery, in an email to The Herald.

The installments feature works selected from the exhibition “An Incomplete History of Protest” at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.

Part I of the exhibit, which ran from Oct. 1 to Oct. 28, examined “how artists use histories of protest to create works in response to contemporary activism,” Russell wrote. This first installment showcased works by Ja’Tovia Gary, Theaster Gates, Josephine Meckseper and Dread Scott.

The closing reception of the exhibition’s first installment took place Friday, following a discussion panel featuring Russell, University Archivist Jennifer Betts and Assistant Curators at the Whitney Museum Jennie Goldstein and Rujeko Hockley.

The conversation was concerned with constructing “a curatorial narrative around the history and impact of protest art and artistic activism,” according to the event description on the University’s website. 

Both Hockley and Goldstein spoke about their curatorial choices regarding the construction and organization of the show, which were inextricable from the current geopolitical situation. “We really were making these decisions as the world was unfolding all around us,” Goldstein said.

Decisions regarding what was to be included in the original exhibition were informed by the dramatically evolving political mood. “We were working on it in the context of a newly inaugurated president,” Hockley added. 

There are also limits to what can be captured and represented in an exhibition, from a curatorial perspective. For instance, Goldstein highlighted that in the Whitney exhibition, “one omission that became very glaring to me … was that we do not have works in the collection that address the disability rights movement,” she said.

These omissions often stem from the complications of acquisitions and the changing priorities people hold when viewing and collecting works, according to Hockley. “The ways in which our own collecting instincts, strategies and desires shifted over time is also something we have to contend with,” Hockley said. She expanded on the idea that evolving sensibilities throughout time accorded varying levels of artistic visibility to different social justice movements. “There are so many ways things come into collections. … It is not neutral, and it is complicated,” she continued. 

The gaps she noted in the Whitney’s exhibition were further recognized by the public. “We heard a lot from people — about what we were doing wrong (and) … what they thought we were maybe getting right,” Goldstein said. “We need that. Because — of course — we have blind spots,” she added. 

The Whitney exhibition’s title acknowledges its own limits. “The incompleteness of the title is a kind of caveat for us. We realize we don’t have everything. We can’t tell every story,” Goldstein said.   

Part II of “Protest Art and Activism,” is now showing at the Bell Gallery and will run until Dec. 19. This second installation of the series “examines the ongoing impact of women artists within the feminist movements of the last four decades,” Russell wrote.  It will feature “works by Hermine Freed, Guerrilla Girls, Suzanne Lacy, Howardena Pindell and Martha Rosler,” he added. 

This exhibit is part of an ongoing effort to increase engagement with artistic works and issues relevant to students. “Our hope is that this will be the first of many projects in the coming years where the David Winton Bell Gallery will be working with the Brown Arts Initiative to present the work of artists who engage issues that resonate with (Brown’s) curriculum and campus life,” Russell wrote.



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