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African-American portrait exhibit debuts

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by Marla Miller,

Even art exhibits need a test run.

And, thanks in part to a Muskegon Museum of Art board member’s connection with the Mott Foundation in Flint, the Muskegon museum is serving as a launching pad for an exhibit of African-American portraits that will tour nationally.

That means those who view “Looking Ahead: Portraits from the Mott-Warsh Collection” will be the first in the country to see the exhibit of 26 works portraying the African head in representational and conceptual portraiture. This area’s reaction to the exhibit will help tailor the works that tour the the country.

“Some works are impressive in scale, others very intimate,” said E. Jane Connell, the art museum’s senior curator and director of collections and exhibitions. “Everyone can relate to human faces in some way. How artists interpret and capture personalities and how they can exude a certain living presence from the sitter is a compelling challenge.”

“Looking Ahead” curator Camille Ann Brewer will visit Muskegon Sept. 25 to discuss the exhibition and the Mott-Warsh Collection. Brewer works for CAB Fine Art Services, LLC, based in Atlanta. She studied at the University of Michigan and is a former assistant curator of African art at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

The Mott-Warsh Collection is based in Flint, where Brewer hand-picked works for “Looking Ahead.”

The collection was initiated in 2001 by prominent Flint native Maryanne Mott, who now lives in California, and her husband, the late Herman Warsh, Brewer said. Portions of the collection have been displayed at the public library and other city sites, but the portrait exhibit is the first to travel outside of Flint.

The artists featured in the Muskegon exhibit explore the social, political and cultural nuances of the African face in fine art and popular culture, Brewer said. The paintings, works on paper, photography and sculpture are by artists such as Romare Bearden, Chuck Close, Elizabeth Catlett, John Biggers and Robert Mapplethorpe.

The MMA’s permanent holdings include work by four of the 17 artists: Bearden, Catlett, John Wilson and Charles White, which will be part of a complementary exhibit.

One of the most visually striking paintings in the exhibit is a very large acrylic on canvas titled “C.E.O.” by Robert Arneson, who lived from 1930 to 1992, and was part of a dynamic group of irreverent California pop artists whose work has come to be known as “funk art.”

Hank Willis Thomas, born in 1976, has a lightjet print “Branded Head” depicting a shaved head with a Nike emblem.

Some of the works in the exhibit have an interesting story behind them, Brewer said. Wilson’s bronze sculpture of Martin Luther King Jr. was made as a maquette, or model, for a life-size public sculpture that never came to fruition because of a funding shortfall, Brewer said. The openings on the sides were designed so that people could walk into the space, the interior of his head.

Brewer said “Looking Ahead” is in the process of being promoted and booked by Smith Kramer, a traveling exhibition service out of Kansas City. The show will be expanded for its national tour, she said.

“We will not travel it again with this composition,” she said. “Some pieces in the show are very fragile, they will be pulled. Muskegon is our test run, and that was the idea of going into Muskegon.”

When Brewer lectures here, representatives from Smith Kramer also will be on hand to see the exhibit and the quality of the installation and brochure.

“So perhaps we will actually have some influence on the national tour from the precedent we set,” Connell said. “We had a meeting of a small group of members of our African-American community and gave them a preview of the exhibition and they were extremely impressed.”

If you go

* What: African-American portrait tour, “Looking Ahead: Portraits from the Mott-Warsh Collection.”

* When: Now through Oct. 26.

* Where: Wiener Gallery, Muskegon Museum of Art, 296 W. Webster, downtown Muskegon.

* Special program: Curator Camille Ann Brewer will visit Muskegon Sept. 25 as part of the museum’s fall Distinguished Lecture Series to discuss the exhibition and the history and scope of the Mott-Warsh Collection. It begins at 7 p.m. in the auditorium and is free.

* Museum hours: 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Thursday (until 8 p.m. after Labor Day); noon-4:30 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday.

* Admission: Adults $5, free for 17 and younger, students with I.D. and museum members. Free to the public on Thursdays.

* Information: 720-2570,

* Noteworthy changes: Effective Tuesday, the museum will be open again on Tuesdays. The museum was closed last year on Tuesdays in an effort to cut operating costs. However, the museum has increased its admission fee from $4 to $5.


Written by Symphony

August 31, 2008 at 6:13 am

Posted in Arts

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