(Marilyn Nance (American, b. 1953), Three Placards (Elijah Muhammad, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X), June 14, 1986, Gelatin silver print, Gift of Joyce F. and Robert B. Menschel, © Marilyn Nance)
By Betsy DiJulio
“We are there for our community,” asserts Lloyd DeWitt, Irene Leache Curator of European Art and Chief Curator, of the Chrysler Museum’s special fall exhibition, “Come Together, Right Now: The Art of Community.”
At this moment in history—one that is characterized by a global pandemic and international protests on behalf of social justice, especially for people of color—there is about this show, “a kind of urgency and energy.” Isolation, social distancing, separation, and division underscore the need for both communal and personal connections as well as for solidarity among strangers. “People are looking for change,” DeWitt reflects, “We’ve all had a moment of pause.”
In response to the raging virus and social outrage, every department in the museum—all periods and all collecting areas—“came together” through what DeWitt described as an intense and unprecedented collaboration to answer the question, “How do we answer this moment?” From his perspective, “The input was incredible.” What emerged was an artistic celebration of community in four “verses”: Together in Celebration, Together in Purpose, Together in Justice, and Together in Love.
As representatives of each department asked themselves, “If I want this, what do I have to give up?,” a tightly curated synthesis of more than 100 “real punchy” works of art took shape, with a strong local current flowing through. DeWitt anticipates that “sparks are going to fly,” in a good way, as many of these important works have not been seen in a couple or more years and certainly not in the pairings crafted especially for this show.
The theme of celebration provides a lens through which to consider ancient rituals, dance, sports, parties, and picnics as manifestations of our beliefs and highest ideals. Among other highlights, Together in Celebration offers the opportunity to see the photographic work of the late Tseng Kwong Chi, a Hong Kong-born American photographer perhaps best known for his East Meets West series of self-portraits posing as an “ambiguous ambassador” in front of iconic tourist sites wearing a thrift store-derived “Mao suit” and reflective sunglasses.
Work and war are among the sub-themes that “come together” under the rubric Together in Purpose. Be on the lookout for Candle Vendor, Cuzco, Peru by the acclaimed globe-trotting photographer, the late Bob Lerner, who settled in Yorktown in 1999.
Together in Justice frames the Chrysler’s major collection of Civil Rights photography in a fresh way alongside new photography by members of the local community. The latter body of work considers democracy and demonstrations in the wake of both George Floyd’s death and the removal of monuments of the Lost Cause.
Lost Cause statues are physical manifestations of an ideology that serves to promulgate the cause of the Confederacy during the Civil War as heroic and just, denying, minimizing, or rationalizing its racist institutions, practices, and systems. In addition to these images, Joyce Scott’s Head Shot—a synthesis of the horrific and humorous—is one to seek out.
Loving relationships of all kinds—between friends, family members, and romantic partners—are depicted in Together in Love as contexts for healing and restoration. Included in this section is a poetic portrait of Patti Smith shot by the late Robert Mapplethorpe, perhaps best known for his 1989 exhibition The Perfect Moment whose “obscene” images sparked heated constitutional controversy across the nation.
Finally, an outdoor component not only “puts the collection in the community” but allows those who are not yet comfortable in enclosed public spaces to experience the exhibition. DeWitt feels that the Chrysler got it right in terms of the museum’s uniquely innovative—not to mention quickly conceived—response to this highly charged, polarizing, and compelling time in which we live.
WANT TO SEE
“Come Together, Right Now: The Art of Gathering”
October 11 – January 3, 2021
Chrysler Museum of Art