The milestone anniversary at SCAD Museum of Art highlights international artists and themes spanning a wealth of geographies, backgrounds, and generations.
Immersive installations have dominated the art scene for decades, across myriad disciplines. Think: Olafur Eliasson’s “The Weather Project,” “The Rain Room” by Hannes Koch and Florian Ortkrass, and Yayoi Kusama’s “Infinity Mirror Rooms.”
True, installations have also been made into utterly mundane mass-market attractions, thanks to those “themed” experiential rooms found in major cities, which have turned them into pop-culture punchlines.
The SCAD Museum of Art, in Savannah, Georgia, now celebrating its 10th anniversary, has reinterpreted the immersive trend while staying faithful to its own curriculum as an eminent institution of art, design, and fashion. “The word ‘immersive’ elicits an immediate relation to the body, the way one inhabits and navigates a space, and the capacity to blur the division between self and place,” says Kari Herrin, executive director of SCAD Museums and Exhibitions. “It resonates with today’s audiences, who seek visceral experiences in a digital age. Many of our exhibitions have a natural immersive quality, due to our emphasis on the environments in which works are displayed and [on] the experiences they facilitate.”
Some of the exhibitions are uncanny and surreal, fully resonating with the current zeitgeist. Brooklyn-based interdisciplinary artist Hein Koh, for example, creates transhumanist works. In her “Hope and Sorrow,” she’s fashioned a surreal garden of crying flowers made of spandex, velvet, and satin, resting on Astroturf and illuminated by a cartoonish sun with a gazing eye painted on the backdrop. “Hein Koh’s surrealism humanizes natural elements to communicate complex narratives and emotions,” says Herrin. “A site-specific installation, as well as Hein’s first museum show, the exhibition is installed in the museum’s Jewel Boxes, spaces that mediate the interior and exterior of the museum with an explicitly public function.”
Similarly, painter Izumi Kato’s large-scale paintings feature spectral figures with bulbous heads and thin bodies reminiscent of primeval beings, embryos, or aliens. Kato paints directly with his hands, and at times even frees his creatures from the constraints of rectangular canvas wall hangings, suspending them from the ceiling and attaching to them canvas cutouts of elongated torsos and limbs.
Artists also focus on the natural world and the environment. With “El lecho del Bosque,” Colombian artist Nohemí Peréz reflects on the social and political components of environmental issues by painting large-scale, detail-rich charcoal drawings of endangered species of trees alongside minuscule figures of birds, dogs, and humans. Patrick Dougherty combines fine art and design as well, weaving tree saplings and sticks to create imposing sculptures that celebrate both nature’s beauty and its ephemerality. His stickwork also has an interactive on-site component, as he’ll collaborate for three weeks with SCAD’s staff and student body to create site-specific works. And in experimental theater director Robert Wilson’s immersive installation “A Boy from Texas,” cast, truncated pyramids are interspersed among deer made of handblown glass, evoking the time he spent hunting with his father—while not a hunter himself, Wilson relishes nature’s stillness and spectral silence.
Of course, the beauty of nature often stands in stark contrast to the brick, glass, and steel of city spaces. In “Urban Visions,” Mexican photographer and SCAD alum Arturo Soto explores the themes of site, theory, and image in photos taken in Savannah and London, as well as in Oxford, England, where he delves into how the city is dealing with the aftereffects of Brexit.
Because our current environments extend beyond the physical world into the digital realm, SCAD has included a meditation on the way the digital component interacts with contemporary visual culture. An experiential sculpture by Spanish visual artist Ira Lombardía—who defines herself as a “visual ecologist” who is moved by the desire to understand the theoretical and practical implications of digital visual culture—prompts the observer to reflect on the ephemerality and dematerialization of the object. In her show, the viewer can physically recreate Yves Klein’s Leap into the Void by literally jumping from a custom-built structure.
A fashion exhibition adds a purely joyful dimension to this lineup of solo shows. Fashion designer Christian Siriano, who rose to fame after winning the fourth season of the TV competition series Project Runway and is known for his bold, high-octane eveningwear, is at SCAD with his first solo exhibition. Titled “People Are People,” the show features some of his most flamboyant creations while also celebrating his inclusive take on couture.
Two group projects have a more diachronic focus. SCAD MOA’s Evans Center for African American Studies presents “Elizabeth Catlett: Points of Contact,” juxtaposing Catlett’s prints and sculptures—which reflected on the Black American experience by combining abstract and figurative influences, and also drew from African and Mexican traditions—with pieces by contemporary Black American and Mexican artists whose creations reveal strong connections, and often direct references, to Catlett’s work. “This exhibition makes an argument for examining Catlett’s dual U.S. and Mexican citizenship, which has been overlooked by previous exhibition projects,” says Herrin. “And in its inclusion of contemporary artists from both countries, it reveals lineages between Black Americans and indigenous Mexican peoples. Catlett’s impact as a bridge between two nations extends beyond art, and the exhibition unfolds the complexity of her identity, [which] she very much wanted to be acknowledged.”
By contrast, the other group exhibition, “Ring Redux: The Susan Grant Lewin Collection,” examines the tradition of ring making by showcasing 100 avant-garde–style rings, demonstrating how the art of jewelry reflects aesthetic developments in art, design, technology, and craftsmanship while also conveying the complexity of human relationships, from the highly personal to the universal.
At the intersection of these two modes, solo/contemporary and group/historical, is Mehryl Levisse’s “White Wig,” an artistic-cum-curatorial project juxtaposing Rococo-era portraiture—installed, salon-style, on a warm-pink wall—with brightly colored wigs created by contemporary Parisian drag entertainers. Levisse examines the use of hairstyle and dress as markers of status and identity that have historically been separated into the strict binary of man and woman.
Beyond the sheer artistry of the project, what emerges in this 10th-anniversary celebration is SCAD’s intention to showcase an international roster of artists whose work will broaden viewers’ horizons beyond the United States. “From the very beginning, the SCAD Museum of Art was conceived as an international cultural center with the intention to enrich the lives of SCAD students and to engage with different communities both near and far,” says Herrin. “This is representative not only of our international body of students, who come from all parts of the world, but also of the need in this region for a contemporary art museum that catalyzes dialogue and shared experiences through art and design.”
The Fall 2021 season is now on view at the SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah, Georgia.
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