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Category: Exhibition

Bearing Witness: Art of Alabama

Alabama artists have borne witness to the drama of American and world history, including the rise of agriculture and native ceremonial centers, immigration, wars, gold rushes, forced removal, emancipation, economic depressions, and the advent of motorized flight. All along, artists have participated in and documented the events that have shaped our state. Their work across this wide canvas of history will be examined at a major symposium hosted by the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA). Bearing Witness: Art of Alabama will be held Thursday, November 14 through Saturday, November 16, 2019. Bearing Witness will feature leading scholars such as Bridget R. Cooks, Katelyn Crawford, Bill Eiland, James Knight, and Richard J. Powell, discussing the breadth of Alabama visual arts from the Pre-Columbian period to the present. This will be the art history event of Alabama’s bicentennial celebration.

Bearing Witness is the brainchild of recently retired MMFA interim director Ed Bridges. For more than a year, Dr. Bridges has convened a planning committee made up of representatives from the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, the Alabama State Council on the Arts (ASCA), and the Landmarks Foundation. The group has reached out nationally to secure scholars who have researched and written on Alabama art. The result of their work is a symposium schedule spanning three days, offering lectures, gallery talks, an artist market, and a book fair all centered around the creativity of Alabamians.

The heart of the Bearing Witness symposium will be the lectures. Dr. Vernon James Knight, professor emeritus from the University of Alabama, will address the art of native peoples, drawing upon his long archaeological career. William Underwood Eiland, director of the Georgia Museum of Art, will find in the faces of its peoples a portrait of Alabama through the ages. Dr. Michael Panhorst, director of the Landmarks Foundation, will speak on From Southern Shores to Northern Vales: Alabama Landscapes, 1819–1969, the exhibition he guest-curated at the MMFA. Dr. Katelyn Crawford, curator at the Birmingham Museum of Art (BMA), will address the art of Alabama industry, drawing upon her related research. Dr. Bridget R. Cooks, associate professor at the University of California, Irvine, will explore the art of the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama, including works by artists in the MMFA’s collection. Dr. Graham C. Boettcher, director of the BMA, will provide an overview of significant early 20th-century women artists of Alabama, including Clara Weaver Parrish, Anne Goldthwaite, and Zelda Fitzgerald. Margaret Lynne Ausfeld, curator at the MMFA, will speak on Alabama’s painters of the New South and the Dixie Art Colony. Dr. Richard J. Powell, professor at Duke University, will examine the emergence of self-taught Alabama artists to national prominence. Chester Higgins, photographer and author, will reflect on the Tuskegee approach to Alabama photography and how Alabama shaped him as an artist.

Dr. Elliot Knight, director of ASCA, will host a panel on public art in Alabama with Dennis Harper from the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, Chintia Kirana from Expose Art House, Dana Lemmer from the Wiregrass Museum of Art, and Deborah Velders from the Mobile Museum of Art. This discussion will include everything from Confederate monuments and Works Progress Administration works to the new Alabama Bicentennial Park. A panel discussion on art in Alabama today will include Stan Hackney from the Mobile Museum of Art, Dr. Jennifer Jankauskas from the MMFA, Essie Pettway from Gee’s Bend, and Peter Prinz from Space One Eleven.

While at the symposium, attendees can view related exhibitions such as Alabama Landscapes; Cal Breed: Signs of Lift; and Charles Shannon. In addition to the exhibitions, select works by Alabama artists, including Chester Higgins’ photograph Shugg Lampley at the Garden Gate (negative 1968, printed 2007) featured on the previous page, will be on view in the galleries. To enhance this experience, gallery talks by guest scholars and artists will include Dr. Graham C. Boettcher from the BMA; Dr. Jennifer Jankauskas from the MMFA; Dr. Michael W. Panhorst from the Landmarks Foundation; Dr. Richard J. Powell from Duke University; Chester Higgins, Jr.; and Margaret Lynne Ausfeld from the MMFA.

To underscore the centrality of the role of artists, during Bearing Witness the MMFA’s 10th annual Artist Market will be held on Saturday, November 16. The Artist Market kickoff reception for MMFA members and paid symposium guests will be on Friday evening. Read Herring will also be onsite Friday with books by speakers available for purchase.

Image Credit: Chester Higgins (American, born 1946), Shugg Lampley at the Garden Gate, negative 1968, printed 2007, platinum print on paper, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts Association Purchase, 2007.14

Essay By

Joey Brackner

Director of the Alabama Center for Traditional Culture at the Alabama State Council on the Arts and one of the lead organizers of Bearing Witness.

Contemporary Conversations: Lino Tagliapietra

The Artist

Lino Tagliapietra is one of the greatest glass makers alive today. Growing up in Murano, Italy, and achieving the title of maestro (glass master) at the age of twenty, Tagliapietra is known around the world for his various achievements, not only in glass but in life as well. Due to the poor economy in Murano, many young boys and girls would turn to the glass factories as a way to earn for their families; hence, he began learning his craft at the early age of twelve. When asked to describe what life was like growing up in Murano, Lino begins to reminisce:

“[We have] the war in Spain, we have [the] war in Libya, and we have the war in Africa, and we lived with the war I remember. Then we have the second war…we have the Fascists…we have the Nazi. We have the Deutch (German) people, and then we have the American, English. So in Murano, we are surrounded in a sort of way. In one way we are protected, more than Venice. But still there we had somebody die. Somebody who the Nazis thought was a Jew, meaning they went to a camp…and never came back. And even still, living in Murano is a wonderful experience if you like it. [On] the island, we had 6,000 people [when I was growing up], now we have 6,000 people and maybe 7,000 workers. Many, many people. Now [we’ve gone] a little bit down. I think we are probably 5,000 people, but those 6,000 people had to work. They had very, very little money, much less. If you work…in the glass community, you would make maybe $400 – $800. Besides that, Murano is a wonderful island, I like the small island with [the] small village, [because] everybody knows you. We have created quite a few differences between Venice and ourselves because of the war. We have less pollution, it’s possible to play in the water, possible to go in the lagoon and catch the fish. We have a wonderful life, for some reason. We are poor. The shoes, we only have them sometimes, but we play without shoes. We don’t have a pool, but when we [were] kids they put us in the canal. I think there’s no place in the world like Murano, it’s so beautiful.”

For some, the culture shock between Italy and America would create a difficult challenge when adjusting to the lifestyle. For Tagliapietra, he feels his move to America was relatively easy:

“Because I have curiosity…I feel very comfortable in America. In the island, for example, if you aren’t a master, a good master – okay, not necessarily the top – but everybody thinks: ‘Good master, man!’, you know? So a ‘master’ is something ordinary in many ways and they sort of brush you aside. But in America, everybody respects you. They greet you in a very nice way and then you feel so comfortable, and then the American spirit is possible, trying everything you want. I like it because [once] I came to America I [no longer had to] do production, I [could] do what I [wanted] to do… It is a good feeling.”

The Process

Before starting any glassmaking project, one must be equipped with the proper team. Lino Tagliapietra’s team consists of about 25 people, both men, and women, who love glass. The youngest, according to Tagliapietra, has been working for “maybe 9 years,” but nobody would truly know as the group is constantly working together. Their teamwork boils down to their love of glass – their passion for the craft. Little is actually spoken during the process; instead, Tagliapietra and his team communicate with their hands and movements. When someone does speak, it means they are on the right track: simple words to keep everyone on the same page. Tagliapietra speaks very highly of his team of “wonderful glassblowers.” He finishes his statement on the relationship of his team by telling us, “it’s very important to have the right team. The team, for me, is about being surrounded by people who share the same love.” These words speak volumes, reminding us of how important community and teamwork truly is.

When asked if he could summarize the glass making process in a few sentences, we Muses received a chuckle from the maestro and a doubtful “I will try.” He began to summarize:

“Perhaps the most important part of the glass blowing process is having a clear picture of what you want to make: what form you want, how much color, designs with canes—colored ‘canes’ of glass—or without. There are many factors and decisions that need to be addressed before the glass blowing process even begins. After a clear picture has been envisioned, the next step is to start.”

Once Tagliapietra has chosen his design, the process is very simple; his knowledge of glass blowing makes the entire process look ridiculously easy.

As the maestro of glass blowing, we were all very interested to learn whether Mr. Tagliapietra had ever worked with other materials. His response—perhaps not too surprising to some—was that he has never strayed far from glass. He has dabbled in working with clay and admitted to liking the material, but it was “certainly not glass.” Most interestingly, Tagliapietra likes to cook. He says it is the only other “art” he works with well. His ultimate response was, “Normally, I am a very, very monoculture artist. I blow glass. I do not do anything else. Sometimes I do something, but it is best not to because I know glass and it is my profession.”

Taking a look around a room filled with Lino Tagliapietra’s work is breathtaking. Every piece has its own story to tell and each story possesses its own challenges. While Tagliapietra makes glassblowing look simple to the average person, he demonstrated that every piece of his work holds different levels of difficulty. “Just because a piece looks simple doesn’t mean it was easy,” he explained. When asked if he could pick his most complex work, Tagliapietra chose the Spirale. The Spirale is an oblong glass piece with a seemingly impossible helix design at its core. He proceeded to emphasize its complexity even more, explaining that he could not make a single mistake during the creative process. For instance, when blowing out the design, he could not afford to blow too much or too little; the result would have been disastrously out of proportion. Exactness, precision, and patience are key ingredients for any piece of his work.

Legacy

Our time with Lino Tagliapietra has come to an end. We learned much about both the artist and glassblowing itself through his profound words. But we still had one final question to ask: “What would you say to young people today who are interested in glass blowing but fear they won’t be successful?” Perhaps this was the best question to draw our time with the artist to a close.

“We have a lot of people, young people that want to blow glass, and they want to be successful as well. If you want to blow glass, you must love the material, and you must be very dedicated. Normally, that means you don’t do anything else; you must be open, and work every single day. The important thing is to love what you are doing and to have patience. Find very good teachers and good luck. You know, the material is so fantastic, but I’m probably lucky because the only thing I ever did was blow glass. There is a certain joy when you’re working with a material you love.”

Tagliapietra often reiterates how important art is to his life. Whether in naming a work of art after the places he loves, or taking inspiration from the world around him, he continuously lives, thinks, and breathes the love he has for his craft. He stands firmly in his conviction that art is not just something you do, but it is what you live. It requires dedication, patience, and hard work, but if you have a passion, pursue it to the fullest, and do not stop until it is yours. It is easy to see that he lives by those words prophetically.

Art in the Garden: Jun Kaneko

Behind the Art

Born in Japan during World War II, Jun Kaneko immigrated to the United States in 1963 to study painting at Chouinard, now known as CalArts in California. Soon, he began studying with influential ceramic artists including Peter Voulkos; their experiments in removing the functionality from clay in order to work expressively and abstractly led to what is known as the “American Clay Revolution.”

For the last 40 years Kaneko has worked extensively in Ceramics, Painting, Glass & Bronze. In 1985 he moved to Omaha Nebraska— where his current studios consist of over 80,000 square feet in 4 warehouses. A prolific artist, Kaneko is most renowned for his monumental, cylindrical, and triangular-shaped ceramic forms called “Dango”, the Japanese word for “rounded form”. Kaneko began creating monumental ceramics in 1982 using industrial kilns to produce the tallest single ceramic forms measuring up to 13’ tall. These enormous, playful, and innovative sculptures are not only an impressive technical achievement but also demonstrate his mastery of glazes. His works embody several dualities: the combination of painting and sculpture and the balancing of Eastern and Western ideas.
Featured in exhibitions nationally and internationally, Kaneko’s sculptures are also a part of museum collections around the world including the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, the National Gallery of Australia, The National Museum of Art, Osaka, Japan, Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England, and the MMFA. His work Untitled (Dango), 2003, is on view in the Museum’s Young Gallery.

Installation of three of Jun Kaneko’s works: Jun Kaneko (Japanese, born 1942), Untitled (Dango), 2004–2007, glazed ceramic, Lent by the artist

Art in the Garden: Joe Minter

Meet the Artist

A self-taught artist, Joe Minter uses art to tell the story of the history and journey of Africans and African Americans in America. In 1989, he began working on his own sculpture garden, the “African Village in America,” located in Birmingham. Minter feels he is directed by God in this endeavor and creates all of his sculpture from found objects, as he believes that these items contain the spirits of all who have touched them.

Minter was a featured artist in the MMFA exhibition  History Refused to Die in 2015, and his sculptures are part of the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Smithsonian American Art Museum in D.C., and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.

Joe Minter, Dedicated to All Those Who Served, n.d., found metal, Lent by the artist
Joe Minter, Lumberjack Without a File, n.d., found metal, Lent by the artist

Art in the Garden: Adam Bodine

Meet the Artist

Adam Bodine brings a sense of humor and fun into his sculpture. Employing salvaged wood and metal, he creates oversize images of toys. Bodine’s use of industrial materials formed into familiar objects allows him to explore themes of play, dreams, building, and learning. What You Say, 2012, conjures up nostalgic ideas of old-fashioned gramophones or brings to mind a more current image; that of a bullhorn, an apparatus used to amplify our voice.

Bodine received his Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Alabama, Birmingham, and his Master of Fine Arts from the University of Georgia. He has worked at Sloss Furnace in Birmingham and has shown his sculptures around the South.

 

Art in the Garden: Casey Downing, Jr.

Meet the Artist

Mobile-based artist Casey Downing, Jr., works both figuratively and abstractly in a variety of metals.  Circular, an example of his minimal abstract sculptures, incorporates the fluid, graceful forms that evoke movement and controlled energy that is apparent in many of his non-representational works.

Downing received his degree from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and his art has been featured in exhibitions at the Mobile Museum of Art, the Huntsville Museum of Art, and other venues in the South. In addition to exhibitions, Downing is best known for his permanent public art commissions around the state, which include sculptures sited in Dothan, Huntsville, Mobile, and Montgomery.

Circular (2018)

Casey Downing, Jr., Circular, 2018, stainless steel, Collection of Dr. Paul Maertens, Mobile, Alabama
Photography of installation at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts

Art in the Garden: Deborah Butterfield

Behind the Work

One of the most prominent American sculptors working today, Deborah Butterfield first began using mud, clay, and sticks to create sculptures in the form of horses in the 1970’s. In 1977, she moved to a ranch in Montana and in 1979 began using scrap metal and found steel. For the past decade, she has been making unique bronze pieces, cast from found wood sticks and pieces, to which she then methodically and expertly applies her patina. Currently, Butterfield splits her time between studios in Montana and Hawaii. In both places, she shares the land with horses (including her dressage horse, Isbelle, the model for this piece), and they continue to inspire her work.

Born and raised in San Diego, Butterfield received her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Fine Arts from the University of California, Davis. Since 1976, she has exhibited extensively around the world, including solo presentations at the Seattle Art Museum in Washington, the Dallas Museum of Art in Texas, the Israel Museum, in Jerusalem, and the San Diego Museum of Art in California. Her work is included in numerous public collections including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Brooklyn Museum, the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, among many others.

Art in the Garden: Christopher Fennell

Meet the Artist

Christopher Fennell’s background in engineering informs his art.  Using everyday objects for inspiration, his dynamic sculptures have a sense of humor and are often participatory. For example, viewers can sit in the center of Skate Leaves, 2018, and look up and into the vortex of colorful skateboard decks that suggests the acrobatic skill of skateboarders as they sweep up and over the sides of a skate park.

Based in Birmingham, Fennell received his Bachelor’s of Art in Sculpture from the University of South Florida and his Master of Fine Art in Sculpture from the University of Georgia. Installations and public commissions are sited around the country in Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Maine, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and Washington State, among others.

Interview

Art in the Garden: Randy Gachet

Meet the Artist

Birmingham-based artist Randy Gachet reclaims and re-contextualizes everyday materials into his art. In Hollow Sphere Theory, 2018, he combined salvaged tire pieces from roadsides into two semi-spheres of hexagonal elements.  For Gachet, this is partly a way to return industrial materials to nature, to push humble materials into new directions, and to explore what he terms the “bounty” that exist in areas of urban sprawl. The resulting sculptures are playful ways to examine the tension between nature and artifice, high and low, insider and outsider.

Originally from Mobile, Gachet received his Bachelor’s of Fine Arts from Birmingham-Southern College and now teaches at the Alabama School of Fine Arts in Birmingham. His work has been featured in exhibitions at the Johnson Center for the Arts in Troy, the Wiregrass Museum of Art in Dothan, the Huntsville Museum of Art, and the Meridian Museum of Art in Mississippi.

 

Art in the Garden: Chris Boyd Taylor

Meet the Artist

Chris Boyd Taylor is primarily interested in craft, scale, color, movement, architecture, and ideas of spectatorship and interpersonal relationships. This piece is part of a series called Stadium Spheres, 2018, inspired by recent travels across the Southeastern United States documenting venues of spectatorship. Taylor found that many stadiums use staggered colored seat patterns in order to trick television viewers into thinking it is full when it is not. This color pattern, and the stair zig-zag that accompanies the profile of most bleachers, is the signature design inspiration for this new body of work.

Taylor received degrees in fine arts from Ohio State University and New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University and is presently an Assistant Professor of Art at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. His work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally, with major public art commissions in Montevideo, Uruguay, and Clarksville, Tennessee. Taylor is currently working on a commission for the Nashville International Airport to hang in one of the concourse’s skylights.

Interview

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