Exhibitions

Bisa Butler: Portraits
March 15 – June 14, 2020


Bisa Butler: Portraits is the first solo museum exhibition of the artist’s work and features her vivid and larger-than-life quilts that capture African American identity and culture. The show will be on view at the Katonah Museum of Art (KMA) from March 15 to June 14, 2020 and travel to the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) from September 5, 2020 to January 24, 2021.  A fully illustrated catalogue will accompany the show.  The exhibition is being organized by Associate Curator, Michele Wije at the KMA and by Assistant Curator, Erica Warren at the AIC and will feature approximately 25-30 of Bisa Butler’s most important works to date.  

Butler, a formally trained African American artist of Ghanaian heritage, broaches the dividing line between creating with paints on canvas and creating with fiber by fashioning magnificent quilts and elevating a medium hitherto designated as craft into one that is clearly high art.   While quilts have historically been isolated in the history of art as the products of working women, Butler’s work not only acknowledges this tradition, but also reinvents it.   Continuing with an aesthetic set in motion by artists such as Romare Bearden and Faith Ringgold, Butler forges an individual and expressive signature style that draws upon her own cultural background and experiences.   

Her emergence as a quilt artist began humbly when, as a result of a fiber arts class taken at Howard University, she constructed a quilt for her dying grandmother mainly as a means of comfort.   As a child Butler had often spent time poring over black and white photographs with her grandmother, who told her stories about the people in each one.   This experience of creating narrative and identity informs her quilts. The vibrant portraits of African American life and the tales the quilts tell are largely based on photographs from which Butler takes inspiration.  She creates a story around each image, and, in her choice of fabrics, she uses texture, color and the cultural origin of the cloth as part of a personal iconography that makes statements about society and identity.  African painted cotton and mud cloth tells the story of her ancestral homeland, vintage lace and aged satin might demonstrate the delicacy and refinement of times past while multi-colored organza and layered netting can convey a story of someone colorful and multifaceted.  The constructed nature of the work with its reliance on piecing and stitching acknowledges the traditions of needlework normally associated with women and domesticity.  Butler subverts this notion through her choice of motifs, embellishments, patterning and scale, all drawn from African textiles.  What results are stunning works that transform family memories and cultural practices into works of social statement.

This exhibition is made possible in part by The Coby Foundation, Ltd.


Frontpage Image: The Princess, 2018 (det.), Cotton, chiffon, lace and satin, 70 x 46 in. (177.8 x 116.8 cm), Collection of Bob and Jane Clark
This Page: The Equestrian, 2019, Cotton, wool and silk, quilted and appliquéd, 68 x 43 in. (172.7 x 109.2 cm), Courtesy of the Love, Luck & Faith Foundation
David Schwitted, Milpa, 2018, Mixed media, 82 x 76 in.

Michele Oka Doner
September 2019 – September 2020

Photo: Gerald Forster


Michele Oka Doner
is an internationally renowned artist whose career spans five decades. The breadth of her artistic production encompasses sculpture, furniture, jewellery, public art, functional objects and video.

Her current installation at the Katonah Musuem consists of two bronze sculptures – Mana and Primal Self Portrait. Part human, part divine, part tree and part mineral, these headless and armless bronzes are at once commanding, monstrous, riveting, even humorous. Fashioned from roots and vines collected by the artist, cast in bronze using the lost wax method and finished with rich earth-toned patinas, these figures demonstrate Oka Doner’s lifelong study and appreciation of the natural world.

Mana continues the artist’s lifetime dialogue that focuses on ushering nature into art, exploring the rich convergence between the human and natural world. Unsettling and imposing, Mana mixes construction and deconstruction, vitality and decrepitude.

Primal Self Portrait has rather thick, even impenetrable, hermetically opaque skin. Layer upon layer of texture forms a protective shield of formidable skin. While deeply scarred, as the vertical striations imply, the skin of the female remains unbroken enough to suggest invulnerability, the indomitability of the female body, however nakedly exposed to the prying eyes of the world.

Her work encompasses materials including glass, bronze and silver and in a variety of scales – mirroring the world around her – from the small and intimate to the large and more imposing. Michele is well-known for creating over 35 public art installations throughout the United States and in Europe, including Radiant Site at New York’s Herald Square subway (1987), Flight at Washington’s Reagan International Airport and A Walk on the Beach at The Miami International Airport (1995-2010) which features 9000 bronze sculptures inlaid over a mile and a quarter long concourse of terrazzo with mother-of-pearl – it is one of the largest public artworks in the world.

Michele Oka Doner was born and raised in Miami, Florida and studied at the University of Michigan, where she received her undergraduate and MFA degrees, as well as an honorary doctorate. Oka Doner moved to New York City in 1981 where she maintains a studio. Her work is included in major public collections including the Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Art Institute of Chicago and the Victoria and Albert, among others.


Gregory Volk: A Knit of Identity: On the Nature-Based Art of Michele Oka Doner
Donald Kuspit: Skinned Alive: Michele Oka Doner’s Bio-Figuration

Michele Oka Doner
Primal Self Portrait, 20008
Cast bronze, patinated, red iron oxide
Unique
Courtesy of the artist and Marlborough, New York and London
Michele Oka Doner
Mana, 2015
Cast bronze, patinated
Edition 1 of 3
Courtesy of the artist and Marlborough, New York and London


Ronald Bladen
September 2019 – September 2020

After a competition that included entries by Richard Serra and Claes Oldenburg among others, the important European collector and gallery director Alfred Schmela commissioned Bladen to create Flying Fortress to stand in front of the engineering school at the University of Düsseldorf. The project was cancelled after Schmela’s sudden death. Bladen wrote tellingly of Flying Fortress at the time of the commission, “The motivation of this form was to produce the illusion of a stationary object moving through space yet anchored to the earth. Not to give one that much time to dwell on it but more to feel as it rushes by. There is a front and a back and two sides but only one direction.”

Ronald Bladen (1918–1988) was regarded as an artistic forerunner by Minimalists like Donald Judd, Sol Lewitt and Carl Andre. But in contrast to the matter-of-fact work of these artists, Bladen’s sculptures are charged with emotional power. Their themes include the force of gravity, the dynamism of planar surfaces, the impact of scale and confrontation with the viewer.
 

Ronald Bladen
Flying Fortress, 1974-1978
Painted Aluminum
Edition 1 of 3
Courtesy of Loretta Howard Gallery, New York



Host of the Ellipse is notable for the difference between its two elements. Both parts, executed in aluminum and painted semi-gloss black, comprise trapezoidal lower areas that have deep notches cut into them. From these trapezoids, blade-like arms extend, one vertically while the other projects horizontally. Bladen referred to them as “two dancers.” Indeed, the vertical and horizontal projections, like gestures into space, remind us that modern dance influenced Bladen’s sculptures throughout his career.
 

Ronald Bladen
Host of the Ellipse (Mid Scale), 1981
Painted aluminum
Edition 1 of 3
Courtesy of Loretta Howard Gallery, New York