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Multiplicity Unbound

Mon, 09/18/2023 - 14:52
An installation view of "Change Agents: Women Collectors Shaping the Art World" demonstrates the wide variety of styles and materials on display at the Southampton Arts Center.
Gary Mamay

The current exhibition at the Southampton Arts Center, "Change Agents: Women Collectors Shaping the Art World," is a many layered thing. If ever an exhibition shared a multiplicity of viewpoints, backgrounds, and ideas, this would be it, even if its curators' focus is narrowed to artwork procured solely by women.

Kate Fowle, Folasade Ologundudu, and Xiaoyu Weng have mined the groundbreaking and storied collections of Beth Rudin DeWoody, Fusun Eczacibasi, Agnes Gund, Jane Holzer, Pamela Joyner, Roya Khadjavi, Emily Fisher Landau, Christine Mack, Elisa Nuyten, Lisa Perry, Holly Peterson, Joy Simmons, Mickalene Thomas, and Neda Young. The result is surprisingly cohesive, even with artists on display from all over the world. 

While the show is focused on a feminine view of acquisitions, the works they have accumulated are multi-gendered. Mark Bradford, Nick Cave, Vanessa German, Rashid Johnson, Robert Longo, Zanele Muholi, Winfred Rembert, Toni Ross, Lorna Simpson, Andy Warhol, and Brenna Youngblood give a hint of some of the more recognizable names of the 59 artists in the show whose work was chosen to reflect "perspectives on the act of making in order to investigate culture, current events, and materiality," according to the organizers.

The selections come from the troves of these women, who are known for their discernment in selecting the work of well-known artists and understanding which emerging artists merit attention -- often they have been responsible for placing new, young artists in the spotlight for the first time.

Rather than grouping artwork according to collector, the curators discovered much resonance in placing each individual artwork in a larger context. Many artists are people of color, with a number from Africa, in addition to America and the Middle and Far East. Issues of lost culture and marginalization permeate the galleries.

(As South Fork museums move away from their sole focus on regional artists, they have provided opportunities to see those artists in a larger context. This allows us to return to them newly invigorated. In presenting contemporary artists tackling race, identity politics, and cultural issues in new ways here, they remind us of those formative artists' daring in reacting to their own post-nuclear world, capable of obliterating everything in its path, and coming up with a new visual language to portray it.)

Only works from the Landau collection have been grouped together in the show, and that is because of lighting considerations. But they work splendidly and in a way that doesn't make one regret their semi-segregation. One is a monumental charcoal on paper by Robert Longo. The other two are also large in format -- photography by Yinka Shonibare and Sigmar Polke with A.V. Nagel.

Mr. Shonibare's image is from a series recreating Goya's aquatint print "The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters," each done up in high-key color with scary taxidermy and a series of subjects dreaming on a wooden plinth inscribed with the title in French. The Polke and Nagel piece is a reworking of a photograph with a demon-like presence. The works are all unsettling in their own way and create a tableau unique to the space. 

Most other works benefit from integration into the whole. While there is not much material to explain the works or their background, the curators' focus on materiality is important to keep in mind while walking through the rooms. Prolonged viewing and close reading of the wall labels will yield rewards. 

You'll see one cityscape, by Ramazan Bayrakoglu and belonging to Ms. Eczacibasi, that looks like it was painted or a manipulated photograph, but it is actually made of stitched material. Other works reuse refuse, like Moffat Takadiwa's reinterpretation of discarded computer keyboard elements, to remind us of how wasteful our current culture has become, as well as what can be achieved with whatever materials are at hand. To pause long enough to really apprehend these works changes everything. 

A piece by Winfred Rembert and contributed by Ms. Gund regarding incarceration is made of different tones of leather. Fred Tomaselli's "Phospena" via Ms. Khadjavi is composed of various pills and leaves suspended in a deep navy resin. A quilt by Michele Pred from Ms. Perry's Onna House art space in East Hampton is not decorated with doilies or even what from a mid-distance might look like cutouts from a tin ceiling, but rather monthly birth control pill dispensers. The homey quilt, evocative of the coziness of a bed, becomes what might be seen as a sexual battleground with both domestic partners and the state being possible aggressors or oppressors.

Mr. Bradford has cast handmade paper into "Life Size," an editioned "sculptural print" representing a police body camera in accurate detail. It's a loan by Ms. Gund to the show, and the sale of the full edition helped raise more than $1 million for Art for Justice, an initiative she started to address the racial biases of the criminal justice system, among its other inadequacies.

Ms. Perry is like several of the women lending artwork to the exhibition who have established their own spaces to show and support artists and other creators. Landau, who died earlier this year, had a space in Queens for many years, and Ms. DeWoody has a place in West Palm Beach to show her art. 

Others have donated objects from their collections to public arts institutions. Putting both their own and respected institutions' imprimaturs on the work of emerging artists from near and far launches those artists in a way that changes institutional narratives and fosters new ways of seeing, allowing "others" to be seen and become part of the canon.

And like so many artists before them, there are a few in "Change Agents" who spend or spent some of their time on the East End. They include Mr. Longo, Ms. Ross, Gary Simmons, Mr. Johnson, and Warhol.

The show is up through Sept. 30.

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