Montclair, NJ – There is so much to appreciate, contemplate and experience in Montclair Art Museum’s powerful new exhibition featuring the work of vanessa german: …please imagine all the things i cannot say… that you might start planning your return visit before you even leave.
On view through June 25, 2023, the exhibit is a large-scale, immersive installation of mixed-media artworks by german from 2016–2022 utilizing unique as well as everyday found objects.
That centerpiece of the exhibition is a life-sized reinterpretation of Emmanuel Leutze’s iconic painting Washington Crossing the Delaware (1851, Metropolitan Museum of Art). Miracles and Glory Abound, german’s work, features several sculptures in her vessel, including “LaQuisha Washington Crosses The Day Aware.”
Like Federico Uribe’s Animalia at MAM, german uses found objects, but in a very distinctive way. Her female “power figures” explore themes of strength, love and justice while engaging with the complicated history of race in the United States.
german, who has won one of the world’s largest art prizes, creates mesmerizing works. The centerpiece’s “water” is awash in found objects in varying hues of blue — blue balls, blue sneakers, denim and jerseys, blue bottles. For children, it could be an “I Spy” of sorts, as they discover a Blues Clues stuffed animal, a Cookie Monster and a Batman figure in the sea of blues. For adults, there are objects that stand out and confront, causing the viewer to look again and deeper – the blue boxed set of Little Rascals videos, a blue volume of the National Museum of American History.
“In my work, everything means something – every element,” german has said.
There are the sounds from the audio surrounding you as you embark on your own journey around german’s ship –giggling of children, whispers and haunting voices, and the opening strains of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.”
Mirrors are a motif repeated throughout german’s commanding sculptures, allowing you to see yourself and catch glimpses of others in her work. Clocks, porcelain figures, ceramic flowers and other vintage items evoke moments in time, history and points of connection to these figures as well as her wall-based works.
german credits her earlier power figure sculptures, created from materials found at vacant lots and abandoned homes in her neighborhood, as saving her from depression brought on by hardship and poverty.
About The Artist
german, a self-taught sculptor, painter, poet, and performance artist residing in Pittsburgh, calls herself a citizen artist. Linked to her identity as an activist, german’s creative practice has its roots in Indigenous and West African folk practices, as well as Black Arts movements from the 1960s onwards.
She works primarily with assemblage as she sculpts wood and plaster, which she adorns with a vast range of objects and materials—some found in her community, others sourced from around the country. Prayer beads, doll parts, handmade patterned quilts, skateboards, rope, silk flowers, cowrie shells, coke bottles, vintage porcelain bells, and astroturf are among the array of objects that adorn the artist’s figures.
Through her powerful work and presence, german offers a redemptive space for visitors. They are invited to identify, experience, and begin to address any feelings of anger and grief brought about by both historical and ongoing racial violence in our society, to which german’s humanistic vision responds forcefully and compassionately.
This exhibition is german’s first solo museum show in the New York City area.
german will give the 7th Annual Gaelen Family Artist Lecture on April 20, 2023 at the Montclair Art Museum, starting at 7 p.m. Don’t miss the opportunity to experience first-hand german’s reputation as a mesmerizing speaker, educator, and performance artist when she gives the prestigious Gaelen Family Artist Lecture.