“Soul Culture” is not your grandmother’s art exhibit.
The exhibition of Renee Cox’s work – considered controversial by some, boundary-breaking by others – opens Friday, Dec. 15, at the Columbia Museum of Art. A guided tour will be 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 17.
The artwork in the exhibition deconstructs issues of race and gender using the body as central image to promote positivity and empowerment. Cox transforms her photographic portraits into hypnotic video and mandala-like reliefs influenced by Hindu and Buddhist religious art, the visual escapism of 1960s psychedelia, and the use of fractals in African culture.
Columbia Museum of Art curator Catherine Walworth and Cox will have an “artist talk” the evening before the exhibit opens. Walworth explains a bit about Cox’s exhibit:
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Q: Why should people come see this exhibition?
A: Everyone should come see this exhibition. Renee is a major international mid-career artist, and yet she has done something so playfully freeing – not just in her own studio practice, but for us as viewers.
I just saw the show laid out in the gallery for the first time today, and I can’t get enough of it. The jewel-like qualities of her work plays against the dark gray gallery walls so that it feels like a darkened cathedral with intricate stained glass windows, but this is a cathedral to no religion in particular. If anything, it’s more of a Buddhist celebration of the godlike essence in all of us, which is part of Renee’s original stated intention.
Q: How would you describe Cox’s work in general? How does this fit into it?
A: Renee has been deeply engaged in portraiture for decades, most often using herself as subject matter and, very often, her own nude body – and there is generally an empowering narrative story at work.
This body of work, “Soul Culture,” is a major creative departure for Renee in terms of process. While it still begins with portraiture, Renee’s works in “Soul Culture” take the images of, as she says, black and brown bodies with a couple of white ones sprinkled in, and she cuts them out and interweaves them into mandala-like constructions that project from painterly backgrounds.
There are shifts in scale, pattern, depth, and direction that keep you absorbed, and that’s the point – she created these in a meditative studio process, and that hypnotic affect continues for the viewer. She wants everyone to put their cellphones down, be very present, and look. Plus, there is an entire gallery devoted to her film “Scared Geometry” that literally activates the images.
Q: What message or messages do you think people will get from this exhibition?
A: It’s strange to say because there are deeply profound messages in the work about race, gender, power, and beauty, but Renee is working from, and encouraging, a place she has described to me several times as a Zen state of “no-mind.” Not a vacuous mindlessness, but an egoless transcendence to a state that is free from our own mental projections.
That everyday mind riddled with our own thoughts is the one that leads to, as she says, division, racism, mental disease, fear, immobility, and the need for validation from other people. Everyone can come to this work, whether they know anything about art – whether they are black, white, or brown – and it will affect them.
The galleries are emanating a special spiritual power right now.
If you go
“Renee Cox: Soul Culture”
WHEN: Through April 22.
WHERE: Columbia Museum of Art, 1515 Main St.
COST: Free with admission or membership.
David Yaghjian’s “More Scenes” may be viewed between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Saturdays at if ART Gallery, 1223 Lincoln St.
“More Scenes” is on display through Saturday, Dec. 30.
A gallery talk will be 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 16.