Michener Showcases Shared American Culture in ‘Infinite Mirror’

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American artists of African, Arab, European, Asian, Latino and Native American descent explore their heritage in Infinite Mirror: Images of American Identity, on view at the Michener Art Museum April 13 through July 7, 2013.

Renowned artists Paul Keene, Tomie Arai, Luis Jimenez, Jacob Lawrence and Faith Ringgold are among the culturally-diverse artists who use portraiture and figuration to examine issues of race, gender, religion, history, politics and family. The exhibit, comprised of more than 50 multi-media works, is personal and reflective.

How, as Americans, do we see ourselves? “We would need an infinite mirror to see our full reflection,” says Blake Bradford, Infinite Mirror curator and director of education, Barnes Foundation. “The images [in this exhibit] reflect the complex dynamics between people and within the minds of individuals as they participate in and contribute to a composite, inestimable culture.”

“Artists have the enviable ability to compose imagery that transcends the deeply personal to communicate with us in accessible, if sometimes difficult, ways,” says Michener Director & CEO Lisa Tremper Hanover. “We are fortunate to have the opportunity to showcase the expertise of Philadelphia-based curator and educator Blake Bradford and look forward to introducing our audience to a diversity of self-expression.”

The 39 artists in Infinite Mirror use a wide variety of media to examine patriotism, communication, the struggle for acceptance and what it truly means to be an American in the 21st century. Humor, heartache, anger and apprehension are among the emotions evoked by these works, raising questions about race, class, gender and age.

Four main themes run through Infinite Mirror: Self-Selection, Pride, Assimilation, and Protest, providing audiences with the opportunity to re-examine both the story and storytellers of the quintessential “American dream.”

Self Selection reflects how we choose to present and project ourselves to the world. Largely based in portraiture, the variety of techniques and twists on this age-old art form convey a multitude of values, desires and anxieties. In Ben Gest’s “Alice Waiting,” we see an older woman in a contemporary variation on a seated portrait, alluding to our interdependence and the multitude of ways in which society shares space and time.

In Pride, artists explore an appreciation of one’s origins, character, values and personal accomplishments. Some works convey confidence and defiance in the face of inequality or degradation, while many others warmly exude joy, love and strength. These artists celebrate their lives as U.S. citizens while acknowledging the histories and traditions of their familial roots. Leamon Green Jr. renders this balance in his mixed media work “Big Man Advisor,” depicting a seated man flanked with a Benin sculpture to his left and a Roman or Greek statue to his right, paying tribute to both his African and European heritage.

Many artists in Infinite Mirror weigh in on the two-way transaction of Assimilation, the third theme, by investigating the degree to which new cultural contributions are accepted, mined, or rejected by society. Conversely, several of the artists examine the degree to which they have retained their original cultures and the ways in which they have evolved and emerged in their changing environments. The tension that exists between these two ideas is the point of creative take-off for artists such as Tomie Arai, whose “Peach Boy” etching shows a young boy donning the trappings of a cowboy on the frontier, hinting at the actual experience of Asian immigrants working on the railroad and the myth of the American West.

Protest, the final theme, explores the American tradition of questioning the ideals of U.S. politics and social culture. In Richard Ray Whitman’s “Do Indians Go to Santa Fe When They Die?” and Edgar Heap of Birds’ “Telling Many Magpies, Telling Black Wolf, Telling Hachivi,” the artists use their work to question the treatment of Native Americans in the past and present.

The diverse group assembled for Infinite Mirror illuminates some of America’s shadowy corners while keeping to the spirit of idealism.

Exhibition programs:

Sunday Afternoon Music at the Michener: A Celebration of Gospel music

Sunday, April 14, 3 to 4:30 pm

Fee: $15 per member/$25 per non-member/$10 per student with valid ID, includes museum admission.

Featuring acclaimed singer Barbara Walker; Esther Dinkins, Choir Director of the Second Baptist Church of Doylestown; and The Back Bench Boys, male choir from the Second Baptist Church of Doylestown.

Meet the Author

Meet-the-Author: Mary Stanton: From Selma to Sorrow; the Life and Death of Viola Liuzzo

Sunday, May 5, 3 to 4 pm

Free with museum admission.

Curator’s Lecture

By Blake Bradford, Curator of Education, The Barnes Foundation, and guest curator of the exhibition, Infinite Mirror: Images of American Identity

Tuesday, May 7, 1 to 2 pm

Fee: $10 per member/$20 per non-member/$5 per student with valid ID, includes museum admission.

Special Exhibition program: Freedom Riders

Sunday, June 2, 3 to 4:30 pm

Free with museum admission.

A presentation about a courageous band of civil rights activists called Freedom Riders who in 1961 challenged segregation in the American South. The program features four courageous individuals who participated in the Freedom Rides.

Special Exhibition Lecture

The Art of Collaboration and The Creative Experience: Working with Paul Keene and Faith Ringgold

By Curlee Raven Holton, David L. and Linda Roth Professor of Art, Lafayette College

Tuesday, June 4, 1 to 2 pm

Fee: $10 per member/$20 per non-member/$5 per student with valid ID, includes museum admission. Advance registration required.

Images of American Identity: Teacher Resources for the Classroom

April 13-14, April 20-21, April 27, 9 am-6 pm

3 credits $945, Fee $95

For registration and more detailed program information, please call 215-340-9800 or visit www.michenerartmuseum.org.

About the curators:

Since 2009, Infinite Mirror curator Blake Bradford has been director of education at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, where he oversees the adult classes, K-12 outreach and other public programming. Co-curators are Benito Huerta, associate professor of painting and director and curator of The Gallery at the University of Texas at Arlington and Robert Lee, executive director and curator at Asian American Arts Centre in New York.

Infinite Mirror is developed by Artrain, Inc. and Brandywine Workshop, Philadelphia, PA, and is toured by International Arts & Artists, Washington, DC. Presented with support from the Institute of Museum & Library Services and the National Endowment for the Arts.

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