(MONTCLAIR, NJ) — The Montclair Museum of Art (MAM) presents a new exhibition opening in February 2023 with the work of Vanessa German (b. 1976) entitled …please imagine all the things i can’t say… The exhibition runs from February 11, 2023 to June 25, 2023.
vanessa german: …please imagine all the things I can’t say… will take the form of a large-scale, immersive installation of mixed-media artworks and will be the artist’s first solo exhibition at a New York City-area museum. The exhibition includes a range of freestanding and wall-based works from 2016 to 2021, as well as several works from German’s recent solo exhibition. vanessa german: sad rapper, at the Kasmin Gallery in New York City (September 8 to October 29, 2022).
A Los Angeles-born German currently resides in rural North Carolina. She is a self-taught sculptor, painter, poet, and performance artist who describes herself as a citizen artist and is interested in art as a form of healing, protection, and activism, particularly for African Americans. Her mostly female power characters explore themes of strength, love and justice while grappling with the complicated history of races in the United States. german was active in the Homewood community of Pittsburgh from 2005-2021 and in 2011 founded Love Front Porch, an arts initiative for the women, children and families of the neighborhood. In 2014, she transformed the building next to hers into the ARTHouse, where people from her predominantly African-American neighborhood could come and get creative – especially children. ARTHouse combined a community studio, large garden, outdoor theater and artist residency. german credits her mother, Sandra German, a quilter, fiber artist and activist, for inspiring her to make things from an early age: “We made our own clothes, toys, books, records, plays. So I really grew up understanding my entire life that I didn’t need to outsource my own fun (or) creativity. I could do the things of my life.”
The museum’s Weston Gallery will feature mixed media works from the artist’s installation Miracles and glory abound (2018), which traveled to three museums (Flint Institute of Arts, Figge Art Museum, and Bates College Museum of Art) in 2019–20 and has never before been seen in the New York tri-state area. The centerpiece is a life-size reinterpretation of the iconic painting by Emmanuel Leutze Washington crosses the Delaware (1851, Metropolitan Museum of Art). LaQuisha Washington consciously crosses the day reshapes the character of George Washington as a tall, imposing, and proud African American mother. By visually changing Leutze’s narrative, german asks: “Who gets to change this story? Who gets to create the images for these stories of American greatness?” Her attitude toward the painting has been linked to that of Robert Colescott George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware: Page from an American History Textbook (1975, Lucas Museum) by casting all characters as African American. Miracles and glory abound challenges us to reconsider the stereotypes about the birth of this nation – a task for which German is well suited. As German weaves her multivalent identities of Black, American, and a queer woman into this canonical American narrative, she asserts that “the political meets the spiritual meets the cultural” and that they “meet in a way that is consistent with my understanding of correctness.” is equivalent to .”
Linked to her identity as an activist, German’s creative practice has its roots in indigenous and West African folk traditions, as well as the Black Arts movements since the 1960s. She works primarily in assemblage as she sculpts wood, plaster and fabric, which she adorns with a wide range of objects and materials – some from her local community, others from across the country. Prayer beads, doll parts, handmade patterned quilts, china china, skateboards, rope, silk flowers, cowrie shells, Coke bottles, vintage porcelain long bells, and artificial turf are among the range of objects that the German says will “become both a wound and a medicine.” ” These “emancipatory ingredients” are often listed and accompanied by a poem that conveys the inherent metaphysical meanings for each work. As the artist noted, “I get on the way the sadness and the light are right there in the same place… defy[ing] the law of physics that tells us that two things cannot occupy the same space at the same time.” The artist credits her earlier power figure sculptures, created from materials found on vacant lots and abandoned houses in her neighborhood, to surround her to save from depression caused by poverty and hardship.
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Through their powerful work and presence, german offers a redeeming space for visitors. You are invited to recognize, experience and address all the feelings of anger and sadness provoked by historical and ongoing racist violence in our society, to which German’s humanistic vision responds vigorously and compassionately. In addition, the MAM community will experience the German’s reputation as a fascinating speaker, educator and performance artist up close when she delivers the renowned Gaelen Family Artist Lecture in April 2023.
A fully illustrated catalog will accompany the exhibition and is available from The Shop at MAM. It will be the only publication currently in print about the artist.
Can’t wait to experience vanessa german’s work in person until February? Check out the Germans untitled (2020), currently on view in the MAM exhibition until December 18, 2022, Transformed: Objects redesigned by American artists.
The Montclair Art Museum has an acclaimed collection of American and Native American art that uniquely showcases art creation in the United States over the past 300 years. The works in MAM’s Native American Art Collection span the period from c. 1200 AD to the present day. The Vance Wall Art Education Center encompasses the museum’s educational efforts, including award-winning Yard School of Art studio classes, lectures and talks, family events, tours, and the mobile MAM Art Truck. MAM exhibitions and programs serve a wide audience of all ages, from families and seniors to artists, educators and scientists.
All MAM programs are made possible in part by funding from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts, the Vance Wall Foundation, the Partners for Health Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, and museum members.
PHOTOS: (TOP) Vanessa German, Miracles and Glory Abound, 2018, mixed media assemblages. Installation view at the Flint Institute of Arts. Dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist and Kasmin Gallery, NYC. Photo courtesy of Heather Jackson, Flint Institute of Arts
(BELOW) Vanessa German, The HERO, 2022. Mixed media assemblage. 73 x 49 x 46 ¾ in. Courtesy of the artist and Kasmin Gallery, NYC.