It’s the rare museum exhibition that makes you cry or blows your mind, but we are getting used to them here. Word is getting out about it, too. The Association of Art Museum Curators (AAMC) recognized a pair of 2013 shows at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Ackland Art Museum and Duke’s Nasher Museum of Art in their annual Awards for Excellence last month.
The emotionally moving group exhibition More Love: Art, Politics, and Sharing since the 1990s, guest curated for the Ackland by Claire Schneider, an independent curator based in Buffalo, and the stunning mid-career retrospective Wangechi Mutu: A Fantastic Journey, curated by the Nasher’s Trevor Schoonmaker, took honorable mentions in their respective categories. The AAMC divides award categories based on museums’ operating budgets.
Schoonmaker’s A Fantastic Journey elaborated the Kenya-born, Brooklyn-based Mutu’s protean nature by bringing the violent, beautiful collages she’s known for together with sculpture, installation and video work. Schoonmaker convinced Mutu to include work from her notebooks as well, giving invaluable insight into her collage process. The Nasher also commissioned “The End of Eating Everything,” a video collaboration between Mutu and recording artist Santigold.
The show itself is as transformative as Mutu’s work. A Fantastic Voyage is still traveling. It has made stops at the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, and finishes at the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University this year.
“Wangechi is very inventive and always mixing things up,” Schoonmaker says. “She is never content with doing things one way and wants to experiment, as do I, so we planned the show accordingly so that a certain amount of improvisation could occur.
“There are a number of site-specific elements in the show that are meant to transform and morph in new spaces, in some cases adding new elements, in others, reducing things. For instance, here at the Nasher we were able to really push the root structures coming out of the walls into the floor. At Brooklyn, because the space was tighter and less flexible, the trees were constructed upwards, with roots moving up over the ceiling.”
Schneider’s curation of More Love was about thematic depth rather than a single artist’s breadth. Including works by over 30 contemporary artists, it held together through the ideas of emotional engagement and generosity. The Ackland could hardly contain it all—you heard Julianne Swartz's audio work “Affirmation” between the sets of entry doors to the museum. You might have seen one of six Félix González-Torres billboards scattered around the Triangle during the exhibit’s run last February and March.
“A woman I met as I was leaving the first Sunday said that she was going to send clients to stand in the vestibule to be showered in love,” Schneider recalls. “This was after she told me, when I asked about her profession, that she ‘listened to people’s shit for a living.’”
Much of the work in the exhibition was interactive, as well. For Yoko Ono’s “Time to Tell Your Love,” visitors were photographed expressing themselves in the gallery, and were given a small glass prism to take home. Gonzalez-Torres’s “Untitled (Ross in L.A.),” a 175-pound pile of candy in a gallery corner, dwindled as visitors took them and ate them in the galleries, memorializing the artist’s partner Ross Laycock, who died of AIDS.
“I had amazing conversations with people around Félix González-Torres’ work,” Schneider says. “One girl told me that when she thought about this piece, it reminded her of her grandmother who had recently died and she had so many memories of her connected to candy, because she had lollipops she got from the bank always waiting for her. Her family even had these at the grandmother’s funeral to remind her of her grandmother. Telling me this story, she broke down crying, so completely taken to an emotional loving place."
More Love also traveled, spending the fall at the Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art in Nashville.