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Exhibition at the Wellin Museum of Art debuts new works by Jeffrey Gibson
Jeffrey Gibson. TO MY NATION, 2017. Glass beads, copper and tin jingles, steel, nickel, and brass studs, nylon fringe, and artificial sinew on repurposed trading post weaving and acrylic felt, mounted on canvas, 70 x 90 in. (177.8 x 231.1 cm). Courtesy of the artist; Roberts Projects, Los Angeles; Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York; and Kavi Gupta, Chicago. © Jeffrey Gibson. Photograph by Pete Mauney.

CLINTON, NY.- The Wellin Museum of Art at Hamilton College is presenting Jeffrey Gibson: This Is the Day from September 8 through December 9, 2018, featuring over 50 works of sculpture, painting, installation, and video made between 2014 and 2018, a number of which were made expressly for this exhibition. As part of the exhibition, the Wellin debuts a new film that the Museum commissioned from Gibson. Other new works in the exhibition include a group of five elaborately adorned helmets that are being presented to the public for the first time at the Wellin, alongside a series of large-scale sculptural garments, draped on tipi poles which hang from the gallery ceiling. The exhibition is curated by Tracy L. Adler, Johnson-Pote Director of the Wellin Museum of Art, and will travel to the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin in 2019, facilitated by Veronica Roberts, the Blanton’s Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art.

A new film by Gibson commissioned by the Wellin, I Was Here (2018), centers on Macy, a transgender woman and a member of the Choctaw Nation. Blurring the lines between a mystical, natural setting and Macy’s daily reality, Gibson’s film examines the private and personal rituals of transformation and self. The film’s location, the Choctaw reservation in central Mississippi where Gibson’s family is from, plays a significant role in the film’s blend of spirituality, ceremony, and the fantastical.

Gibson says: “Making new work for This Is the Day gave me the opportunity to explore new content, materials and formats that have pushed my practice further. The garments and the commissioned video deal with contemporary issues of identity and establish a dialogue that is inclusive and about how the representation of one’s subjective narrative is complex, valid and never didactic. The garments are mashups of many different cultural references that collectively defy categorization and show that what we wear can define us while simultaneously transcending labels and categorizations.”

Tracy L. Adler explains: “Since the museum was founded, it has been strongly committed to providing artists with the creative space and resources to develop new projects. Jeff is an artist whom I have known and admired for many years. The themes that he explores in his practice are more relevant now than ever, when conflicting narratives about identity and how we define ourselves dominate mainstream discussion. We are excited to introduce this significant body of work to both the Hamilton community and broader audiences.”

The five helmets that are on view for the first time at the Wellin explore different themes found in Gibson’s artistic practice of the last decade: love, the cultural character of the clown/play, peace, death, and the deep sea. The helmets are heavily ornamented with crystals, charms, beads, shells, gun replicas, and doll parts among other found and hand-made objects, and are oversized, heavy, and impractical to wear, weighing between 35 and 45 pounds each.

The garments reference the traditional shirts associated with Ghost Dance, a movement that originated with the Paiute around 1870 and heightened when a Paiute shaman, Wovoka, had a vision in 1889 prophesizing the peaceful end of the westward expansion of whites and a return of the land to the Native American people. It was meant to revitalize traditional ways and end poverty and disease. But Gibson’s garments are exaggerated in size and are made of found objects—vintage quilts, beaded “whimsies,” amulets, charms, beads, and long ribbons of fringe—all meticulously sewn together. They also incorporate photos of Gibson’s previous work that are digitally printed on silk and satin, as well as sections of paintings he made 10 to 20 years ago. Together, the garments and the helmets point to the layers of identity that each of us embody and imagine, while their impracticality highlights the often weighty overtones of cultural responsibilities.

The exhibition also includes a suite of ceramic assemblages comprising found and sculpted ceramic elements, beaded panels, weavings, and abstract geometric paintings, all created in 2017. Also on view is LIKE A HAMMER, Gibson’s multi-media installation commissioned for the 2016 Site Santa Fe Biennial.

Gibson’s multi-disciplinary practice encompasses a wide range of mediums and draws on disparate influences and visual languages to comment on race, sexuality, religion, and gender. This Is the Day examines his artistic approach, which, among other sources of inspiration, combines pop and queer culture alongside both historical and contemporary references to his Native American heritage, including the 19th century Ghost Dance and The Dakota Access Pipeline. The works in the exhibition probe his continued interest in the ritual of self-adornment as a historical and contemporary phenomenon.

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