JACKSON, MISS.- The Mississippi Museum of Art
is presenting New Symphony of Time, an ongoing exhibition of approximately 170 works drawn primarily from the Museums permanent collection that illuminates and expands the boundaries of Mississippis identity. The exhibition opened September 7, 2019, and remains on view with select artworks and wall text changing over time, enabling visitors to make new connections from different perspectives. The initial installation explores themes related to ancestry and memory; migration, movement, and home; shared humanity; the natural environment; and liberty for all.
The Museums collection of more than 6,000 objects is particularly strong in American art from circa 1865 to the present day and comprises paintings, prints and drawings, textiles, photographs, sculpture, and multi-media works. Prominent artists featured in New Symphony of Time include Benny Andrews, Radcliffe Bailey, Romare Bearden, Albert Bierstadt, Elizabeth Catlett, Jeffrey Gibson, Titus Kaphar, Glenn Ligon, Deborah Luster, Georgia OKeeffe, and Hank Willis Thomas. Mississippi artists include the states first native-born professional artist, James Tooley, Jr., and Richmond Barthé, McArthur Binion, Dusti Bongé, Marie Hull, Sam Gilliam, Gwendolyn A. Magee, George Ohr, and Eudora Welty.
To imagine a new way of engaging with art about Mississippi, Museum curators borrowed phrases from Margaret Walker Alexanders epic poem This Is My Century: Black Synthesis of Time to organize the exhibition. Thematic areas evoke ancestral wisdom, the strength of sheer survival, and the power of imagination to create a more just, empathetic world. While each section follows a particular narrative thread, certain ideas resonate throughout, such as personal and collective memory, history and the connection to place, and the roles artists play in pursuit of civil rights and racial equity.
This range of works and the thematic installation provide visitors with an alternate lens from which to consider the significant creative contributions of Mississippi artists and those inspired by the state. Together, they reveal aspects of a broader, American story through a diversity of voices and experiences, said Museum Director Betsy Bradley. By examining the past, we can help realize a more inclusive future for society. Margaret Walker Alexanders opening lines epitomize this idea: O Man, behold your destiny. Look on this life and know your future living; our former lives from these our present days now melded into one.
Contemporary artworks acquired through the Museums Center for Art and Public Exchange (CAPE) with support from W.K. Kellogg, such as Benny Andrews Mississippi River Bank (2005) and Jeffrey Gibsons Sharecropper (2015), are placed in conversation with pieced quilts, historical portraits and landscapes, and work by indigenous and self-taught artists."
New Symphony of Time lays the groundwork for an ever-evolving visitor experience that includes transparency of the exhibition process through the Museums Community Advisory Council (a program directed by CAPE). This initiative provides the curatorial team and community with the unique opportunity to work collaboratively to explore new creative strategies for developing the Museums public interfaces, identifying new artists, and continuing to expand on themes together, among other activities.
While planning the exhibition, we used several of our public programs, like Art and Coffee, to present our evolving ideas about reinstalling the permanent collection. Feedback from visitors ranged from focusing on Mississippis artists to expanding narratives about the South. It is exciting to realize that our visitors are eager to know more about Mississippis own art history but are also open to us placing the work in new contexts. This really energized our ability to include old favorites but also pull different works from the vault that hadnt been on view before, as well as include non-Mississippi artists whose work speaks to themes within the exhibition. We plan to refresh and change the installation over the years so that the experience continues to invite new stories and perspectives, said Museum Curator of American Art Elizabeth Abston.