William Villalongo exhibition opens today at Grinnell College Museum of Art

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William Villalongo exhibition opens today at Grinnell College Museum of Art
William Villalongo, American, b. 1975. The Mothership Connection (detail), 2020. Acrylic, glitter spray paint on yupo, cut velour paper, pigment print, watercolor paper. 40 ½ x 162 x 2 ¼ in. Grinnell College Museum of Art Collection.

GRINNELL, IOWA.- The exhibition William Villalongo: Myths and Migrations opens today at Grinnell College Museum of Art (GCMoA). Exhibition curator Daniel Strong will introduce the exhibition in a 4 pm gallery talk, followed by an opening reception. Both the talk and the reception are free and open to the public. Myths and Migrations will present more than 30 paintings, collages, and signature velour paper cut-outs by Villalongo, who was a 2021 recipient of the Rome Prize in the visual arts, awarded by the American Academy in Rome. 

Over the past 20 years, William Villalongo (b. 1975) has reconsidered history by examining who has been left out of the traditional canon of Western European art and history. According to Villalongo, “…we have a mythology of a kind of scarcity of Black Presence, a scarcity of Black power, a scarcity of a record of Black engagement with Western world or in the ancient world which is not true.”

Villalongo, who is an associate professor in the School of Art at The Cooper Union in New York, describes the origin of his signature velvet and velour paper cut-outs by saying, “I liked painting with oils, but it didn’t connect to me as a material that made sense for any of my concerns…I stumbled on the velvet and velour just thinking about what things were around me that I looked at as a kid. My mom still had these velvet paintings from the late 70s and 80s, and that made me think, ‘This is a material that’s a lot closer to my visual memory.’”

Myths and Migrations provides context for three works by Villalongo that were added to GCMoA’s collection in 2009, 2018, and 2021 by Daniel Strong, Associate Director and Curator of Exhibitions. The Mothership Connection, the most recent work acquired by the Museum, illustrates Villalongo’s reexamination of history. The largescale diptych features two images: at left, the silhouette of a ship used for transporting the enslaved, derived from a well-known print created in 1787; at right, a disembodied figure both emerging from and disappearing into the darkness. Collaged images of meteorites, minerals, and rock crystals are interspersed with African statuary and masks — objects that serve as currency in the trade and trafficking of resources, commodities, and Black bodies.

The Mothership Connection takes its title from the 1975 Parliament album of the same name. The record is one of the first to explore George Clinton's P-Funk mythology that envisions a celestial, Space-Age-inspired realm of resiliency and enlightenment for African Americans. Parliament's Mothership Connection has become a cornerstone of Afrofuturism, an aesthetic and philosophy that marks the intersection of the African diaspora with technology.

William Villalongo will visit the Grinnell College campus in February to discuss his work with students from a wide range of disciplines. He will present a public gallery talk about his exhibition on Wednesday, February 7 at 4 pm. William Villalongo: Myths and Migrations continues through March 31. The exhibition will travel to three other locations following its debut at GCMoA: Madison Museum of Contemporary Art in Madison, WI; Museum of Art, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO; and Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA.

The exhibition is presented in collaboration with the artist and Susan Inglett Gallery, New York.

Related programs

Opening Reception and Gallery Talk: January 25, 4 pm

Associate Director and Curator Daniel Strong will introduce GCMoA’s new exhibition, William Villalongo: Myths and Migrations. Reception to follow.

Gallery Talk: William Villalongo: Myths and Migrations: February 7, 4 pm 

William Villalongo will talk about his exhibition, Myths and Migrations, focusing on works produced in the past 20 years which consider the absurdity, beauty, and vulnerability of black presence through history, myth, and satire.

Gallery Talk: Dr. Tiffany Barber: Break Beats and Deep Cuts in William Villalongo's Collages: February 26, 4 pm

Renowned scholar, curator, and critic Dr. Tiffany E. Barber, Assistant Professor of African American Art at the University of California-Los Angeles, and curator-in-residence at the Delaware Contemporary, will discuss the convergence of hip hop and ancient art history in artist William Villalongo's collage practice. Dr. Barber’s work encompasses dance, fashion, feminism, film, and the ethics of representation, focusing on artists of the Black diaspora working in the United States and the broader Atlantic world. Her latest curatorial project, a virtual, multimedia exhibition for Google Arts and Culture, examines the value of Afrofuturism in times of crisis. Co-sponsored by the Center for the Humanities.

Grinnell College, a private liberal arts college in Iowa founded in 1846, provides individually advised learning for intellectually engaged students to produce graduates who are prepared to navigate the world’s complexities and responsibly contribute to the common good. Grinnell enrolls 1,700 students from around the world, who earn bachelor’s degrees in a range of disciplines across the humanities, arts, and sciences. Grinnell's rigorous academic program and campus life emphasize excellence in education through free inquiry and the open exchange of ideas, a diverse community and social responsibility and action.

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