'Emancipating the Past' launches UO art museum's winter schedule

Kara Walker, African/American, 1998, Linocut on paperEUGENE, Ore. — (Jan.14, 2014) — The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon presents “Emancipating the Past: Kara Walker’s Tales of Slavery and Power,” on view from Jan. 25 to April 6.

Featuring 60 objects from the collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and his family foundation, the exhibition and programs explore Walker’s innovative approach to historical narrative and the complexities and ambiguities of racial representation in her work. The exhibition and programs begin with a free, public reception on Friday, Jan. 24, from 6 to 8 p.m. 

Emerging in New York in the mid-1990s, Walker has become one of the most successful and controversial artists working today. She is known for her black cut-paper silhouettes, which enact violent and uncanny scenes of the antebellum South that upend notions of historical propriety. In Walker’s hands, the dainty Victorian medium of silhouette becomes a tool for examining violence, oppression, and domination. Through elegant images and dark humor, Walker’s work provides a critical forum for discussing the difficult issues that persist in American race relations 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

“Kara Walker is one of the most important artists in our collection. Her art needs to be seen and the themes need to be examined. No artist today does a better job of forcing the viewers to deal with stereotypes, gender, and race,” says Jordan Schnitzer.

Organized by the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art and curated by Jessi DiTillio, JSMA assistant curator of contemporary art, “Emancipating the Past” explores the aesthetic and political techniques of Walker’s art practice through a range of different projects, and brings together some of her earliest and most recent artworks.

“The artworks presented in this exhibition dis­play the range of approaches she has taken to the silhouette and the human figure, to printmaking, and to narrative,” says DiTillio. “Beginning with some of her early works in the style for which she is best known (black silhouettes on a white ground), the exhibition moves forward to show some of her most recent and innovative artistic experiments, including sculpture and video.”

A series of programs complement the exhibition and include a curator’s talk with DiTillio; a conversation with collector Jordan Schnitzer; lectures by guest speakers Arlene R. Keizer, associate professor of English, University of California at Irvine, Walidah Imarisha, author and adjunct professor Portland State University, and Robert Storr, dean of Yale’s School of Art; Tardis Ensemble Concert; and a special film screening of Lotte Reiniger’s “The Adventures of Prince Achmed” with a live original score performed by Miles and Karina.

Walker, honored in 2007 as one of Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People in The World, Artists and Entertainers, is known for her powerful visual narratives, which explore the intersection of race, gender and sexuality. Her thought-provoking approach to these issues has garnered much acclaim, especially for the manner by which she examines the psychology of slavery through fictional narratives.

“The specific media that Walker selects frequently draw on the history of art and popular culture, which adds further subtle meanings to her work,” says DiTillio. “Often using outmoded tech­nologies or old-fashioned techniques like silhou­ettes, eight-millimeter film, or 19th-century printmaking, she brings contemporary perspectives into direct confrontation with the artifacts of history.”

The exhibition includes one of Walker’s most critically acclaimed large-scale print portfolios, “Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated),” in which she juxtaposes her trademark silhouettes with original illustrations from Harper’s 1866 text about the Civil War.

Born in 1969 in Stockton, Calif., and raised in Atlanta, Walker lives in New York where she is a professor of visual arts at Columbia University. Walker received her B.F.A. from the Atlanta College of Art in 1991 and her M.F.A. from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1994. Early in her career, Walker became the youngest artist ever to receive a prestigious MacArthur “genius” grant, attracting new levels of publicity and notoriety.

Walker’s work has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. A 1997 recipient of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Achievement Award, Walker was the United States representative to the 2002 Bienal de São Paulo.

“Emancipating the Past” opened at the Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, Calif., in fall 2013 and, following its display at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, will travel to the Boise Art Museum, Idaho; Tufts University Art Gallery at the Aidekman Arts Center, Medford, Mass.; David C. Driskell Center, University of Maryland, College Park; Springfield Art Museum, Springfield, Mo.; and the University of Wyoming Art Museum, Laramie, Wyo.

“Emancipating the Past” is made possible by Jordan D. Schnitzer and his family foundation. Additional support for the exhibition is provided by the Coeta and Donald Barker Special Exhibitions Endowment; The Harold and Arlene Schnitzer CARE Foundation; a grant from the Oregon Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency; and JSMA members.

About the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art

The University of Oregon's Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art is a premier Pacific Northwest museum for exhibitions and collections of historic and contemporary art based in a major university setting. The mission of the museum is to enhance the University of Oregon’s academic mission and to further the appreciation and enjoyment of the visual arts for the general public. The JSMA features significant collections galleries devoted to art from China, Japan, Korea, America, Europe and elsewhere as well as changing special exhibition galleries. The JSMA is one of six museums in the state of Oregon – and the only university museum – accredited by the American Alliance of Museums.

The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art is located on the University of Oregon campus at 1430 Johnson Lane. Museum hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesdays, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays through Sundays. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for senior citizens. Free admission is given to ages 18 and under, JSMA members, college students with ID, and University of Oregon faculty, staff and students. For information, contact the JSMA at 541-346-3027.

About the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation (JSFF)

The Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation makes its collections of post-war works of art available to museums at no cost. In addition, it also provides funds for education and community outreach programs. To learn more about JSFF, contact curator Tracy Savage at 503-450-0777 or tracys@jordanschnitzer.org

About the University of Oregon

The University of Oregon is among the 108 institutions chosen from 4,633 U.S. universities for top-tier designation of "Very High Research Activity" in the 2010 Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. The UO also is one of two Pacific Northwest members of the Association of American Universities.

Contacts: Debbie Williamson Smith, JSMA Communications Manager, 541-346-0942, debbiews@uoregon.edu

JSFF Media Inquiries: Susanne Orton, vice president of Marketing and Communications, 503-973-0298, susanneo@harsch.com

Links: Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, http://jsma.uoregon.edu
Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation, www.jordanschnitzer.org

Gallery

Kara Walker, African/American, 1998, Linocut on paper