Pascale Marthine Tayou
Remember Bimbia, 2018
Pascale Marthine Tayou’s site-specific installation for the Redwood, Remember Bimbia (2018) is a pile of painted paving stones that moor the American flag – American history and American futures – in the rubble of its repressed past. The artist’s call to memory, to remember Bimbia, is both a specific invocation of what was once the key slave market in Tayou’s native country of Cameroon— an¬d with it, an acknowledgement of the role that Africans also played in the slave trade— and a larger appeal for us all to accept slavery as “part of our communal history; it is a history that belongs to us all,” as Tayou explains. The slave trade powered the economies of the new world as much as the old. And it was central to the prosperity of the “lively experiment” of Rhode Island: to Newport as a city, and to the Redwood specifically.
This institution’s founder, Abraham Redwood, owed his wealth to the triangle trade and to his sugar plantation in Antigua, where he held nearly three hundred slaves. Even as he championed the Enlightenment ideals of reading and learning, he also represented the contradictory notions of equality that defined colonial America as a slave-owning “democracy” of and for white men. This institution acknowledges the contradictions and complexities of its past, and with this temporary installation, it invites Newport residents and visitors to remember the slave market of Bimbia and the thousands of West Africans who arrived in Newport enchained. At the same time,Remember Bimbia celebrates the contributions of people of all “colors,” evoking the revolutionary spirit of 1968 – fifty years ago this summer – through its “riotous” color and the paving stones flung in the name of liberty.
Commissioned by the Redwood Contemporary Arts Initiative, through the generosity of Cornelius C. Bond and Anne E. Blackwell
Shara Hughes’ Summer House was conceived and created by the artist specifically for the Redwood's eighteenth-century octagonal “folly" in summer 2017. Curated by Dodie Kazanjian, with whom the artist has worked extensively, Kazanjian describes how: "It cannot be entered, but only viewed by one person at a time, and in that sense it becomes a deeply personal experience." In the interior space of the summerhouse, Hughes' painted elements inhabit a sculptural landscape that suggests both something public and theatrical like a stage set, yet also intimates an intensely private world: a dreamscape that is revealed to the viewer who climbs up the stairs to peer inside. Describing her experience of walking the Redwood's eighteenth-century grounds, especially the long flagstone-paved allée leading to the summer house that was designed by John Russell Pope in 1917 (the architect known for the National Gallery of Art and Jefferson Memorial in Washington DC), Hughes explains: “I kept coming back to the idea of a church and an altarpiece, of walking up to something and having a special experience with it alone.”
Shades of Madness
Hung up high up in the Harrison Room of the Redwood, in a surprising confrontation with the early American portraits of white men, George Condo's painting of a nude woman, Shades of Madness, addressed the library's readers through the summer of 2017. The portrait was a site-specific intervention that formed part of the Condo “Newport Sexx Festival” exhibition curated by Dodie Kazanjian. Exectutive Director Benedict Leca explained to RI Public Radio: “This is quite a conservative town in many ways and this is a dramatic representation so it’s going to cause certain people to feel discomfort...all these pieces ask you to reconsider propriety, decorum, entrenched biases.”
Kevin Dacey: Outside/In
March 15, 2017 through June 4, 2017
For over a decade, Boston artist Kevin Dacey has been photographing cultural spaces such as museums and libraries, creating liquidy surfaces of reflection that dissolve the boundaries between outside and in: between nature and culture, between reality and its multiple refractions. Launching the artist’s yearlong residency at the Redwood – part of the new Redwood Contemporary Arts Initiative - this exhibition presents Dacey’s initial meditations on the ins and outs of this eighteenth-century institution.
Dacey’s recent photographs taken at a wintery Redwood join three earlier bodies of work. Vitrine focuses on museum cases, confounding our sense of what lies within these glass houses or outside them. In NowWhen, spectral museum-goers float in sweeps of white light, suspended between the moment (Now) and its future (When). And in DateTime, brilliant large-format photographs are pierced by points of illumination that spell out cryptic streams of dates: 1917, 1929, 1973.
As exterior and interior fold into one another in multiple ways, Dacey’s photographs blur the line between the material and the cerebral, between the realities that lie outside us and our imagination within. In this way, they press the question: What is located in the photograph and what is our external projection onto it? Which is another way of asking: where does our outside begin and our inside end?
The Vitrine series (2006 - 2010) was shot in museums in New York and Boston, including Harvard’s Fogg Art Museum prior to its 2008-2014 renovation by Renzo Piano Building Workshop. In these works, Dacey folds and layers space, confusing the edges between the objects inside vitrines or on the wall, and the institutional context outside that frames them. In Allston’s Revenge, the oil painting hanging on the wall dissolves beneath the reflection of the Fogg courtyard superimposed on its vitreous surface. That the neoclassical pillars of the museum now seem to float on an inky, tossed sea further confounds the solidity of the architectural space, creating a composite image that fuses outside and in.
The elitist context of the Fogg Art Museum frames the meaning of these photographs too: for the very walls and columns that assert themselves on the picture plane of Allston’s Revenge allude to the boundaries of the museum’s physical architecture. Walls separate Harvard from the street outside, filtering access to its resources through mechanisms of entry that have not always been as egalitarian as they may be now. The question of who is outside, and who is inside haunts this doubled surface and roiling sea, patterned with windows and arcades that invite entrance, only to enfold it in darkness.
NowWhen (2008- present) addresses not the objects housed in the museum but the visitors who swirl around them. The quiet dynamism of their movement animates these images: limbs blur as someone turns, and silhouettes melt into the air. Even when figures are still -- pausing to look -- some part of their body invariably falls away in a foggy blur, as if their hard stare, their focus on a work of art must be softened by the camera’s gentle, unfocused encounter with the edges of their body. As the eye of the camera - and the photographer behind it - survey people engaged in the act of looking, NowWhen traces the invisible energy of seeing and being seen that animates the transitory act of looking. “This is,” as Dacey explains, “the space of the middle, just ahead of now and just before when.”