Exhibition Documentation

Sebastian Ruth

Witnessing 09.13.19 – 11.28.20

Much of my work questions how to integrate musical experiences and the life of a community for mutual benefit. I’ve been inspired by educator John Dewey’s project in the 1930s to find ways of “restoring continuity” between art and everyday life experience. Dewey worried that the formality of art spaces prevented people from seeing art as lively, meaning-rich encounters connected to our sense of purpose as humans in the world. Philosopher Maxine Greene took this a step further and said we can and must “lend works of art our lives”—we must allow ourselves to see art as speaking to our core questions, not in an abstract or cerebral way, but in a way that connects to our memories, our pasts, our lived lives.

In this gallery I’ve created a musical soundtrack for scoradatura (retuned) solo viola based on the blinking lights of the iconic Providence smokestacks, themselves a musical gesture. The works I’ve chosen from the RISD Museum collection seem captivated by a similar impulse—to see the everyday for its beauty. Witnessing invites us to consider our daily lives as aesthetic encounters.

View Sebastian Ruth’s chapter of this publication.

View exhibition checklist and selected objects.

Paul Scott

New American Scenery 09.13.19 – 07.11.21

This installation juxtaposes early 19th-century Staffordshire ceramic transferwares drawn from the shelves of the RISD Museum storage with new Cumbrian Blue(s) artworks. Replacing the porcelain works typically on view in the Lucy Truman Aldrich gallery, New American Scenery melds historic printed tablewares, altered antique ceramics, and reclaimed Syracuse China plates with new screenprints to update early transferware subjects for the 21st century.

In the early 1900s, Staffordshire wares with images of American landscapes became hugely desirable objects, and for the first time, mass-produced industrial tablewares were elevated within museum hierarchies to rival the finest Meissen, Sevres, and Chinese porcelain. The high status of these works did not persist, however, and the period following World War II saw most relegated to museum storage, where they have gathered dust ever since. New American Scenery draws attention to the beauty, significance, and influence of original transferware material while examining the post-industrial landscapes of 21st-century America. Themes include industrial dereliction, borders, the physical manifestations of climate change, energy generation and consumption, and the ongoing legacies of invasion, slavery, and racism.

View Paul Scott’s chapter of this publication.

View exhibition checklist and selected objects.

Pablo Bronstein

Historical Rhode Island Decor 09.20.19 – 09.20.20

Historical Rhode Island Decor presents three rooms decorated with new wallpapers and printed fabrics of my design. The wallpapers depict the Stephen Hopkins House, the First Baptist Church in America, and the Rhode Island State House, and reflect the development of the architectural imagery of statehood. The wallpaper and fabric serve as the backdrop to objects from RISD Museum’s storage to present plausible historical interiors. The wallpapers also refer to 18th- and early 19th-century examples in the museum’s collection and to the revival of Colonial and Federal styles at the beginning of the 20th century—styles that have not only contributed significantly to shared visual imagery, but have shaped notions of the past.

This installation pays homage to the period room, an exhibition practice now in decline. It also considers museological accuracy, the museum’s blurred relationship both as a place of scholarship and an inspiration for the home, and the ways in which museums submit to local historical biases and interests in shaping their collections and displays. Envisioned within the framework of printmaking, the presentation plays with architectural and decorative motifs, inventing imagery on a large scale in relation to sculptural furniture.

View Pablo Bronstein’s chapter of this publication.

View exhibition checklist and selected objects.

Simone Leigh

The Chorus 10.18.19 – 12.12.20

The Chorus reflects artist Simone Leigh’s commitment to sculpturally shaping and defining the presence and voices of women of color throughout history. A sound installation plays in each gallery the exhibition occupies. In it, artists, writers, curators, and historians read texts written by women of color: Saidiya Hartman’s essay “Manual for General Housework” (2019), sculptor Nancy Elizabeth Prophet’s diaries from her time in Paris (1922–1934), and new text created for this project by historian Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts. This multiplicity of voices alludes to the chorus found in ancient Greek drama. It also suggests Hartman’s description of the chorus as “all the unnamed young women of the city trying to find a way to live and in search of beauty.” The readings contemplate the experiences and torments of people of color—particularly women—engaged in manual labor willingly or under varying degrees of duress. This exploration continues with the presentation of new figurative work by Leigh and sculptures from the museum collection by Nancy Elizabeth Prophet, Janine Antoni, and Huma Bhabha in the ancient Greek and Roman galleries and a work by David Hammons in the Egyptian gallery. Together, they consider approaches artists have shared over thousands of years and question how instances of colonialism and cultural imperialism seen in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome continue to frame contemporary experiences.

View Simone Leigh’s chapter of this publication.

View exhibition checklist and selected objects.

Nicole Eisenman

Tonight We Are Going Out And We Are All Getting Hammered 11.01.19 – 05.01.21

Inside Kiki’s Backdoor, works from the RISD Museum’s collection, ranging from medieval to contemporary, are arranged to draw attention to their humanity. These bold creatures stare at us with frank gazes: we cruise them and they cruise us. Party lights rake across the canvases, casting strips of blue, red, and green across the faces that line the walls of the club, bringing them all into the present moment with us. Out back behind the dumpster, sculptures wait in line to be let in.

This installation plucks these works from the chronology of art history and gives them space to step forward and claim their seats in sonder with us, helping us to realize that each one has a life as vivid and complex as our own.

The artist wishes to thank Sam Roeck for his collaboration on this project.

View Nicole Eisenman’s chapter of this publication.

View exhibition checklist and selected objects.

Beth Katleman

Games of Chance 11.08.19 – 07.04.21

This installation shines a light on the life of collector Charles L. Pendleton (1846–1904). In the corridor leading to Pendleton House, the RISD Museum’s decorative-arts wing, Beth Katleman creates an intricately embellished porcelain room replete with mirrors, architectural ornaments, and over-door sculptures. Hinting at dubious episodes from Pendleton’s life are a blindfolded Marilyn Monroe and Fortuna, Roman goddess of luck, a fitting muse given Pendleton’s passion for gambling. These elements and the many others in Game of Chance were cast by the artist in white porcelain from flea-market trinkets, toys, dolls, and pop icons, highlighting the contrasts between public and private personas as well as the polite veneer of Pendleton House and disreputable and mysterious aspects of the collector’s past.

View Beth Katleman’s chapter of this publication.

View exhibition checklist and selected objects.

Triple Canopy in collaboration with CFGNY

Can I Leave You? 11.22.19 – 10.24.20

How do artworks and design give rise to nations and national identities? What do they tell viewers about what—and whom—to value? How has the United States been shaped through the consumption and display of goods and the subjugation of people whose labor or likenesses mark them?

This installation considers how early European Americans defined themselves through products from and portrayals of China, whether porcelain bowls or travelogues, out of admiration or animus. The video and sound installation are linked by an epistolary narrative that involves time travel, fictions about China and Chinese people, and a “house attack”—a colonial-era targeting of white elites who pursued wealth and power at the expense of their community.

Can I Leave You? is named after a song from the tradition of Sacred Harp, a particularly democratic form of choral music that originated in New England in the late 1700s. This song describes the anxieties of immigration and raises the possibility of abandoning nationality as the source of belonging. A recording of “Can I Leave You?,” made with the vocal ensemble Ekmeles, provides the basis for the video’s soundtrack.

For Can I Leave You?, Triple Canopy commissioned the fashion collective CFGNY (Concept Foreign Garments New York) to create Synthetic Blend V, a capsule collection and campaign video. Prompted by the combination of European American and Chinese objects in Pendleton House, CFGNY’s collection considers how Asian American identity is forged and perceived, especially through the global circulation of styles and materials. CFGNY worked with tailors in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam—Nguyệt Huế Nguyệt, Bùi Thị Mỹ Linh, Bùi Thị Lan Anh, Da Trần Văn Tân, and Namsilk Tailor—to develop designs. These garments provide an uncanny reflection of the objects that surround them. They also give the impression of the house being inhabited—or haunted—by those who don’t belong in such a “typically American” environment, and whose presence might have a transformative effect. 

View Triple Canopy’s chapter of this publication.

View exhibition checklist and selected objects.

Pablo Helguera

Inventarios / Inventories 02.07.20 – 08.21.21

Inventarios/Inventories explores the personal and domestic contexts of artworks, particularly as they exist in artists’ personal lives and working environments and the homes of their close family and collaborators. Drawing upon the RISD Museum’s Nancy Sayles Day Collection of Latin American art, Pablo Helguera has collaborated with living Latin American artists and the families, close friends, and collaborators of those no longer alive to provide a view of the domestic lives of artworks. The project is also a tribute to the exhibition history of the RISD Museum and the legacy of former director Alexander Dorner, who created immersive environments to enhance the visitor’s experience. The exhibition is accompanied by public programs and performances developed in collaboration with the participating artists.

View Pablo Helguera’s chapter of this publication.

View exhibition checklist and selected objects.

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