Conversations with Artists: Wangechi Mutu

Wangechi Mutu taking audience questions

Wangechi Mutu taking audience questions on April 18, 2013, during our Conversations with Artists series. Photo: Sarah Osborne Bender

Two weeks ago, we concluded our season of Conversations with Artists by spending an evening with Wangechi Mutu. I was looking forward to her talk all year, having learned about her first in 2009 during our Paint Made Flesh exhibition. While I was familiar with her collage and mixed media work, I was unaware of her video pieces. Acting as filmmaker and performer, she takes on a variety of roles–laborer, protestor, diva, among them–and carries out intense physical expressions in each film. It was fascinating watching the projected videos of Mutu while, at the same time, she stood right beside the projection, casually in a headscarf and leather jacket.  She also discussed her first animated piece, The End of Eating Everything, which features singer Santigold. She told us she was satisfied at seeing her layered, still, two-dimensional works transformed into a moving image that conveyed a sense of space, but also commented on the lack of control that comes with bigger and more complex projects. I look forward to seeing if she continues her explorations in animation, and to seeing more of her video work.

Stay tuned for the 2013-2014 series of Conversations with Artists, returning in the fall.

Read the live tweets from the conversation with Mutu on Storify.




Politics in Perspective

Brian Dailey, America in Color, 2012

Brian Dailey, America in Color, 2012, photo courtesy the artist. Exhibition on view at Stephan Stoyanov Gallery, New York, through November 18, 2012.

Last Wednesday evening as part of Creative Voices DC series at the Phillips’s Center for the Study of Modern Art, Brian Dailey accomplished a considerable feat for election season—he discussed politics without getting political. In his first solo show America in Color, on view at the Stephan Stoyanov Gallery in New York City through November 18, the artist and former Phillips trustee is displaying a group of one-thousand portraits that together present a demographic study of the American electorate. While traveling across the United States, Dailey photographed individuals in front of monochrome backgrounds representing their political affiliations: blue for Democrat, red for Republican, grey for Independent, green for the Green Party, and yellow if they don’t vote or participate in the political process. Dailey and his team employed a vigorously consistent lighting pattern and various editing techniques to keep the backgrounds uniform and photographed subjects in full-length, to capture each individual’s mannerisms and behavioral quirks. Using such a systematic approach across various locations allowed Dailey to reveal a narrative not only about democracy and political diversity, but about what he refers to as the “uncelebrated American life.”

I embraced this concept and think our audience appreciated it as well. With the final presidential debate two nights prior, the third-party debate the night before, and Election Day countdown beginning, heightened animosity and contention between political parties seems to be polarizing the nation, affecting us all. This being my first presidential election as an official voter, the animosity feels especially intense, and within my own social circles I have watched people either stay quiet or loudly declare political allegiance. But Brian Dailey keeps politics in perspective. In his talk, he did not mention Senate leaders, party representatives, or presidential candidates. For Dailey these figures do not define American politics—all Americans do. And although our political affiliations may be summed up by red, grey, green, blue, or yellow, our political identity is not a color. Instead it is a stance, a uniform, a costume, or an expression—some part of a person’s presence, which represents all the ideas, characteristics, and beliefs an affiliation cannot. Sometimes this identity seems to match our stereotypes about the color behind it, but Dailey showed us that often it doesn’t. And while political affiliations may at times divide Americans, our more complex, less popularized, “uncelebrated” political identities bring us together.

Madeline Bouton, Center for the Study of Modern Art Intern

Sculpture + Post-Studio Practice: Conversations with Artists

Photographs of Matthew Day Jackson's "Hauta" and Pedro Reyes's "Sanatorium"

(Left) Matthew Day Jackson, Hauta, 2012, Photo: David Bebber, Image courtesy of the artist (Right) Pedro Reyes, Sanatorium, dOCUMENTA(13), 2012, Kassel , Germany, Photo: Klaus Ottmann.

The 2012-13 Conversations with Artists season focuses on post-studio practice and explores how artists are redefining the formal language of conventional sculpture. Engage with artists who create participatory, object-based, ephemeral, public, and installation art, including Pedro Reyes’s temporary clinic Sanatorium, where visitors must check in as patients to be prescribed treatments for “urban illnesses,” and Wangechi Mutu’s exploration of perception and identity through the use of repurposed everyday objects.

In conversation with Alexander Dumbadze, Assistant Professor of Art History, George Washington University

Nov. 29, 2012: PEDRO REYES
In conversation with Vesela Sretenović, Senior Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, The Phillips Collection

Feb. 28, 2013: TEHCHING HSIEH
In conversation with Anne Goodyear, Associate Curator of Prints and Drawings, Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery

In conversation with Klaus Ottmann, Director of the Center for the Study of Modern Art and Curator at Large, The Phillips Collection

April 11, 2013: DANIEL BOZHKOV
In conversation with James Sham, Assistant Professor of Sculpture, George Washington University

April 18, 2013: WANGECHI MUTU
In conversation with Klaus Ottmann, Director of the Center for the Study of Modern Art and Curator at Large, The Phillips Collection

We’ll live tweet from each event this season. Follow us on Twitter at @PhillipsMuseum, and join the conversation. #CWA

Conversations with Artists begin at 6 pm in the Center for the Study of Modern Art studio behind the main museum building. $10; $5 members; free for Phillips International Forum members and students. Reservations are required and can be made online. The conversations are cosponsored by the George Washington University.