Hamilton, N.J.: Baltimore-based MacArthur ‘Genius’ Fellow Joyce J. Scott continues to develop meticulously sculpted works for her new exhibition opening at Grounds For Sculpture (GFS) on October 22. Joyce J. Scott: Harriet Tubman and Other Truths will be the artist’s largest and most comprehensive exhibition to date. A survey of more than 50 objects Scott has made over the last 45 years will be included, nine of which originated on the island of Murano, Italy, during residencies with master glassmakers. Highlighting Scott's lineage, the exhibition also includes quilts created by her mother, Elizabeth Talford Scott (1916-2011), a master quilter and artist in her own right, with whom Scott lived and worked for six decades. An entirely new, site-specific installation entitled Harriet’s Closet and commissioned specifically for this exhibition will be featured. The survey portion of the exhibition is guest curated by Patterson Sims, while Harriet’s Closet is guest curated by Lowery Stokes Sims.
Scott is best known for her use of beads, and blown and molded glass. She has also established herself as an innovative fiber artist, jeweler, sculptor, print maker, and installation and performing artist over the last fifty years. Scott explores challenging subject matter that compels the viewer to see both her media and its subjects in fresh and unexpected ways. Her skill powerfully reveals the equality between materials and practices often associated with “craft” and the realm of fine art and sculpture.
As an African American feminist artist, Scott unequivocally confronts subjects as diverse as world hunger, rape, love, sexuality, racial stereotypes, social upheaval, and tales from African and African American history and life. Her art leverages its impact with her wry, subversive humor, and engages hardened stereotypes that demand honest examination. “Mixing visual beauty and seduction and often gruesome truths, Scott's work is disarming,” says Patterson Sims, “But it artfully creates powerful opportunities for difficult, needed dialogue on racial, gender, and economic issues.”
Harriet’s Closet extends from the interior gallery to outside, where two large-scale avatars of Harriet Tubman will be sited. One is a 15’ tall earthwork—the tallest sculpture Scott has made to date, completed with beadwork and found objects. The second outdoor Tubman figure, a 10’ tall resin and fiberglass piece, stands upon quilts overlooking Scott’s Lynched Tree, in which a life-scale beaded figure hangs upside down. These new representations are joined by a third avatar, sited within the gallery, with Tubman as Buddha, and illustrate the long-standing commitment of GFS to challenge artists to develop ambitious new work.
In her essay for the accompanying exhibition catalog, Stokes Sims writes of these Tubman figures, “In soil that disintegrates, she is the elusive emancipator evading her hunters; in the company of the lynched figure, she is the social activist; and finally, as Buddha, she is the transcendent spirit who continues to inspire through the ages.”
Harriet’s Closet will also contain objects meant to show other facets of Tubman beyond iconic “freedom fighter,” illustrating more personal, and perhaps meditative, aspects. These will include items that one might find in a woman’s boudoir: an ornamented armoire, quilts, undergarments, and a beautifully embellished glass rifle.
Scott has worked closely with Tom Moran, Chief Curator at Grounds For Sculpture, along with the highly talented team at the neighboring Digital Atelier and The Seward Johnson Atelier during the process of creating these new commissions. Scott communicated her vision through late night texts, drawings, emails, photos, and phone calls. The “Emancipator” Tubman was to be created as an earthwork which would disintegrate, leaving behind only its memory. A mixture of mud and grass was used to construct a 15’ pillar. From this pillar, artist Clifford Ward began carving the Tubman figure, working from Scott’s drawings with assistance from GFS Preparator Kyle Psulkowski. Over several site visits, Scott made adjustments, first on the shape of the figure and her face, and then on the sweep of her skirt, before applique of beaded and found objects began. Scott worked with artist Autin Wright to cast a 14’ resin rifle to accompany this figure.
For the “Activist” Tubman, a clay model was created from digital renderings by Jason Wright (Baltimore) and shipped to Scott who manipulated the figure to her liking. The model was then sent back to the Digital Atelier, enlarged and carved from foam, encased in resin and fiberglass, and finished with a bronze patina, now ready to withstand the elements.
Scott’s work is owned by many important public collections including The Smithsonian American Art Museum and The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Arts and Design, The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, The Mint Museum of Art, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Museum of the Rhode Island School of Design, and is represented by Goya Contemporary, Baltimore, MD, and Mobilia Gallery, Cambridge, MA. Among her many distinctions, Scott is a 2016 MacArthur ‘Genius’ Fellow, and was presented with the prestigious Mary Sawyers Imboden Prize—one of the largest prizes awarded to visual artists in the United States. This year, she was recognized with a Master of the Medium Award from the Glass Arts Society.
A significant departure from the work which has traditionally been shown at GFS, this exhibition affords the institution the opportunity to undertake new approaches to community-led programming and interpretive strategies. “As we contemplate how to be more relevant and responsive to shifts in the world around us, there is increased urgency for exhibitions like this,” says Gary Garrido Schneider, Executive Director of GFS. “I believe strongly in the role of the artist to give voice to difficult truths, to challenge perceptions, to envision anew, and to prompt difficult conversations that can help move us forward. Museums and cultural institutions have the potential and responsibility to serve as platforms and bridges within our communities.”
Joyce J. Scott: Harriet Tubman and Other Truths opens to the public at Grounds For Sculpture on October 22, 2017 and is on view through April 1, 2018. An exhibition catalog and interpretive video will be available. Related programming includes a Glass-blowing Demonstration and Glass Flame-working workshop with GlassRoots on October 28, a day-long workshop entitled “Presenting and Discussing Difficult Topics in African American History” for school teachers, university faculty, museum and historic site staff, community and civic organization members, and the general public on November 1, and on November 17, a very special opportunity to hear Scott in dialogue with fellow MacArthur Award recipient, David Finkel.
GFS gratefully acknowledges the following funders whose support for this exhibition affirm its relevance to contemporary culture and issues: National Endowment for the Arts Art Works, Bank of America, New Jersey Council for the Humanities, Art Alliance for Contemporary Glass, The Coby Foundation, LTD., Rotasa Foundation, PNC Fund of the Princeton Area Community Foundation, Goya Contemporary, Shirley and Arthur Martin Family Fund, Agnes Gund, Barbara Lawrence and Allen Laskin, Gordon and Lulie Gund, Robbye D. Apperson, Jackie & René Copeland, Mike De Paola, and Alan White. Support is also provided by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State; the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, and Johnson Art and Education Foundation.