Some of the most imaginative and dynamic artists working today are exploring what it means to be a citizen of the 21st century. Whether creating paintings or videos, sculptures or photographs, the artists in We the People: New Art from the Collection are interested in how we define identity, form communities, and confront the various forces that shape our lives. This exhibition takes its title from two featured works, both called We the People: Hank Willis Thomas’s quilt made from decommissioned prison uniforms cut up and pieced together to spell out these first words of the preamble to the United States Constitution, and Danh Võ’s full-size copper replica of the Statue of Liberty broken into several hundred pieces, one of which is included in the exhibition.
Taken as an ensemble, the works in We the People encourage us to think about our place in a constantly evolving world. Who are we? What are our values and how are they formed? How do we imagine our future? These questions arise from a complex and often contradictory set of experiences and circumstances, ranging from our engagement with popular culture to our political debates, physical environment, and historical narratives.
From its founding in 1862, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery has been dedicated to collecting art that reflects the concerns of each era. Over the past five years, the museum has continued this mission by acquiring hundreds of works by living artists from around the world, including Subodh Gupta, Park McArthur, Sopheap Pich, and Jaune Quick-to-See Smith. We the People includes more than two dozen of these new additions to the collection, most of which have never before been on view at the Albright-Knox. They represent a vision of the museum as a resource for the community, offering unique opportunities for the exchange of ideas. It is our hope that the works in We the People also inspire conversations about contemporary art and its evolving relevance to all of our lives. Ultimately, art exists and becomes art only through the act of human engagement.