EXPEDITION

June 19 - October 11, 2021

Take a virtual tour of the exhibit

This exhibition is made possible in part by a generous gift from Diana and Craig Levin, and Carolyn Thall and Aidan Finnan, in honor of Richard and Alice Thall.

ARTISTS

Donald Baechler
André Butzer
Ann Craven
Matt Dillon
Inka Essenhigh
Torben Giehler
April Gornik
Andy Hope 1930
Richard Jacobs
Michael Kagan
John McAllister
John Newsom
Erik Parker
Raymond Pettibon
Alexis Rockman
Ouattara Watts
Wendy White

FOREWORD

For half a century beginning in 1916, travelers entered through the heavy oak-and-glass doors of the building that today houses the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center to embark on expeditions to destinations nearby and around the world. This was Brattleboro’s Union Station, and the gallery where EXPEDITION is on view was its grand lobby — a liminal space charged with the energy and anticipation of adventures just completed and those that lay ahead.

For the past 50 years, the building has served as a portal for journeys of a different sort — those of the imagination, spirit, and intellect. Its two histories — first train station, then art museum — and the presence of those whose expeditions began or ended here are embedded in the space itself. They can be seen and felt in the original steps made from Vermont marble, in the time-worn terracotta-tiled floor, and in the streamlined architectural details that evoke an unmistakable sense of motion: We are here now, but not for long. We are on our way.

Through the first half of the 20th century, travelers making their way from Brattleboro up the Connecticut River Valley to Reading, Vermont, would have purchased tickets to Proctorsville or Woodstock at the window located alongside Wendy White’s fantastic installation, Double Rainbow (Multiple Levels). Once they reached their destination, if they were to time travel to the summer of 2019, they might find themselves at a festive gathering of artists, curators, and museum directors hosted by the Hall Art Foundation, our contemporary art neighbors to the north.

That’s where John Newsom and I met, each of us enjoying a mini-expedition of our own, away from home, eyes and minds lifted above the everyday, open and attuned to new possibilities, ideas, and collaborations. We hit it off immediately. As I recall, John’s vision for EXPEDITION was nearly fully formed from the start. He rattled off the names of most of the artists he planned to include — an exciting, diverse group, many of whom had never shown in Vermont before. The exhibition would “depict aspects of venturing into unknown lands and territories,” he said, and I was sold. He had tapped into one of the things I love most about art and museums (and train stations, for that matter) — their ability to transport us to new realms.

We had no way of knowing back in 2019 how powerfully many of us would be longing to go on a journey in the summer of 2021, following an unprecedented year of hunkering down and isolation. In that sense, EXPEDITION feels perfectly suited to this place and time. I hope you enjoy the journey.

— Danny Lichtenfeld, Director

CURATORIAL FIELD NOTE

An expedition can take place across a room or across the world, across the expanse of the mind or the technological web. It is a simple, profound and vast idea… to journey, to venture out. To discover the new is what we as painters strive for daily. We accomplish this by pushing the limits of our known perceptions and understanding of what we accept as safe, as home, as known iconography. It takes guts to move, to get up and out of place. To make the firm commitment to wield the brush, to toil around and celebrate in pigments that which cannot be described nor witnessed by mere everyday observation. This is the “call to adventure,” the starting point of inspiration and wonderment. The 17 painters in EXPEDITION heed that call and invite you to join them on their journeys, internal and external, as revealed not only by their paintings but also by their written reflections on what the idea of ‘expedition’ means to them.

I am a painter, not a curator. As a painter organizing a group show of fellow painters, I try to offer viewers a glimpse into the thoughts and ideas I am currently focusing on in my own studio. Right now it’s all about expanding beyond the walls of the recent quarantine brought on by the pandemic. What better way to “break out” than by embarking on an expedition in the form of a group show?

I was inspired early on by Perry Farrell, the lead singer of Jane’s Addiction, who organized the first Lollapalooza back in 1991. I was a student at Rhode Island School of Design at the time. My friends and I would go see rock shows at a great local venue called The Living Room. Jane’s Addiction, Fugazi, The Buzzcocks, Sonic Youth, The Pixies, Nine Inch Nails, Soundgarden, Red Hot Chili Peppers… we saw so many great bands of the era play there. When Farrell made the announcement that he was forming Lollapalooza, he said his main motivation was to get a bunch of his friends’ bands together and rock out! Including his own. It was a new model for a festival. The energy was different. This wasn’t an events manager from a record label putting a market-driven lineup together. It was the lead singer of one of the wildest rock bands out there jamming with his friends. Because Farrell came to the project as a participant as much as an organizer, I dare say it added a certain level of authenticity to the whole dynamic. That made a huge impression on me, and it’s the model I use when I organize group shows. I include myself because I am a painter. The walls are the stage, and my band plays too.

Back in 2007, my Los Angeles-based art dealer, Patrick Painter, suggested that I curate an exhibition at his Melrose gallery of the German painter Markus Lüpertz. That was my first foray into curating. It was a show of Lüpertz’s complete dithyrambic Tent Paintings. The experience was a real eye-opener for me in terms of what it meant to “conduct” the work of another painter, and for that I will always be grateful to Patrick. He understood how the experience of organizing the Lüpertz show would help broaden the scope of my own work. Patrick wanted to see my paintings expand and grow, and they did.

The difference between a curator or a painter organizing an exhibition is like the difference between a film director or an actor directing a movie. A film director’s training and responsibilities typically extend into so many aspects of the creation of a film, including screenwriting, cinematography, editing, and more. An actor, on the other hand, focuses primarily on their character and method. They have different skill sets, passions, and expertise. The same is true of curators and painters.

When I watched Ben Affleck’s 2010 film The Town, I was blown away. Here was an established actor venturing out to direct a major motion picture with a high-powered ensemble cast and pulling it off with great success. The same can be said for Matt Dillon and his 2003 film City of Ghosts, which shows the depth and range of an actor’s understanding of the medium itself. Both Affleck and Dillon drew upon their experience as actors to elicit great performances from their co-stars and tell powerful stories. I have no doubt that their experiences as directors in turn informed their ongoing work as actors. It’s that way for me whenever I curate a show. I always take back something from the experience that I can use to strengthen whatever is going on in my studio, maturing the paintings and broadening the base.

One of the sources of inspiration for EXPEDITION was the exhibition High Times, Hard Times: New York Painting, 1967-1975, organized by lCI (Independent Curators International) and curated by Katy Siegel with painter David Reed as advisor. I visited the exhibition at the National Academy Museum in New York in 2007. Featuring 40 works by 38 artists, it highlighted the formal concerns of painters working during a time of great social unrest — the late 60s and early 70s. It was very moving to see what these artists did in order to survive and continue to make their challenging work, without the infrastructure of the established gallery system. It was radical. Although many of the works in the show embodied the historic moment of civil strife through experimental means, I was amazed to see painting earning its rightful place among the prevailing mixed media works of the time. Artists such as Mel Bochner, Elizabeth Murray, Richard Tuttle, Al Loving, and Jack Whitten were among the many innovative artists presented and reexamined by Siegel and Reed. What I found so interesting was how painting moved, shifted, and grew during that culturally fraught time… there was a beautiful and serious side to it that felt engaged with methods and approaches to the medium of painting itself.

With EXPEDITION, I have made a conscious effort to present work that extends beyond politics during what I see as a similarly tumultuous time. The works I have selected reflect the wide variety of ways in which painters are responding to difficult circumstances and ultimately moving beyond those circumstances to a more peaceful and nurturing place. Amidst the current social unrest, it is the responsibility of today’s painters to maintain the inquiry of strong personal reflection in relation to the medium itself. In that sense, EXPEDITION is an offering to the current moment. We need to be reminded of our shared potential, avoid getting bogged down in the quagmire, and find creative inspiration and rejuvenation in art. We need to rediscover our natural world and processes, the real landscape of artistic thought and feeling, in order to bring to light a vision for a brighter future.

EXPEDITION is dedicated in loving memory of my friend and early mentor Malcolm Morley.

— John Newsom, Curator

RELATED EVENTS

August 22, Sunday, 4 p.m. — Studio Visit: Richard Jacobs
August 25, Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. — Gallery Walkthrough: EXPEDITION
September 16, Thursday, 7:30 p.m. — Lollapalooza Nation: The Rise of Alternative Rock in the 1990s
 
RELATED RESOURCES

Artwork in the exhibit
Installation shots
Virtual Tour
Ask the Artist!