New York Times: At Michigan State, Bold Statements About Big Issues


Two exhibitions at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum explore racism as well as social and political movements.


March 11, 2020

EAST LANSING, Mich. — The Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum makes a bold architectural statement on the Michigan State University campus.

Designed by the architect Zaha Hadid, the eight-year-old museum’s sharp lines and stainless steel exterior are a sharp contrast with the brick classrooms, office buildings and dormitories that sit nearby, many dating back more than a century. So, it seems fitting that two shows now on view at MSU Broad, as the museum is nicknamed, are making bold political statements, too.

MSU Broad is hosting the first complete exhibition of the “Situations” videos produced by the filmmaker John Lucas and the poet Claudia Rankine starting in 2008. Each of the nine videos, on display through May 31, focuses on an event or topic involving acts of racism, including the shooting of Trayvon Martin, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and microaggressions in everyday lives.

The images were selected by Mr. Lucas and the narration is by Ms. Rankine, in part drawn from her 2014 prose-poetry book, “Citizen: An American Lyric.”

The museum also is mounting an exhibition of prints and photographs called “Visual Citizenship,” drawn from its own collection.

The images cover social and political movements, and feature a set of prints called “Erased Lynchings” by the artist Ken Gonzales-Day. The show will be on display until July 19.

Both exhibitions were staged by Georgia Erger, an assistant curator at the museum. A native of Toronto, who worked in Arkansas before coming to Michigan, Ms. Erger said her interest in politics was honed while she spent a year doing graduate studies at the Courtauld Gallery in London.

Nineteen classes at Michigan State will study one or both of the shows as part of their coursework, Ms. Erger says, and a full slate of discussions is scheduled about “Situations” in the spring.

Meanwhile, Ms. Erger says the inspiration for “Visual Citizenship” struck her as she was perusing MSU Broad’s collection of 1,723 photographs.

News events, such as the detention of asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border, and her own experience living abroad, prompted her to focus on citizenship as the theme for the show.

“Citizenship acknowledges the political power of images,” she said, “and the power that comes from the fact that photos, and graphics and ultimately video and film can be so widely and easily disseminated, and therefore, much more accessible.”

The works of art include 20th-century photographs by Leonard Freed, a series of etchings by Francisco de Goya, and engravings by William Hogarth, along with “Erased Lynchings,” which Mr. Gonzales-Day produced from 2006 to 2019.

Based on actual postcards, and his visits to where lynchings took place, Mr. Gonzales-Day’s work shows crowds gathered at places across America, such as California and Montana, to watch the hangings.

However, the images of the victims are removed, so that only the figures of those watching are visible.

The connection between the racially charged topics of the “Situations” videos and the images depicted in the “Visual Citizenship” show is deliberate, Ms. Erger says.

“Even though our museum has a contemporary focus, we are also able to use our collection to have trans-historical conversations,” she said. “We can put contemporary works in dialogue with historical works. So, I built (Visual Citizenship) definitely with the intention of having a dialogue with John and Claudia’s work.”

Ms. Erger says she is prepared for a strong reaction from museumgoers who ask why such stark images are being presented.

“Art really facilitates bringing issues to the surface, and also posing questions about them,” she said. “We want everyone to bring their own perspectives and their own viewpoints.”

To read full article New York Times