Cranbrook Art Museum Announces New Summer Exhibition – Shapeshifters: Transformations in Contemporary Art

Press Releases

Shapeshifters Contemporary Art Exhibition

Clockwise from L: (1) Kara Walker, Keys to the Coop, 1997. © 2020 Kara Walker. Photograph by R. H. Hensleigh and Tim Thayer (2) Marianna Olague, Maya, 2019. Collection of Cranbrook Art Museum. Recipient of the Museum Committee 2019 Graduate Degree Exhibition Purchase Award. Photograph by Carlson Productions (3) Frank Stella, Takht-i-Sulayman Variation I (from the Protractor series), 1969. Gift of Rose M. Shuey, from the Collection of Dr. John and Rose M. Shuey. © 2020 Frank Stella/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, New York. Photograph by R. H. Hensleigh

Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, July 9, 2020 — On July 15, 2020, Cranbrook Art Museum will open the new exhibition, Shapeshifters: Transformations in Contemporary Art. Featuring more than 70 works from 39 artists drawn from the museum’s permanent collection, the exhibition explores the artist’s ability to redefine themselves, transgress their chosen medium, and transcend the world around them. The exhibition opens exclusively to ArtMembers from July 15 through July 19 and will open to the general public on July 22.

“At the heart of this exhibition are the themes of transformation and change, which is a story that courses through the history of contemporary art in different ways,” says Laura Mott, Senior Curator of Contemporary Art and Design. “Many of the artists in this exhibition deal with societal history and constructs in their own unique way, including the urgency of the here and now. Artists are also our teachers and chroniclers of contemporary life, and it is necessary that the majority of artists exhibited here are women, LGBTQ+, and people of color. In Shapeshifters, there are artworks that induce meditation, criticality, pleasure, and pain—we find the spectrum of human experience in their ingenuity.”

Cranbrook Art Museum’s 93-year-old collection holds more than 6,500 works from contemporary artists and designers from around the world, with a particular focus on former students and faculty of Cranbrook Academy of Art. “We do not wish to gloss over the fact that our collection, like most museums, is predominantly white and male,” said Andrew Blauvelt, Director of Cranbrook Art Museum. “Many new works have been added over the past five years from a much more diverse range of artists, adding perspectives that are needed, desired, and crucial to understanding art’s true, rich multi-dimensional history. We’re at the beginning of a decades-long project and plan to continue to add more works as part of the museum’s ongoing collecting mission.”

Shapeshifters: Transformations in Contemporary Art will be presented in the museum’s upper galleries, each with a distinct focus:

Hard Edge/Blurred Lines (Main and Hartmann Gallery)
Hard Edge/Blurred Lines considers abstraction as an aesthetic strategy to showcase an artist’s individual approach and philosophy. Post-war artists such as Jo Baer and Agnes Martin embrace their own versions of abstraction that transcend traditional patriarchal narratives. An adjacent gallery investigates the possibilities of abstract painting to create an alternate expression of the world. The work of Joan Mitchell, Sam Gilliam, and José Joya use processes that embrace movement and spontaneity, while the painterly glazed surfaces of ceramicist Toshiko Takaezu are experimental collaborations with the fire of the kiln.

Exploding the Frame (Larson Gallery)
Exploding the Frame presents artworks that use alternative methods and unconventional strategies of the photographic process to expand the definition of photography itself. For example, Brittany Nelson employs camera-less photography based on 19th-century darkroom techniques, merging them with the digital to expand photography beyond the representational, while Robert Rauschenberg’s collage-based works appropriate images from existing photographs to bridge the gap between documentation and invention.

Sea Change (North Gallery)
Transformation as an act of claiming agency and asserting dignity in contemporary art is thematically explored in Sea Change. Through the processes of foregrounding, altering, shielding, and abstracting the human figure, the artists featured in this gallery create works that psychologically mirror the complexity of societal constructs and inequalities. Richard Yarde brings larger than life figures from African American culture into the scale of monumental portraiture historically reserved for colonizers. Emerging artist Conrad Egyir presents himself in three different shades of skin color challenging the systemic hierarchies of identity, while fellow emerging artist Marianna Olague gives prominence to those often marginalized through her portraits of family members living on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Nick Cave’s Up Right: Detroit (Wainger Gallery)
Exhibited for the first time at the museum, Nick Cave’s Up Right: Detroit is a short film created during the artist’s exhibition and performance series Nick Cave: Here Hear in 2015. Commissioned by Cranbrook Art Museum, the film features a powerful transformation of selfhood orchestrated with participants from the Ruth Ellis Center, a center for LGBTQ+ youth, and the Mosaic Youth Theatre, both located in Detroit. In a rite of passage ceremony, “Practitioners” dress “Initiates” in Cave’s canonical Soundsuits created especially for this work. The participants undergo a metamorphosis through the initiation, emerging as strong and fearless beings.

Shapeshifters features works by Richard Anuszkiewicz, Jo Baer, Ebitenyefa Baralaye, Romare Bearden, McArthur Binion, Susan Goethel Campbell, Anthony Caro, Nick Cave, Nicole Cherubini, Sonya Clark, Liz Cohen, Conrad Egyir, Beverly Fishman, Kottie Gaydos, Sam Gilliam, Kara Güt, Carole Harris, Matthew Angelo Harrison, José Joya, Donald Judd, Agnes Martin, Allie McGhee, Marilyn Minter, Brittany Nelson, Kenneth Noland, Marianna Olague, Robert Rauschenberg, Ato Ribeiro, James Rosenquist, Beau Sinchai, Julian Stanczak, Frank Stella, Maya Stovall, Toshiko Takaezu, Carl Toth, Kara Walker, Andy Warhol, Richard Yarde, among others.

The museum has also announced a new operating schedule. Pre-registration is required for ALL visitors. The new operating days and hours are: Wednesday: Noon–5pm; Thursday: Noon–8pm (Free admission all day; pre-registration required); Friday: Noon–5pm; Saturday: Noon–5pm; Sunday: Noon–5pm. The museum will be closed on Monday and Tuesday.

There are also new safety protocols in place. Each guest is asked to visit the museum website at to purchase or register for advance tickets and review all new operating policies. All guests will be required to wear masks for the duration of their visit.

As the museum exhibition schedule has shifted, we will have updates soon about several exciting new projects that are still in the works for 2021-2022, including: With Eyes Opened: Cranbrook Academy of Art Since 1932Olga de Amaral: To Weave A RockAllie McGhee: Banana Moon Horn, and Tunde Olaniran: Made a Universe.

Shapeshifters is indebted to the significant gifts on view from the Dr. John and Rose Shuey Collection, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and recent acquisitions from the Estate of George Francoeur and Gerald Earls.

Cranbrook Art Museum is generously supported by the Maxine and Stuart Frankel Foundation, the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, the MASCO Foundation, and the Museum Committee and ArtMembers at Cranbrook.

Posted In: Press Releases, Shapeshifters

Media Inquiries:
Julie Fracker
Director of Communications
Cranbrook Academy of Art and Art Museum