Julian Stanczak, “Cohesion,” 1975, acrylic on canvas. Gift of Barbara and Julian Stanczak.
Shapeshifters explores the artist’s ability to transform themselves, transgress their chosen medium, and transcend the world around them in utterly unique ways. Through the lens of artistry, these transformations are examined in a broad range of artworks from the museum’s permanent collection of more than 6,000 objects, presented in four galleries, each with a distinct focus and theme.
Hard Edge/Blurred Lines considers geometric abstraction as an aesthetic strategy to unearth a wealth of individual approaches and philosophies, ranging from ancient sacred geometries to urgent societal concerns. For instance, post-war artists such as Jo Baer and Agnes Martin embraced their own versions of abstraction as a form of visual language that transcended patriarchal narratives—beyond nation, gender, and societal hierarchy. Dorthea Rockburne and Frank Stella explored geometrical harmonies in ancient mathematics and architecture, while Sam Gilliam evades the rectangular confines of the traditional stretched canvas. Alternately, an adjacent gallery investigates the amorphous possibilities of abstract painting to create an alternate expression of the world. Processes that embrace movement and spontaneity are evident in the work of Joan Mitchell and José Joya, while the painterly glazed surfaces of ceramicist Toshiko Takaezu are experimental collaborations with the fire of the kiln.
If abstraction in art promised to transcend conventional depictions of reality, then photography offered to capture it. But such an expectation was subverted by artists who used photographic processes and images in their work to expand the definition of their respective medium. Exploding the Frame presents traditional photography alongside artworks that utilize alternative processes and unconventional strategies. For example, Brittany Nelson employs camera-less photography based on nineteenth-century darkroom techniques and merges 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.
Transformation as an act of claiming agency in contemporary art is thematically explored in Sea Change. Through processes of foregrounding, altering, shielding, and abstrating the human figure, these artists’ create works that psychologically mirror the complexity of societal constructs and inequalities. Influenced by a vibrant palette of African art, armor, found objects, and fashion design, Nick Cave’s sculptural works are deeply rooted in social critique. From a new generation of masterfully skilled figurative painters, Conrad Egyir presents himself in three different shades of skin color challenging the systemic hierarchies of identity, while Marianna Olague’s paintings feature individuals from her personal history living on the US-Mexico border, making prominent the typically unseen.
Shapeshifters also features works from the collection by Romare Bearden, McArthur Binion, Susan Goethel Campbell, Anthony Caro, Sonya Clark, Liz Cohen, John Coplans, Kottie Gaydos, Maija Grotell, Matthew Angelo Harrison, Marilyn Minter, Louise Nevelson, Ato Ribeiro, James Rosenquist, Julian Stanczak, Maya Stovall, Carl Toth, Kara Walker, Andy Warhol, among others.
Seminal artists and artworks are reconsidered in special interpretive moments throughout the galleries called “freeze frames,” which will offer visitors moments of concentration on specific artists, telling stories of artistic risk and innovation.
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.
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