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RAC x UMR: Selected reviews of 'The Calmest of Us Would Be Lunatics'

RAC x UMR: Selected reviews of 'The Calmest of Us Would Be Lunatics'

Rochester Art Center (RAC) in collaboration with the University of Minnesota, Rochester (UMR) is pleased to announce selections from the second call for reviews. This call was open to all UMR students to visit and respond to one of Rochester Art Center’s current exhibitions, Amanda Curreri: The Calmest of Us Would Be Lunatics, on view January 22 – May 8, 2016.  

The review and writing partnership between RAC and UMR was initiated in Fall 2015 as a way to both encourage reciprocal, cross-disciplinary engagement between students at UMR and the exhibitions at Rochester Art Center, and to address a lack of critical review of RAC’s exhibitions by the Rochester community. Selected reviews receive the opportunity to be published online with The Med City Beat.

Together with UMR Assistant Professor Marcia Nichols, RAC Deputy Director and Curator of Contemporary Art, Susannah Magers, reviewed submissions in early March 2016. We were thrilled to receive more than double the number of submissions for this second call.

Below are the selected reviews from five UMR Health Sciences students: Kelsey Dittloff, Stacy Erickson, Megan Kerber, Devon Peck, and Kristi Tauer. Thank you to all who took the time to visit and review Amanda Curreri’s exhibition, and congratulations to the selected writers on their thoughtful reviews!

Each reviewer was asked to consider the following questions in their response:

 What are the formal and conceptual qualities of the work? Describe what you are looking at.

 What are your initial thoughts and responses? How do they compare and contrast after seeing the entire exhibition? 

 What do you perceive to be the intentions and motivations of the artist in creating the work? Is this conveyed in the work, and how?

 Does your emotional response tell you about the work and its construction and/or purpose? 

 What are the “big ideas” and themes that support and connect the works together (or not) and how is this achieved?

Please stay tuned for our next call for reviews!

The reviews

Kelsey Dittloff

UMR Second-year Health Sciences student

Artist Amanda Curreri’s exhibition was an experience that I will take with me throughout my life. I found myself immersed in the artwork, admiring how Curreri’s passion came through. When I first entered, the colors and patterns had an energetic feel and drew me in immediately. Because the colors were so vibrant, I feel as if it brought out her dedication to promoting social justice. After walking through the exhibition, I realized just how much each piece fit together with the last, making the entire exhibit come together as a whole. The rooms that contained many pieces of her work flowed seamlessly with the parts of the exhibition that focused on a single work.

 I especially enjoyed how the exhibition did not overwhelm me with different stimuli. It seemed that each piece had its place in the exhibition, and formed an overall picture of the artist’s interpretation of feminism and how it relates to the rest of the world. It drew my attention in a way that kept me intrigued, but was not overpowering. It seemed evident to me that Amanda Curreri wished to invoke feelings of anger and confusion in her work. These emotions were certainly present for me when I viewed her art. By bringing out these emotions, the viewers of her art, such as myself, are more likely to feel angered by all of the social injustice within our world today which in turn will inspire more action to be taken against these injustices. 

The piece that most stood out to me was Curreri’s work titled Warning—Graphic, 2016. Racial injustice is just one facet of inequality that Curreri touches on; however, because this image was taken from a real video, taken by a bystander after a black male was shot, it really struck me as shocking. The overall feeling that the picture gave me was anger and distress. It motivated me to consider what ways the world needs to change in order to prevent events such as this from occurring in the future. The entire exhibition left me thinking more deeply about feminism, diversity, and the social injustices in our society, and what I could do in my life to help promote a better life for all. The artist is helping by making people aware of these issues in her art, and I think that is exactly what she was hoping it would trigger. It was truly inspiring and beautiful.

Amanda Curreri. Warning–Graphic: We have uncovered video of Jamar Clark moments after he was shot in the head by Minneapolis Police. At the 29 second mark you can see Jamar’s body appears to be lifeless on the ground with his hands in handcuffs, just as numerous witnesses have reported from day one, 2016. Digital print on paper and plywood. Courtesy of the Artist.

Stacy Erickson

UMR Second-year Health Sciences student

Amanda Curreri’s exhibition, The Calmest of Us Would Be Lunatics, struck me as having a saddened tone, tinged with frustration. I feel the painting, Eff (Tommie Smith), 2015 was both sad and empowering, because Smith was the first black man to break the twenty second barrier in the Olympic 200 meters. This was a major cultural moment in the movement to overcoming racism. By knowing that he could overcome these barriers, Tommie Smith demonstrated the potential of all African-Americans. I also enjoyed the gallery with CLAMS, 2015 and on-going, interpreting it as defining one’s self-worth through a meal. The table placements, hanging mussel shells, and mixed-media work on the wall were all tied together to create a feeling of home in the room. This amplified the emotional aspects of the works, and made it very easy to read and relate to. 

Amanda Curreri. Eff (Tommie Smith), 2015. Fabric dye and discharger, digital print on fabric. Courtesy of Romer Young Gallery.

The video in the first gallery with the wallet bags (colorful zippered pouches created by Curreri based on an advertisements in the publication The Ladder, which can be see in the display case also in the first gallery) Rescreening of KBS’s Cancelled ‘Club Daughters of Bilitis,’ 2011, demonstrated how one might feel in a society which would reject you for being you. It also demonstrates how people can become vicious and degrading towards one individual who they may not know very well. This is still seen today because many people, including women, still judge individuals by one specific experience. The work Qui Vive (On Alert), 2016, (meaning “on alert” in Spanish) was a major standout in the exhibition. The use of the shape of the triangle was a nice touch because this imagery reveals how simple shapes can be used to symbolize larger concepts, such as racism, sexism, and discrimination—which are still societal issues. 

Installation detail view of vitrine with loaned materials from the Tretter Collection. From the exhibition The Calmest of Us Would Be Lunatics.

After seeing the entire exhibition, I feel all of the individual pieces together demonstrate a greater need to educate the public more on discrimination, and show the community the need for equality. I believe artist Amanda Curreri is motivated to show the community examples of discrimination, which may have been hidden for many generations. She is an influential artist who may have found a way to illuminate through understanding this discrimination. The Eff series, wallet bags, and the work Qui Vive are clear signs of Curreri’s desire to connect various ideas, colors, and symbols to create a story to tell the world. 

We have a responsibility to uphold nondiscriminatory, non-sexist, and non-racist values and actions throughout our country. Curreri’s work points to issues that our society needs to address as a whole. I believe that this exhibition expresses a need for education, which more artists could continue to utilize as a strategy.

Megan Kerber

UMR Fourth-year Health Sciences student

Amanda Curreri’s exhibition, The Calmest of Us Would be Lunatics, truly articulates what it means to express what one would like to see changed in this world. Through the use of various artifacts, such as strings of dangling mussel shells to represent dinners she holds to share ideas, as well as words she interlaces with art, she creates a beautifully informative exhibition that represents marginalized populations. To further inspire a call to action, there is a sign-up list for one of these mussels dinners on the wall in the same room so that individuals throughout the community can sign their name on and attend: merging art and activism. Her expression and passion for a call to action of the feminist movement can be see through her historically-engaged artwork which brings awareness to issues at hand, such as the erratic representation and recognition of women artists. 

Installation view of The Calmest of Us Would Be Lunatics, 2016.

The Calmest of Us Would Be Lunatics challenges viewers to consider our present moment with an awareness of the matters at hand, and with the goal of engendering change for the future. Each room ebbs and flows with different aspects of a call to action, illuminating problems in society that go unnoticed or unmentioned. For example, in the first gallery, the work Rescreening of KBS’s Cancelled ‘Club Daughters of Bilitis,’ 2011 screens a now-cancelled Korean television show, Club Daughters and Bilitis, the plotline of which revolved around love between two women. As you sit and watch how the two women interact with one another, it was important for Curreri to point out that this television series was cancelled, emphasizing an aspect of marginalization. Another notable aspect of the exhibition was a dark room with a cinematic silhouette that beautifies the woman body; two women, unclothed, facing one another and standing strongly in the silence of the room while the breeze flows over them. This was simply breathtaking. 

Amanda Curreri. Rescreening of KBS’s Cancelled ‘Club Daughters of Bilitis,’ 2011. 60 minute video looped. Courtesy of the Artist.

As I continued through the galleries of the second floor, the PROJECT Feminist Space consisted of literature, pamphlets contributed from the community, and posters that when read bring light to the issue of sexism in the world of art. This is the work of The Guerrilla Girls. The works show that issues such as racism and sexism in the art industry have been around for decades, and demonstrate The Guerrilla Girls’ use of anonymity as a tactic for bringing visibility to their work. When visiting Amanda Curreri’s exhibition and reflecting upon the issues she brings to light, the title she has chosen for her exhibit is simply perfect, for to be calm in a world of such racial and sexist discrimination would be outright crazy. 

Installation detail view of PROJECT Feminist Space at Rochester Art Center.

Devon Peck

UMR Third-year Health Sciences student

Today I explored the works of Amanda Curreri in her exhibition, The Calmest of Us Would Be Lunatics. In this exhibition, Curreri uses paintings, videos, and other artistic objects to represent the struggles women face due to factors such as race or sexual preference. When I walked into the first room, it sparked interest and curiosity within. I am not a professional art critic, and a lot of symbolism goes over my head. Even though I was unable to identify some of the meanings behind a handful of her art pieces, I was able to understand the expression of sorrow and hope the artist had while creating this exhibition. For example, it seems she saw how hard it was for certain groups, such as lesbians, to express their sexual preferences. They are forced to keep all of their true feelings inside and hide. However, as you walk further into the exhibition, the sorrow I initially perceived turned into hope and passion for freedom. 

ERNEST. Demos: Wapato Correctional Facility, 2015. Video, 16:21, made in residence at c3:initiative with support from c3:initiative’s Artist Residency Program, Portland, OR. Courtesy of ERNEST.

In the last two rooms, the video, book, and print that Curreri created with the working group ERNEST signifies the union of many, and engages with ideas around reimagining public spaces such as prisons. Seeing this transformation was thrilling and the more I looked, the more interested I became. I stayed with each piece of art at length so that I could soak in as much meaning as I could. The exhibition was well done, flowed nicely, and it left me wanting more—wishing there was more work to experience.

Kristi Tauer

UMR Second-year Health Sciences student    

Amanda Curreri’s The Calmest of Us Would be Lunatics exposes the contradictions in societal attitudes toward social injustice. One of the concepts in Curreri’s work addresses the variety of ways that people have organized and thrived despite societal disapproval over the past several decades. The juxtaposition of the archival pieces with the artist’s original works creates a sense of empowerment. The exhibition draws the viewer into each story and all of a sudden I am a protester, I am a jury member, I am a convict, and I am struggling to have my voice heard. Through the interplay of textures and colors, Curreri gives a voice to all of those who cannot speak up. She provides a window of insight, showing her support, and one can visualize her standing with these people. The exhibition is an open invitation to consider the pain and torment people have gone through because of their sexuality, race, or socioeconomic status. Once that feeling of inequality is better understood by the viewer, s/he is welcome to join the fight. The blending of color, texture, and shape symbolizes the varying types of people and the varying situations experienced, yet all can come together with our own unique background and fight together. 

Installation detail view of Amanda Curreri’s Jury Box, 2010 (left) and Warning—Graphic…, 2016 (right) in The Calmest of Us Would Be Lunatics at Rochester Art Center.

As I explored the exhibition, I felt enlightened. It was important for Curreri to dig through the Tretter Collection archives to find certain visually compelling articles and photographs which she would be able to incorporate in her work and the exhibition. Curreri’s work helped me understand some of the stories behind the histories of injustice in the world. I feel empowered as a woman to fight to get what I want from life, and I am inclined to fight for other people to have the right to what they want as well. I realize that in order to make a difference, we must all stand together. We have to embrace what makes us uncomfortable and talk about pushing boundaries. In order for change to become a reality, it must be a collective effort and awareness must be raised on the issues society has been facing for decades, and what it is still facing today.  
The exhibitions title points to how we must all be lunatics if we haven’t recognized this inequality all around us. I am empowered to take a stand, and Curreri’s exhibition The Calmest of Us Would Be Lunatics was an instrumental part in that.

This post was paid for by the Rochester Art Center.

Photos courtesy of Erin Young and Fine Exposures Photography.

Featured content:

(Cover photo: From the CLAMS dinner on March 18, 2016, in which participants who signed up on the opening night of the exhibition enjoyed a meal of mussels inspired by Italian-American anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti, prepared by artist Amanda Curreri. The group then broke bread together, and discussed art, activism, and the importance of platforms for connectivity.)

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