LOOK HOW FAR WE’VE COME!
Feb. 2 – May 21, 2017
A member of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, and half Cherokee, Jeffrey Gibson (b. 1972) grew up in major urban centers in the United States, Germany, Korea, England, and elsewhere. This unique combination of global cultural influences—including club culture, fashion, music, politics, literature, queer theory, and art history—informs Gibson’s multi-disciplinary practice.
Often referred to as cultural and visual mashups, Gibson’s hybrid aesthetic objects incorporate materials and techniques from Native American culture. These sources include weaving, beadwork, jingles, rawhide, parflèche, and powwow regalia. While aware of the belief systems that motivate, define, and imbue traditional objects with specific meaning and power, Gibson attempts to see them anew. He embraces the tension of his position as both an individual of the culture and an artistic voice occupying space outside of it.
Gibson employs various artistic strategies to make boundary-bending objects that amplify and celebrate difference. His ongoing interest in the value system of craft traditions, wherein meaning unfolds through the process of making, is seamlessly merged with hard-edged, geometric abstraction. Gibson is in dialogue with the history of modernist abstract painting, but he arrives there through references to the inter-tribal patterns and shapes found in traditional textiles and blankets. He embraces the non-hierarchical, flattening visual effects of Pop Art, in which elements are sampled, removed from context, remixed, and recombined to make new meaning. He blurs the boundary between viewing and reading by using words as images. Appropriated texts are transformed into first person voices, and the meaning of these words shifts with each new reader and context.
Polyphonic, visually and materially textured, rooted in the past and present, and culturally and conceptually loaded, the objects in Look How Far We’ve Come! are symbols of complication. The exhibition title—a statement or a question—reinforces that ambiguity. Layered and recombined to the point of obscurity, Gibson’s sources are eventually drained of any singular cultural, political, medium- or time-based association. In place of reductive labels, the artist proposes a future, unbound aesthetic.
Support for this exhibition and accompanying programs is provided by the Haggerty Museum Sommerich Fund, the Spicuzza/Hambling Quasi-Endowed Fund, the Martha and Ray Smith, Jr. Endowment Fund, and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.