Young Country

Review

of an Exhibition

by Ivan Henderson

Published on December 30, 2012

  • Description:

    Young Country is an exhibition organized by the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts in Wilmington, Delaware exploring rural themes in contemporary art. Artists whose work appear in this exhibition juxtapose stereotypical images and ideas of rural America with often-unexpected realities of living, working, and creating art in and about rural areas today. As a person who spent most of my childhood weekends fishing the rivers and lakes throughout rural Missouri Valley, I was curious to see the insights these artists could give on understanding the rapidly changing cultural landscape of rural America.

    As I approached the entrance to the gallery housing Young Country, my eyes were drawn to a sculpture of a headless horse, its body sparkling and entirely covered with mirrored glass. Armed with the knowledge that this exhibition features the work of artists who are “re-defining ideas of ‘country’ in America,” the presence of the horse sculpture presented expected subject matter in a most unexpected way. While this sculpture is not the closest work to the gallery entrance, it is the most visible upon approach, and it gives the viewer the impression that more spectacles such as this one await discovery further inside the gallery walls. Later investigation revealed that this sculpture is by far the single largest (and brightest) object in the exhibition.

    Upon entering the gallery, my eyes were immediately drawn from the horse sculpture—which stands near the middle of the room—to the familiar pattern of the Confederate flag, which figures prominently into many of the objects (images and smaller sculptures) closest to the entrance and immediately to the left. This arrangement of objects near the entrance sets the viewer on a clockwise course around the exterior of the gallery, but always with an eye towards the middle of the room, where the large horse sculpture, a barbed wire rope saddle, and a sculpture of an Appalachian moonshine still all hold center stage.

    At the same time I noticed the Confederate flag-bearing work concentrated near the entrance of the gallery, I also heard the cyclical repetition of the sound of someone walking slowly in (what I assumed were) boots with spurs. A little past halfway through the gallery, close to the wall on the left, but obstructed from view by the large horse sculpture, was the source of the sound: a kinetic sculpture designed to create this sound effect. Once the sound brought my gaze past the halfway point and the centerpiece in the gallery, I noticed at the rear of the gallery a framed, blurred (on purpose, I would later note) version of a well-known image of Sitting Bull, as well as a relatively large recessed area which housed an installation piece of some sort, though I could not see much of it from the front of the gallery.

    Comprised of work by multiple artists in various media, this exhibition first invited a quick circuit around the rectangular gallery to note the number of artists and regions represented throughout, followed by a second circuit with in depth examination of some of these artists’ widely varying notions of “country”-ness.

    The labels in this exhibition included biographical information about the artists, as well as direct quotes from the artists on their ideas of what being “country” means, and how those ideas are represented through their work. While some of the information shared on these labels answered questions I had not thought to ask about the artists and their work, most of it helped keep the theme of the exhibition at the fore, encouraging me to compare my own knowledge and understanding of “country” and rural America with the collection of ideas being presented in this gallery.

    For the most part, navigating the gallery and engaging with the objects was straightforward, but some labels described work that was nowhere nearby, and two of the works on display had no labels associated with them that I could locate easily. (One work was so far from the label that it was actually outside of the gallery and across the lobby of the DCCA near the information desk.)

    Also, I thought that the recessed installation at the rear of the gallery did not appear to be part of the same exhibition, although it clearly deals with some of the same ideas explored in other work around the room. This exhibition brought together many ideas from many artists, but the large installation piece – a multimedia narrative of the life of the son of the mythical Aunt Jemima – in the recessed space at the back of the gallery seemed almost segregated from the rest. Perhaps this was due to the form and dimensions of the work, but its placement had the look of an afterthought, or a hidden piece of work. I have since confirmed that the piece is meant to be in the show, but other patrons I asked while we were in the gallery together had split opinions on whether or not this work was intended to be with the rest of the exhibition. Some of them had simply passed by it, seeing it as a diversion from their circuit around the gallery.

    Overall, the Young Country exhibition gives a fresh look at old ideas of rural America. The collection of artists and objects challenge some viewers’ assumptions while confirming others. The combination of objects and information paint life in contemporary rural America as widely varied, sometimes difficult, often humorous, and always rooted in a rich past that is worth exploring and remembering.

Latest Comments (2)

your country?

by Kathleen Mclean - December 31, 2012

Interesting review, Ivan. I’m wondering if these works of art resonated with your personal sense of the country, or did they feel too abstract and distant? Also, it would be interesting for you to talk to the curator or designer and find out why that one work felt so separate from the rest—was it intentional, or just a result of working with the space?

our countries

by Ivan Henderson - February 06, 2013

Some of these works did resonate with my sense of country in ways that brought back fond and not-so-fond memories. At the same time, this exhibition employs a BROAD definition of “country,” which I can appreciate, even if I cannot relate to everything I saw there. I will have a chance to work with people at the DCCA in the very near future, so I definitely will ask without sounding accusatory. The style of installation and perceived separation might be explained along practical lines, or it might have been done to get me thinking and talking (which it did, obviously).
Either way, the FEELING of that exhibition as a whole (and that installation in particular) in that space was altogether unique. Now that I think about it again, I have to say that I am left with a lasting impression of at least some of the “country” the curator and artists probably hoped to communicate.

Log in to post a response.