At the Fresno Art Museum, a new round of exhibitions is a little like Christmas: So many gifts under the tree, and they all get opened at the same time.
On Friday, the public will get the first glimpse at five new Summer/Fall exhibitions at the official opening reception, which includes featured artists talking about their shows. It’s an eclectic and inspiring lineup. “As chief curator I think about how the new exhibitions relate to, or are different from, each other,” says Michele Ellis Pracy, who is also the museum’s executive director. “I approach our galleries as living, breathing entities that will impact and enrich our visitors.”
The galleries will open to regular museum visitors 11 a.m. Saturday, July 14.
All of the exhibitions are original to the museum, meaning that Ellis Pracy and the curatorial staff decided whom to show and then proceeded to select the work in person for exhibition. Original shows take a great deal more work than pre-packaged exhibitions that tour to various institutions, and museum staff worked on these for a year before opening.
A slender but powerful thread connects the exhibitions. “The consistent, subliminal concept that marries them is perseverance and history,” Ellis Pracy says.
I’m sure that in the coming months I will be writing about and diving more deeply into some of these exhibitions. But for starters, here’s a rundown on the lineup:
The exhibition: “Master Weaver: Innovations in Forms and Materials.”
Runs through: Jan. 6.
The artist: A master weaver, Sekimachi’s fiber artworks are in the collections of such institutions as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the Smithsonian Institution. She lives in Berkeley.
The curators: Ellis Pracy and Kristina Hornback. “It has been exhilarating to curate this retrospective,” Ellis Pracy says.
The significance: Sekimachi, 91, is the museum’s Council of 100 Distinguished Woman Artist for 2018, an annual honor. The tradition, which was born out of the museum’s innovations decades ago in the area of Feminist Art, is something that helps put the Fresno Art Museum on the map.
The details: This retrospective spans a stunning 77 years of work, from 1940 to 2017, and represents a career of what Ellis Pracy calls “experimental and remarkable art making.” The show includes traditional weavings, see-through ethereal room-dividers and dense tapestry boxes, woven books constructed with accordion folds, and bowls made with patchwork or leaf skeletons.
The insight: “Part of my curatorial process is to ask an artist to show me pieces kept solely for herself/himself and that have never been exhibited before,” Ellis Pracy says. “For Sekimachi, these privately held works included paper dolls that she fashioned in the Japanese Internment camps in the 1940s as well as large scale woven bowls made later as a seasoned weaver expressly for her husband, Bob Stocksdale, and that were perched high on a shelf in her living room for years.”
The exhibition: “Black Migrants to the Central Valley, 1960-1964.”
Runs through: Jan. 6.
The backstory: Ellis Pracy writes in her curatorial statement that during the 1940s and 1950s, some 40,000 African American sharecroppers migrated to California’s Central Valley, taking up residence in farm labor camps. “Their rural to rural journey makes them the great exception to the Great Migration, which was overwhelmingly rural to urban. Shortly after arriving, these black migrants were all but put out of work by the mechanization of agriculture.”
The artist: Lowe in the early 1960s was a photographer reporting on migrant labor for radio station KPFA. He took hundreds of black and white images of life in the communities of Pixley, Teviston, and Dos Palos. These towns were impoverished yet cohesive communities, lacking paved roads, electricity, running water, and other essential services.
The backstory: Noted local photographer Joel Pickford came to Ellis Pracy with an idea for the exhibition. “I said yes after perusing just a few examples of images,” she says. Then I spent hours looking at hundreds of them.”
The details: As curator, Ellis Pracy divided her choices into four areas: images, dividing my choices into Teviston Township; Work; Townscapes; and Dos Palos Township. “All together I selected approximately 30 images representing these four areas. Joel Pickford printed the oversized photographs and Rex Williams framed them for this original exhibition,” she says.
The insight: These documentary photographs weren’t originally meant to be seen as “art.” But they’ve become so in 2018, Ellis Pracy says. “They tell a story that we should know.”
The exhibition: “Americana.”
Runs through: Jan. 6.
The artist: Giles is a contemporary fiber artist whose work ranges from traditional fine arts to innovative performance and installation art. Originally a trained metalworker, she creates sculptures, paintings, and wearable art from handmade felt. Her constructions and paintings are dense, thick and non-transparent.
The curator: Sarah Vargas.
The significance: Giles’ pieces explore the concept of gender, identity, consumption and mortality.
The insight: Not all fiber artists are alike, of course, and there aren’t any comparisons to be made between the works of Sekimachi and Giles, Ellis Pracy says. “They are however, about life spans and Pop Art history. It’s the contrast between Kay’s work and Jenne’s that is delightful; we appreciate both artists as “fiber artists” distinctly different from one another.”
The exhibition: “Still Life Tradition.”
Runs through: Oct. 14.
The artist: Diehl is a Bay Area painter who began his hyper-realist still life concentration in 1992.
The curator: Ellis Pracy. (She’s been busy.)
The details: Diehl’s paintings explore different artistic movements across recent history, often by referencing other artists within the composition itself, says Ellis Pracy. “The still life format, a rich tradition in its own right, allows Diehl to set up relationships between art historical references and carefully chosen everyday objects, encouraging viewers to draw their own connections and conclusions.”
The insight: Diehl arranges everyday objects and curiosities to create a dynamic whole. He also focuses on combining shapes together in light to create a scene in which the elements resonate with each other.
The exhibition: “Tell Me Another Story.”
Runs through: June 23.
The background: This is the museum’s second exhibition directly related to the storybooks read by third graders throughout the Fresno Unified School District as part of the Kennedy Center’s Any Given Child Education Program. It includes the original artwork of five illustrators selected from the student’s “Wonders” textbook. Subjects include stories based on legends, folk tales, true-life events, and/or social issues.
The artists: Eileen Christelow, illustrator and author of “Vote!”; Marla Frazee, illustrator of “The Talented Clementine”; Stéphane Jorisch, illustrator of “The Real Story of Stone Soup”; Emily Arnold McCully, illustrator of “Nora’s Ark”; and Bill Slavin, illustrator of “All Aboard!: Elijah McCoy’s Steam Engine.”
The curator: Susan Yost Filgate.
The curator’s favorite illustrator: “I have to say, I like them all for different reasons,” Yost Filgate says. “And as I have become more familiar with each of the artists, I have a new respect for each. I would have to say that my favorite book has to be ‘Vote!’ Even though written and illustrated in 2003 (just before another major election) it is equally relevant today. It fully addresses the importance of voting to kids in a non-preachy, easy-to-understand, fun way. The author/illustrator’s sense of humor comes through, mainly thanks to her wonderful dog characters who like kids, can’t vote.”
Opening reception info
4 p.m. Friday, July 13, Fresno Art Museum. Curator and artist talks in the Bonner Auditorium followed by a chance to talk to artists in their galleries. The reception is 6-8 p.m. Free to members, $15 for non-members. (No passes accepted for this event.) A no-host bar will be available from 5 to 8 pm, with a reception serving hearty appetizers beginning at 6 p.m.
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