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Art Becomes Up Front and Personal at the CAAM

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Los Angeles

In celebration of its renovation, the California African American Museum is bringing a unique exhibition for public viewing entitled Urban Aesthetics, California Artists 2003.

Six California artists have been selected to create new multimedia works for the Museum as part of this exhibit, which runs from the Museum’s opening on March 22 through December 14, 2003.

Sandra E. Rowe, curator of the exhibition explains, “I was governed to create this exhibit by public imperative. My responsibility as a curator is to exhibit under-exposed (at the California African American Museum specifically), non-traditional contemporary artists working with narrative, philosophical and multimedia structures.

Edgar Arceneaux, Charles Gaines, Kira Lynn Harris, Rodney McMillian, Adia Millet and William Raines, featured artists, all live in urban areas, their personal histories and attendance at prestigious educational institutions having shaped their aesthetics.

They have studied similar philosophers, discuss their work with each other and their mentor, Charles Gaines, and have developed individual paths that continue to unfold in different ways.

Although the six artists’ work is similar visually and conceptually, achieved through the deconstruction of language, cultural identity and other issues, individually they differentiate themselves by constructing new ways of thinking and looking at art and life.

The artists select qualitative perceptions and arrange them in order to express personal and cultural understanding. They make connections and references to the study of art history, especially other artists and art movements.

Moreover, they often look at other artists’ aesthetics and comment upon philosophical and societal issues and in response, create a work of their own which extends the initial commentary and creates a dialogue.

Hence, the artists speak to each other about issues and ideas, many historically gleaned from African American music, history and culture but now generated by MTV, digital media, dance, videogames and the instant communication of world events.

While connecting with the past, these artists simultaneously disengage from it. When critics refer to them as contemporary sculptors, the critics are drawing upon the past in that the artists are working with three-dimensional space, yet they extend and re-invent the definition of sculpture as they create installations.

These installation artists are often painters, digital artists, photographers and sculptors, who may use paint, digital media, photographs, bronze or wood, any media that can occupy three-dimensional space.

All of the artists in Urban Aesthetics, California Artists 2003 employ a variety of media to formulate, communicate and resolve their ideas and also share a common methodology that emphasizes research at specific locations in their communities. In addition, each artist is creating a new, multi-media work, site-specific for this exhibition.

Edgar Arcenaux is a Los Angeles based artist who has exhibited at museums and galleries such as the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Kunstverein Ulm, Germany, and Gallery 101, Canada.

In the past, he has combined in one installation, for instance, personal and social memory, fragments of his father’s memory of familiar places and stories of family members from a fractured genealogy.

The installation he created at the Studio Museum of Harlem changed three times during the exhibition; Arceneaux continuously traced, withdrew, refined, added, covered, and shifted his images. The time-based project had no pre-determined end.

Charles Gaines is a faculty member at Cal Arts and CSU Fresno who has been a mentor to the artists in this installation. Gaines’ work forces the viewer into dialogues about fear, life, death, politics, knowledge, emotions and ambiguity.

One cannot walk into a Gaines’ installation and leave without thinking about meaning, metaphors, and juxtaposition of language. He has exhibited at Los Angeles County Museum in Southern California, at the Whitney Museum in New York, as well as in the Caribbean and in Europe.

Kira Lynn Harris has labored in California as a student, lecturer and curator. She attended Cal Arts in Valencia and has distinguished herself as an artist in residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem.

In the exhibition Ironic/Iconic, at the Studio Museum, Harris investigates light through photography, audio, video and installation, highlighting sounds that reflect everyday life on Harlem’s 125th St. Harris will create a new installation for CAAM.

Rodney McMillian lives and works in Los Angeles and earned a MFA from Cal Arts. In creating new work for this exhibition, he will incorporate text, magazines, maps and books of his own on a desk for the viewer to read and thumb through.

The composition questions how facility structures (in this case, specific to libraries) are linked to ideology. The installation in the Sculpture Court will refer the audience to the library where visitors can investigate the collection.

Adia Millet has also lived and worked in Los Angeles and been an artist in residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem. Her work, however, differs from the other five artists. Millet uses found materials and constructs places “that you can walk through and others that you can only peer into with voyeuristic intent.”

Millet’s doll size/full size apartment buildings furnished with miniature bassinets and bedside pistols imply that the American dream and disaster, home and the world, are separated by the thinnest of walls. For this exhibition, her new work will continue to explore spaces and cast-off materials of today’s world.

William Raines, a California artist who lives in Fresno, has exhibited extensively at several museums and galleries in California as well as internationally. His interest in the beauty of microscopic life forms led him to pay attention to minuscule fragments from African American classic paintings, which he reproduces in large-scale works.

Once he has painted an enlargement of these details, and while the painting is still wet, he places plexiglass of the same size on top of the surface and uses his body weight to blur the paint and change the shapes. He continues this process until he removes all references to the original slide.

“We are delighted to host this exciting and unique exhibition, particularly as we move towards developing more cutting edge programming and exhibits upon the reopening,” explains interim director David Crippens.

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