Trio of new Art Museum exhibits challenge reality
Journal and Courier May 8, 2014
Hurricane Katrina. The Haiti earthquake. The Colorado Springs fire. The subjects in Brazil-born artist and Purdue University professor Petronio Bendito's new exhibition, "Natural Disaster Color," call to mind images of great trauma and catastrophe.
But Bendito took these iconic disaster photographs — of Haitian residents crying over rubble, fires blazing in the Colorado forest — and turned them into abstract digital prints,
Bendito's exhibition, which he said has been described as "provocative," is on display now at the McDonald Gallery at the Art Museum of Greater Lafayette. He is one of four artists featured in three new exhibits at the museum that challenge and negotiate reality.
The new exhibitions run until Sept. 7 and an opening reception is set for 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday at the museum.
Like many artists, Bendito said he'd like to give viewers a new "entry point to the world," to challenge the very idea of "just" a strip of neon green and explore how abstract art can provide an answer to trauma, he said.
"I was inspired when I saw Michelangelo's 'Pietà' in Italy, a statue of a mother holding a dead son. I thought to myself, 'How can we find so much beauty in such a sad thing?' " he said. "Perhaps art can transform a moment of pain and turn it into something sublime."
Bendito is not the only artist at the museum to transform reality. Linda Mitchell andMichel Keck, whose works are shown together in "Wild Things," insert grotesque and surrealist details into familiar childhood images, while Purdue MFA student Boyd Smith uses color to turn stereotypes surrounding African-American art upside down.
Smith, a North Carolina native, interviewed his 80-year-old grandfather about growing up in the South for his 13-piece "A Colorful Narrative."
His grandfather moved from South Carolina to work in a cotton mill. Growing up poor, he fashioned hoops out of tricycle wheels so he could play basketball.
Smith's grandfather eventually scored 55 points in a single college ball game, and later played in the NBA for the former Minnesota Lakers in the 1960s. But his career as an athlete was cut short, primarily because he was black, said Smith.
"I explored racism as part of his life," Smith said. But rather than painting black and white, as contemporary artist Kara Walker does, Smith's acrylic and oil paintings explode with yellows, greens, reds and blues.
"I'm interested in the color barrier, the race barrier. That's partly why there's so much color in these paintings," he said.
Mitchell, an Atlanta-based artist, also takes what we know and challenges it. Childhood and children's art turn into more adult artworks, blending animals, blue skies and white clouds with what she described in an artist's note as "the vast primordial darkness." The surreal dog paintings of DeMotte native Keck add to the theme of questioning reality.
Museum curator Michael Crowthers said Keck and Mitchell have never met. But after seeing the similarities in their palettes and themes, he knew an exhibition combining their art would offer an "endearing, enticing and enjoyable show for children and pique the interest for the adult demographics."
It's a rare feat for art to appeal to both young and old, said Crowthers, looking over the striking pose of a tentacled creature, part of a life-size sculpture by Mitchell titled "Closet Monster."
"It's a certainly a tough bill to fill," he said. "But I believe it works."
If you go
What: "Natural Disaster Color," by Petronio Bendito; "Wild Things," by Linda Mitchell and Michel Keck; and "A Colorful Narrative" by Boyd Smith
Where: Art Museum of Greater Lafayette, 102 S. 10th St.
When: Now through Sept. 7; galleries open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily
Also: An opening reception is 6:30-8:30 p.m. Friday with remarks at 7 p.m. by Linda Mitchell, Petronio Bendito and Susan Chavers
For more information: Visit www.artslafayette.org or call 765-742-1128.