May 20–July 30, 2017, the Wexner Center for the Arts at The Ohio State University will debut Gray Matters, a multifaceted survey of 35 contemporary women artists who have explored the practice of creating en grisaille—the French term for working in shades of gray. The exhibition is the first organized by Michael Goodson since he assumed the role of Senior Curator of Exhibitions at the Wex, and it further enriches a calendar year of exhibition programming in which every artist featured in the galleries is a woman.
Wex director Sherri Geldin notes, “While we didn’t deliberately set out
to devote the entirety of our 2017 exhibition schedule to women, we are
not unmindful of the pointed and timely message it sends. Well beyond
that, however, Gray Matters aims to investigate a prevalent
artistic strategy that women of varying age, ethnicity, and
background—and across varying artistic media—are concertedly pursuing at
As Goodson explains, “Gray Matters gathers work executed
primarily in the surprisingly vital—if ‘colorless’—range between and
including black and white. It explores the various modes in which
contemporary artists persist in, yet significantly expand upon, the
historical practice of grisaille. What is ultimately more interesting,
however, is how the restraints of this formal conceit recede to the
background as one experiences the incredibly rich and diverse range of
ideas and concerns that each artist pushes to the fore.”
Goodson adds, “The exhibition also deliberately seeks to infiltrate
what has been a highly gendered canon of male artists working en
grisaille with extraordinary women making work now.”
The 35 artists appearing in Gray Matters range from emerging
to well established. Individually and collectively, they challenge an
all-too simplistic notion of colorless “neutrality” as they reveal the
truly vibrant and variegated spectrum of black, white, and gray. The
full list of artists appears below.
Vija Celmins, who has explored desaturated painting
and drawing for most of her career, proffers the earliest work in the
exhibition, the 1964 painting Heater, and provides a small
burst of color in the galleries via the glowing red center of the
electric space heater it portrays. In contrast, Mickalene Thomas, an artist typically associated with vividly colorful portraits of black women, narrows her palette for Hair Portrait #20—without relinquishing her celebratory use of rhinestones.
Roni Horn’s substantial glass sculptures appear as
pools of water—at once surprisingly transparent and dramatically
reflective, both a mirror and a lens. Xaviera Simmons’s installations
use an amalgam of languages to create enveloping, text-based
environments that provide an “image” of the majesty of the natural world
amid blending cultures.
Julie Mehretu’s large, six-panel print exemplifies a
method of constructing what she has described as “story maps of
dislocation”. In the work, the columns, arches, and porticoes of the
war-torn Syrian city of Damascus are part of a layered architectural and
historical portrait of that city. Bethany Collins presents
a beautiful and seemingly discreet installation of stark white pages
with ghostlike, blind-embossed text that is actually crafted from the US
Department of Justice report on the Ferguson police department.
Marlene Dumas’s Betrayal features her
signature veils of ink, which create blurred, indeterminate portraits of
children. Their guileless appearance, in tandem with a title that
suggests something more duplicitous, urges the viewer to reflect on
sameness and difference, and how time and aging affect one’s worldview.
The sculptural graphite drawings of Nancy Rubins beg
consideration of the intense and abundant energy expended in their
making, and reconsideration of the power of the pencil as a rendering
In uniting these remarkable works, Gray Matters provides a denuded, focused lens through which to see the world afresh.
Tauba Auerbach, Carol Bove, Gisele Camargo, Vija Celmins, Bethany
Collins, Marsha Cottrell, Tacita Dean, Marlene Dumas, Michelle Grabner,
Josephine Halvorson, Mona Hatoum, Roni Horn, Cristina Iglesias, Jennie
C. Jones, Mary Reid Kelley, Toba Khedoori, Laura Lisbon, Suzanne
McClelland, Julie Mehretu, Katie Paterson, Amalia Pica, Michal Rovner,
Nancy Rubins, Arlene Shechet, Erin Shirreff, Amy Sillman, Xaviera
Simmons, Diane Simpson, Lorna Simpson, Avery Singer, Michelle Stuart,
Mickalene Thomas, Kara Walker, Rachel Whiteread, Carmen Winant
As a preview for Gray Matters, artist Nancy Rubins will join podcaster Tyler Green in conversation on Thursday, April 13, at 4:30 pm for a live-audience recording of The Modern Art Notes Podcast. Additional events will be announced prior to the exhibition opening.