Infinite Mirror: Images of American Identity

Infinite Mirror: Images of American Identity
Michener Art Museum
April 13 – July 7, 2013

Sungho Choi
American artists of African, Arab, European, Asian, Latino and Native American descent explore their heritage in Infinite Mirror: Images of American Identity, on view at the Michener Art Museum April 13 through July 7, 2013.

Renowned artists Paul Keene, Tomie Arai, Luis Jimenez, Jacob Lawrence and Faith Ringgold are among the culturally-diverse artists who use portraiture and figuration to examine issues of race, gender, religion, history, politics and family. The exhibit, comprised of more than 50 multi-media works, is personal and reflective.

How, as Americans, do we see ourselves? “We would need an infinite mirror to see our full reflection,” says Blake Bradford, Infinite Mirror curator and director of education, Barnes Foundation. “The images [in this exhibit] reflect the complex dynamics between people and within the minds of individuals as they participate in and contribute to a composite, inestimable culture.”

“Artists have the enviable ability to compose imagery that transcends the deeply personal to communicate with us in accessible, if sometimes difficult, ways,” says Michener Director & CEO Lisa Tremper Hanover. “We are fortunate to have the opportunity to showcase the expertise of Philadelphia-based curator and educator Blake Bradford and look forward to introducing our audience to a diversity of self-expression.”

The 39 artists in Infinite Mirror use a wide variety of media to examine patriotism, communication, the struggle for acceptance and what it truly means to be an American in the 21st century. Humor, heartache, anger and apprehension are among the emotions evoked by these works, raising questions about race, class, gender and age.

Four main themes run through Infinite Mirror: Self-Selection, Pride, Assimilation, and Protest, providing audiences with the opportunity to re-examine both the story and storytellers of the quintessential “American dream.”

Self Selection reflects how we choose to present and project ourselves to the world. Largely based in portraiture, the variety of techniques and twists on this age-old art form convey a multitude of values, desires and anxieties. In Ben Gest’s “Alice Waiting,” we see an older woman in a contemporary variation on a seated portrait, alluding to our interdependence and the multitude of ways in which society shares space and time.

In Pride, artists explore an appreciation of one’s origins, character, values and personal accomplishments. Some works convey confidence and defiance in the face of inequality or degradation, while many others warmly exude joy, love and strength. These artists celebrate their lives as U.S. citizens while acknowledging the histories and traditions of their familial roots. Leamon Green Jr. renders this balance in his mixed media work “Big Man Advisor,” depicting a seated man flanked with a Benin sculpture to his left and a Roman or Greek statue to his right, paying tribute to both his African and European heritage.

Many artists in Infinite Mirror weigh in on the two-way transaction of Assimilation, the third theme, by investigating the degree to which new cultural contributions are accepted, mined, or rejected by society. Conversely, several of the artists examine the degree to which they have retained their original cultures and the ways in which they have evolved and emerged in their changing environments. The tension that exists between these two ideas is the point of creative take-off for artists such as Tomie Arai, whose “Peach Boy” etching shows a young boy donning the trappings of a cowboy on the frontier, hinting at the actual experience of Asian immigrants working on the railroad and the myth of the American West.

Protest, the final theme, explores the American tradition of questioning the ideals of U.S. politics and social culture. In Richard Ray Whitman’s “Do Indians Go to Santa Fe When They Die?” and Edgar Heap of Birds’ “Telling Many Magpies, Telling Black Wolf, Telling Hachivi,” the artists use their work to question the treatment of Native Americans in the past and present.

The diverse group assembled for Infinite Mirror illuminates some of America’s shadowy corners while keeping to the spirit of idealism.