by Mimi Montgomery
The Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University continues its 10th anniversary celebration through 2016. Reality of My Surroundings: The Contemporary Collection, a commemorative exhibit, is on display until July 10, and well worth a visit. A gathering of some of the museum’s most significant contemporary works, the show embodies the Nasher’s commitment to expanding its global collection, especially its work by artists of African descent.
The exhibit borrows its name from Los Angeles-based punk band Fishbone’s third album. The group is known for its witty social commentary, tongue-in-cheek humor, and an eclectic sound that defies categorization – all qualities that can be extended to our modern-day, complex global society, ever in flux. This Nasher show captures that essence, providing a glimpse into a diverse range of cultural perspectives through its wide array of art, media, and artists.
The show is comprised of pieces by artists of African descent, and it’s the first time the Nasher has created an exhibit only from these acquisitions, says Sarah Schroth, director of the museum. It was curated by Trevor Schoonmaker, whom she calls “a champion of artists of color throughout his curatorial career.” Schoonmaker joined the Nasher staff in 2006, and serves as curator of contemporary art. It’s largely thanks to his passion for acquiring international and diverse pieces of contemporary art that the museum is able to host such a cohesive show of unique works.
Reality of My Surroundings is also a collaboration with three local museums: the North Carolina Museum of Art, North Carolina Central Museum of Art, and the Ackland Art Museum at the University of North Carolina. The group comes together this spring to simultaneously display works from each of their collections by contemporary African and African-American artists, as well as those from the African diaspora.
Last month, the four museums hosted a panel on collecting and presenting works by artists of African descent. The speakers included Holland Cotter, the eminent New York Times art critic; Franklin Sirmans, director of the Perez Museum in Miami; and Thelma Golden, director and chief curator at the Studio Museum in Harlem. The gathering, according to its dialogue, reinforced the Triangle’s commitment to addressing the way contemporary art affects cultural change, and its willingness to play an active part in that evolution.
This dedication is evident at the Nasher exhibit: With names like Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Barthélémy Toguo, and Steve McQueen contributing photography, video installations, paintings, and sculptures that span four decades, it’s a past-and-present look into a globalized, changing climate – and a glimpse into the future, too.
Exhibit runs through July 10; $5 adults, $4 students; Tuesday – Saturday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Thursday: 10 a.m. – 9 p.m., Sunday: 12 noon – 5 p.m., Monday: Closed; 2001 Campus Drive, Durham; nasher.duke.edu