“A Generous Medium”: Worth More Than a Thousand Words

Photo: Nikki A. Greene

A Generous Medium: Photography at Wellesley 1972-2012 at the Davis Museum at Wellesley College will enthrall photography enthusiasts, collectors, scholars, and curators alike. As a contributor to the exhibition catalogue, admittedly, I am biased. For me, the most exciting part of the exhibition as a contributing writer included the excitement of seeing all the other photographs together on display. The curators arranged the works, quasi-19th century salon-style, by order of accession date, which provides a chronology of tastes of sorts. Those tastes were shaped by the Davis Museum–the donors, the museum directors, or past and present faculty members available to offer expertise–at any given moment over the last four decades. I wrote on two photographs included in the show: Ellen Gallagher’s Abu Simbel (2005-06) and Radcliffe Bailey’s Echo (2011). Both images were acquired by the Davis Museum in 2011 under the leadership of the Davis’ current director, the Ruth Gordon Shapiro ’37 DirectorLisa Fischman.

A Generous Medium: Photography at Wellesley 1972-2012 – view from ground floor balcony. Photograph: Nikki A. Greene

You see, we weren’t assigned the works. Each of the 60 writers, which included alumnae, donors, museum directors, past and present faculty members, chose one or multiple photographs about which to write critically or to reflect thoughtfully. Subject matter, style, and technique vary, of course. Thus, the exhibition reflects not only the importance of photography in the Davis Museum over the last forty years, but also the personal thoughts, professional tastes, and research interests of the contributors. Portions of their texts hang alongside each photograph. In fact, the interplay of text with the images become the most integral and fascinating experience of the show. I hope as many visitors as possible drop in to see this innovative show. Eugène Atget, Andy Warhol, Dawoud Bey, and Cindy Sherman, among many notable others, reside in the same room. THAT should be motivation enough to get to the Davis by December 16. Truly, with so much to see–and read–one would be hard pressed to find a comparable photography show as visually and intellectually stimulating. Here’s the most recent review from the Boston Globe (9/24/12): “The Davis Showcases 40 Years of Photography.”

At the very least, you’ll want to see my pick, Gallagher’s Abu Simbel and her version of funk masters Sun Ra and George Clinton awaiting a blue, fur-lined spaceship. Funky indeed!

Ellen Gallagher, “Abu Simbel” (2005-06) ~ acquired in 2011
Outline of Radcliffe Bailey’s “Echo” as part of “A Generous Medium” in lieu of the permanently installed piece on the second floor. Photo: Nikki A. Greene
My daughter examining Bailey’s “Echo” on the second floor of the Davis…intensely (March 2011). Photo: Nikki A. Greene
Artist & Art Historian Margaret Rose Vendreyes and the imitable Lorraine O’Grady on opening night of “A Generous Medium.” Margaret wrote for show and Ms. O’Grady (Wellesley alumna) has a piece in the show. Photo: Nikki A. Greene
O’Grady (in center w/blue boots) addresses students after returning to campus on November 13, commemorating her donation of her archives to Wellesley College.


“Radcliffe Bailey’s Soundscapes” at Wellesley College on April 18

Wednesday, April 18, 2012
6:00 p.m. at Collins Cinema

Nikki A. Greene on Radcliffe Bailey’s Soundscapes

This lecture by Nikki A. Greene, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Art History & Africana Studies, explores the harmony between music and visual art within African American culture. While countless artists call on inspiration from various musical forms, especially blues and jazz, Radcliffe Bailey creates original compositional “riffs” that not only incorporate rhythms and beats structurally, but also transform materials and space (meta)physically as part of his distinctive visual-aural language and style.

Radcliffe Bailey: Memory as Medicine at the Davis Museum at Wellesley College.

*Updated 5/29/12: Here is the YouTube video of my talk: 


The show closes in just three weeks! The greatest challenge I’ve had in preparing for the lecture is the overwhelming amount of rich material in all of Radcliffe’s work. The most enjoyable part of preparing for this lecture, the last one this semester, is selecting the sounds! I will include music by Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Sun-Ra, Charlie Parker, and traditional music by women in the Sande Society in Sierra Leone. The tracks are coming together more seamlessly than I anticipated. Listen to this track by Ellington, “Transbluency”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aaUotvtzb6U. Whoa! Come see Radcliffe Bailey’s painting of the same name at the Davis Museum before May 6!

I will conclude my talk with this video of the installation of Radcliffe Bailey’s Echo at the Davis Museum:

Follow tweets at #RadcliffeBaileySoundscapes

Art through the eyes of a child

My daughter with Radcliffe Bailey's "Echo"

Sometimes, I wish I could just get on the floor of the Davis or the Met or MOMA and really look at art, especially the stuff that requires a kind of intense, physical interaction (Think, Joseph Beuys, I Like America and America Likes Me)…ok, maybe not that intensely.

Last night, I took my four-year-old to the Davis Museum at Wellesley College. The theme was “Georgia on My Mind” in conjunction with the exhibition, Radcliffe Bailey: Memory as Medicine. Sweet tea in mason jars, okra, pulled pork sandwiches, and peach cobbler were on the menu. I went to support the students, but I also knew it would be yet another great event for my daughter.

Museum educators will tell you it’s a joy to see art through the eyes of a child. I was taken aback by my daughter’s immediate impulse to get on the floor to examine the seashell filled with Georgia red clay that Radcliffe added as part of the installation of Echo (2012). Next time you’re in a museum, perhaps you’ll really look at art. Don’t just stand there!

On April 18, I’m giving a talk, “Radcliffe Bailey’s Soundscapes,” at the Collins Cinema in conjunction with the Davis Museum at Wellesley College at 6 p.m.


Checking out Radcliffe Bailey's "Windward Coast" at the Davis Museum

Lovin’ Me Some Wellesley College

My time at Wellesley College as the Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Art History and Africana Studies began this August. This semester, I’ve been devoting my time to my own research on funk music and my upcoming papers on artists Moe Brooker, Romare Bearden, and Radcliffe Bailey (see the “What’s Next” section for more info on these talks). Of course, I have been thrilled to be surrounded by the fellows here at the Newhouse Center for the Humanities. My interactions at the Newhouse are really shaping a lot of my thinking on music, the body, and art history tremendously. Basically, I’m lovin’ this place!

However, I can’t wait to get back in the classroom! I’m teaching a course called “From the Bayou to Boston: African American Art and Identity” this spring. I’m even taking my students to my beloved Philadelphia in March to check out the scene there (and there is a scene to be seen).

Here is a glimpse into a typical Wellesley student engaged with art. Wish me luck!

Art App-reciation at the Davis.


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