BRATTLEBORO — A chance encounter during the summer of 2019 between New York–based painter John Newsom and Brattleboro Museum & Art Center (BMAC) Director Danny Lichtenfeld gave rise to the 17-artist exhibit currently on view in the museum's capacious Wolf Kahn & Emily Mason Gallery.
“Expedition” opened on June 19 and remains on view through Oct. 11. It marks the first time that artwork by actor and filmmaker Matt Dillon, who is also a practicing visual artist, has appeared in a museum.
Lichtenfeld said that he and Newsom met at a gathering of artists, curators, and museum directors held at the Hall Art Foundation in Reading.
Newsom had visited BMAC earlier in the day and, inspired by the museum's history as a train station, immediately began formulating the concept for an exhibit featuring work by his peers and other artists he admires.
“As I recall, John's vision for 'Expedition' was nearly fully formed from the start,” said Lichtenfeld in a news release. “He rattled off the names of most of the artists he hoped to include - an exciting, diverse group, many of whom had never shown in Vermont before.”
“He said the exhibit would depict aspects of venturing into unknown lands and territories, and I was sold,” Lichtenfeld continued. “He had tapped into one of the things I love most about art and museums (and train stations, for that matter): their ability to transport us to new realms.”
Bringing the bands together
Newsom does not consider himself a curator, but he has organized a number of exhibits over the past 15 years. In doing so, he draws inspiration from Perry Farrell, the lead singer of Jane's Addiction, who organized the first Lollapalooza music festival in 1991, when Newsom was a student at Rhode Island School of Design.
“Farrell said his main motivation was to get a bunch of his friends' bands together and rock out, including his own,” said Newsom. “It was a new model for a festival. The energy was different. There was a powerful sense of authenticity.”
“That made a huge impression on me, and it's the model I use when I organize group shows,” he continued. “I include myself, because I'm a painter. The walls are the stage, and my band plays, too.”
For the exhibit in Brattleboro, Newsom invited 16 of his fellow artists to contribute work on the theme of 'expedition' and to write short statements on what that concept means to them.
Thirteen artists, as well as Newsom, provided a painting. Wendy White created a site-specific installation, Donald Baechler delivered a large cast bronze sculpture for BMAC's front lawn, and Raymond Pettibon provided two ink drawings.
Newsom built a 1/12th-scale model of the Museum in his Jersey City studio to ensure that everything would fit.
Artists speak to concept of 'expedition'
The artists' statements on the concept of “expedition” ranged from the practical to the philosophical to the surreal.
New York-based painter Inka Essenhigh wrote, “I like the places I've traveled to and I can't imagine not having gone, but I've noticed that when I'm traveling I'm also waiting for it to be over so I can get back to my 'real' life, my life in the studio. The word 'expedition' to me means that I'm open to uncertainty and I'm not in complete control.”
For his part, Dillon offered, “I tend to view the world through a cinematic lens, which is due in part to my profession, but the curiosity has always been there [...] and the love of drawing. For me, stepping into the studio is a journey into the unknown.
“The studio can be my kitchen counter, a rooftop in Puglia, or the back of an airplane barf bag[...] but mostly it's upstairs in the back of an old church in New York City. I tend to create problems that are unsolvable. The potential for failure is necessary. There is always more to discover in the mess.”
Ouattara Watts, originally from the Ivory Coast and a one-time collaborator with Jean-Michel Basquiat, wrote, “My vision is not limited to a country or a continent. It goes beyond borders and everything that can be found on a map. I paint the cosmos.”
Programs accompany the exhibit
A limited-edition catalogue containing images of all the artwork in the exhibit as well as each artist's statement on the concept of expedition is available.
In addition to Baechler, Dillon, Essenhigh, Newsom, Pettibon, Watts, and White, the other artists included in “Expedition” are André Butzer, Ann Craven, Torben Giehler, April Gornik, Andy Hope 1930 [sic], Richard Jacobs, Michael Kagan, John McAllister, Erik Parker, and Alexis Rockman.
While “Expedition” is on view, BMAC is presenting a number of related in-person and virtual programs.
• a performance at the museum by classical Indian musicians Arun Ramamurthy and Trina Basu (Aug. 15),
• a visit to artist Richard Jacobs' southern Vermont studio (Aug. 22),
• an in-person and livestreamed exhibit walkthrough with Newsom (Aug. 25),
• an online presentation by music historian Theo Cateforis on Lollapalooza and the rise of alternative rock in the 1990s (Sept. 16),
• an online conversation between Newsom and Dillon (date to be announced).