Art + Practice’s latest show, Collective Constellation: Selections from the Eileen Harris Norton Collection is an exhibition that I always needed to see, I just didn’t realize why until now. Over the last several years, I’ve committed the month February to posting Artist a Day profiles where Black artists are highlighted and celebrated. In 2017 I was especially drawn to the creative collectives in Los Angeles that sustained and supported the work of Black artists in the 1960s and 1970s. Through research (much of it led by Dr. Kellie Jones and Karen Anne Mason) I learned about Ruth Waddy and was so inspired by her story that I dedicated the 2017 Artist a Day series to her stewardship, commitment and dedication to Black art.
At the time, my goal for the series was to connect each artist to one another in the posts to illustrate how vital collectives were at the time. When I finished the 2017 series, I discussed the work with my writing mentor who asked me about the common themes that emerged from the posts and challenged me to explore them further. That led to a project that I ultimately had to shelf due to lack of funding for additional research.
Flash forward to today and Collective Constellation, curated by the Hammer Museum’s Erin Christovale, connects many of the dots I wanted to see come together on Black art in Los Angeles. The exhibition also expands the scope of these connections to include a geographically diverse, intergenerational group of women of color who come together within the collection of a Black woman whose commitment to art and community is as important now as it was in Ruth Waddy’s day.
Eileen Harris Norton’s first foray into collecting art began in the mid-1970s, almost serendipitously after meeting Ruth Waddy and acquiring some of her work. At the time, Harris Norton didn’t know much about art, but her interaction with the artist/writer/organizer would later guide the philanthropist’s collecting practice which originally evolved out of the personal relationships she developed with artists.*
Art + Practice recently launched two different forms of digital content that virtually engage online visitors and highlight the important connections among the artists represented in Eileen Harris Norton’s collection.
The first is a photographic survey of the exhibition that’s rendered in a virtual 3D format. The self-guided tour allows visitors to better visualize the artistic conversations taking place between specific works–I was particularly drawn to the frenetic energy between Wangechi Mutu’s character in the upper right corner of “Howl”, 2006 and Carolyn Castaño’s subject in “Sudden Fanfare”, 2003. Similarly, a pair of imagined subjects in two portraits by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye suggest a quieter, more reflective artistic conversation taking place that also depicts a palpable emotion between the two that’s no less dramatic.
Using social media, Art + Practice provides additional context to the works and artists through a series of Instagram posts called “Mapping the Constellation” that further explore the personal connections between many of the artists in the show. The posts are created in Instagram stories and archived for later viewing.
These two forms of digital engagement complement Erin Christovale’s curatorial narrative and bring the important histories behind these artists to life.
In Collective Constellation, themes of identity, spirituality, visibility, and sisterhood are reflected not only among the individual artists through their work but also in the collection and the philanthropic work of the collector herself. The intersections among artists, curators, historians, writers, and supporters reveal the power and beauty that’s formed when bright lights are brought together.
For more on the Collective Constellation, including links to the virtual tour and Instagram, please visit Art + Practice’s exhibition site.
* ‘The Women Artists I’ve Met Over the Years and Collected Are So Extraordinary. They Should Be Celebrated‘: Eileen Harris Norton, Frieze, February 17, 2020
Additional Reading: Artist a Day: Evangeline J Montgomery – Culture Shock Art