RISD Museum Announces Expanded Galleries Devoted to Modern and Contemporary Art

September 26, 2022 – PROVIDENCE, RI – The RISD Museum is pleased to announce a new presentation of its modern and contemporary collection across four gallery spaces. Art and Design from 1900 to Now has opened in phases beginning this summer, with the final installation going on earlier this month. Connecting galleries previously used for temporary exhibitions with existing galleries (Granoff Gallery) that have been reconfigured to improve presentation and visitor experience, the new space triples the area dedicated to art and design from 1900 to today, to more than 9,000 square feet. 

The expansion and reinstallation of these galleries was a collaborative process of interpretation, rooted in an open and responsive approach grounded in dialogue with practicing artists as well as the communities the museum serves. The resulting galleries work against narratives that typically emphasize style, chronology, artistic genius, and others – and instead draw connections across perspectives, cultures, and media. Artists from 17 different countries are represented. This presentation highlights stories that have largely gone unheard in a museum setting, reflect diverse voices, respond to current issues, and center the work of BIPOC, ​LGBTQIA2S+​ people, and women. 

Drawing together works on paper, costume and textiles, painting, sculpture, photography, and decorative arts and design, the installation reflects the interconnectedness of the disciplines RISD teaches and the cross pollination among art forms and media that can influence how artists work. In concepting the new presentation, museum curators paired with 12 artists to develop thematic groups of objects with a particular focus on newly acquired and rarely exhibited works by underrepresented artists and designers. Museum staff also collaborated with teen, college, and K-12 teacher groups for feedback throughout the process. The resulting themes that emerged from those dialogues include: Dreaming between Utopia and Dystopia, Facts and Figures, Stand in a Different Place, A Rightful Place, and Poetry of Daily Life. Additionally, there is an area for rotating projects with the first presentation in place titled Past Made Present which explores the long but relatively unacknowledged shadow the Dutch empire cast over early modern history and art history.

Says Interim Museum Director, Sarah Ganz Blythe, of the renovation and reinstallation project, “This presentation was developed over the past two years through partnerships between staff, students, teachers, and many of the artists whose work is on view. We started from a place of asking questions, engaging in conversations, and listening.”

The project was funded in part by a grant from the Terra Foundation for American Art as part of the 2022 Re-envisioning Permanent Collections: An Initiative for US Museums and a Cultural Facilities grant from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts.  Additional support was also provided by individual donors.

More information on the themed areas:

Dreaming between Utopia and Dystopia 
Wai Yee Chiong, associate curator of Asian art, in conversation with artists Enrique Chagoya and Chitra Ganesh

By harnessing the power of storytelling, artists can reverse, question, and diversify traditional and historical interpretations. Using unique visual languages, the artists in this section have created imaginary realms to critique the sociopolitical ills of contemporary society. Metaphor, satire, science fiction, comics, and cartoons offered them novel ways to destroy stereotypical notions and engage with real histories that have been overlooked.

Facts and Figures
Dominic Molon, Richard Brown Baker Curator of Contemporary Art, in conversation with artists Nathaniel Oliver (RISD BFA 2018, Painting) and Rose B. Simpson (RISD MFA 2011, Ceramics)

The paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, and sculptures in this section share largely representational and abstract depictions of figures. They were also selected to demonstrate the various ways that works are purchased for or given to the museum’s collection. The wall labels for these objects are split in two: one text describes and explains the work, and the other presents the circumstances by which it was acquired.

This interpretative approach was developed in conversation with exhibiting artists Nathaniel Oliver and Rose B. Simpson, both of whom challenged the museum to clarify the individuals, sources of wealth and financial support, and institutional priorities that have played a role in the acquisition of each of these works for the RISD Museum collection. 

Stand in a Different Place
Kate Irvin, curator of costume and textiles, in conversation with artists Diedrick Brackens, Pia Camil (RISD BFA 2003, Painting), and Jagdeep Raina (RISD MFA 2016, Painting)

The works in this section draw us in with their tactile qualities, engaging us in intimate stories. Specific references to tradition and place merge with broad notions of home, roots, and natural landscapes, while the artists’ various approaches to materiality and craft beckon us to envision alternative ways of seeing and being in our relationships to art and to one another. 

Opening up the narrative requires shifting perspectives. Infused with history, memory, and tenderness, these works invite us to step away from our usual vantage points and stand in a different place.

A Rightful Place  
Elizabeth A. Williams, David and Peggy Rockefeller Curator of Decorative Arts and Design, in conversation with artists Michelle Erickson, Jonathan James-Perry, and Preston Singletary; with special thanks to Emily Banas, decorative arts and design assistant curator, and Sháńdíín Brown, Henry Luce Curatorial Fellow for Native American Art

Like many contemporary makers, Michelle Erickson, Jonathan James-Perry, and Preston Singletary hold identities that disrupt the historically narrow scope of what—and who—is represented in museums. The layering of their artistic practices with their experiences as activists, culture bearers, researchers, and historians yielded the insights accompanying these works. This section speaks to the natural environment, at once valued and exploited; the built environment, which both shelters community and enables exclusion; and the choices, outcomes, and fragility of life.

Poetry of Daily Life
Jan Howard, Houghton P. Metcalf Jr. Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs, in conversation with artists Avish Khebrehzadeh and Billie Zangewa

Chores, rituals, life cycles, and relationships with family and friends are explored in these quiet, intimate works. In our discussions planning this section, we also returned to themes of fragility, safety, and resilience—conditions of this pandemic time. While only Billie Zangewa’s textile was made during COVID, recent events affect how all these selections might be seen. For example, Avish Khebrehzadeh’s animation from 2005–2006 invokes the importance of the backyard as a space of refuge. Like some other works in this section, it also suggests the dreamlike wonder of everyday life, as well as its fleeting nature. Employing a wide range of media, these artists used the nuanced physicality of their materials to heighten how we might read these works. 

Past Made Present: Dutch Shadows in the Black Atlantic 
Jane’a Johnson-Farnham, RISD SEI research fellow and the artistic director at Foam Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam

This presentation explores the long but relatively unacknowledged shadow the Dutch cast over early modern history and art history. Three sections explore overlapping themes of self-presentation, wealth production, portraiture, and personhood. Juxtaposing more than 30 paintings, prints, photographs, textiles, and works of jewelry, the exhibition presents contemporary and historical works from RISD’s collection that date from the 1600s through today. Many of the artists featured have regularly refused linear notions of time and national boundaries. In the spirit of the Afro-diasporic intellectual tradition, Past Made Present invites us all to challenge established notions of time, space, and history.