The art of Kevin Blythe Sampson



juliana driever - Blog

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Vision and Vernacular Cancellation

In two weeks, the 54th Venice Biennale will open to an international audience of artworld insiders. But in an unfortunate turn of events, one of the most potentially groundbreaking exhibitions that was organized in conjunction with the Biennale, featuring the work of artists who have historically been excluded from the western cannon, has been canceled. Vision and Vernacular: Eight African American Artists in Venice, organized by the American Folk Art Museum (AFAM), sponsored by Italian fashion retailer Benetton, and co-curated by Martha V. Henry and Carlo McCormick, mysteriously got the axe just a few weeks ago.

In an email from the museum’s public relations firm it was explained that the planned site for the exhibition, the Fondaco Dei Tedeschi, could not be brought up to code in time for the opening:

"This is a very large historic building and has been unoccupied for many years," said a Benetton spokesperson. "Due to its condition, we were unable to obtain the necessary permits, certifications, and finish the modifications necessary to insure the safety of the crowds expected for this exhibition. The project has been postponed to the reopening of the Fondaco after its renovation by Rem Koolhaus."

However, in other reports, blame was being pointed towards Benetton. In a news piece done by Art in America, AFAM executive Director Maria Connelli stated that “it was solely Benetton's decision to suspend the show." She said, "The museum, curators and artists were all surprised by this turn of events, especially since we were ready to open on June 1." And even more reports also insinuate that there were communication problems between the museum and Benetton during the various stages of planning, which likely contributed to the show’s ultimate demise.

The cancellation of the exhibition, which was to present the site-specific work of four self-taught artists alongside four graffiti artists, came as a devastating blow to the artists, curators, and the museum. While for the museum, this cancellation seemed to precipitate a pursuant series of unfavorable announcements, including the resignation of their executive director and Tuesday's news that amid a maelstrom of financial woes the building on 53rd street will be sold to next-door-neighbor MoMA, some of the artists have decided to take back control their fates. With impressive resolve, co-curator Martha Henry and the four self-taught artists - Lonnie Holley, Charlie Lucas, Kevin Sampson, and Gregory Warmack (aka Mr. Imagination) - will soon head to Venice and will create their own ad hoc exhibition opportunities. While I am not interested in assigning blame to either AFAM or Benetton, it is hard not to note how all eight of the artists have been failed by this situation – and I loudly applaud their determination to create and maintain a forward momentum in the face of this defeat.

Here is a link to a feature I wrote for an artworld magazine on the original, canceled exhibition (which will remain otherwise unpublished). It seems important to share this piece in light of the events that have unfolded in the past few weeks.

Festival of Ideas for the New City

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