COMMON GROUND Exhibition Proves There’s More Ground to Cover


Renée Stout, Marie Laveau, 2009/2013.

The Flint Institute of Arts, the Muskegon Museum of Arts and the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts have covered many leagues in their collection of African American Art. The COMMON GROUND exhibition now at the Muskegon Museum of Art shows how far the three companions have traveled in their shared mission. COMMON GROUND: African American Art from the Flint Institute of Arts, the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, and the Muskegon Museum of Art, is an encyclopedic accomplishment, and that’s why the observation must be made. The collection suffers from the lack of work by Gilda Snowden. Snowden, who passed in 2014, for decades served as a cherished educator at Detroit’s College for Creative Studies. If Snowden’s work is included, my search of all the tags failed to find her. I also reached out to the museum’s preparator for verification and heard no answer. I hope he ignored me and went to work in his often neglected sculpture studio.

Whitfield Lovell At Home and Abroad, 2008 MMA

Whitfield Lovell, At Home and Abroad, 2008.

I hope I would have spotted a Snowden from across the gallery, the characteristic liberty with color, the freedom of brush stroke, the suggestive depiction that never insulted ones intelligence. I have been recalling one of her exhibitions on Detroit’s most fervent streets, the Cass Corridor. The Cass Corridor has always been the common ground, one of the “holy places where the races meet”, to quote poet Leonard Cohen.

Held in the almost mythical bistro called the Cass Cafe, that exhibition riffed on the theme of chairs. One entitled, Chair Waiting for a Child, provoked me to reach out to Snowden, to thank her for the humanity expressed in that gestural painting. It takes decades of love to have a chair waiting for a child. I knew she was walking ten thousand steps a day when her heart failed. I joined the mourners. We’ll make sure art history gets it right.

Henry Ossawa Tanner The Holy Family c 1910

Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Holy Family, c. 1910

The Muskegon Museum of Art knows the way to the Corridor as Richard Brinn has played a role in the successful museum’s fundraising and Brinn is a lifetime elder of the Corridor tribes. Snowden’s passing has been memorialized in the online chronicle faithfully maintained by early Internet adopter, Stephen Goodfellow, and his team. Jim Pallas, another member of the tribe, honored sixteen Detroiters in his work, Art Giants in Detroit, Charles McGee in the same series with Snowden. Indeed, looking at the works by McGee included in COMMON GROUND sparked my desire to look for Snowden.  McGee has an incomplete section, painted sculptures outnumbering paintings if I recall correctly. I did not experience the awe I felt the first time I walked into a Birmingham Michigan gallery to see a newly opened exhibit of McGee’s paintings.

The exhibition continues until March 20th. Thursdays are free thanks to generous sponsors, which have included Meijer. You can always purchase a locally brewed beer or vinted wine Thursday nights. Two additional shows are worth a stroll, The Public Life of Richard Hunt: 21st Century Projects and an examination of snowboards as art, honoring local snowboard shop, Mahar Snowboards. Two thoughts in closing. Hunt is revealed as a lithographer in the Common Ground show. In his collection of models, could we find the poems that inspired his sculpture, especially the official text of “Muskegon, Together Rising”? This way we begin to see Hunt also as a voracious reader and man of letters. Second, surely an artist has painted on a Mahar Snowboard? The digital art almost overwhelms the eye.

COMMON GROUND: African American Art from the Flint Institute of Arts, the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, and the Muskegon Museum of Art
Through March 20, 2016

Muskegon Museum of Art
296 W. Webster Avenue Muskegon, Michigan 49440
Hours:   Sun., 12-4:30PM, Wed.,10AM-4:30PM, Thurs.,10AM-8PM, Fri., Sat., 10AM-4:30PM
Admission:   Adults $7, Students (with school I.D.) $5, Free for members and children under 17

Image posted is courtesy of the Muskegon Museum of Art. Renée Stout American, b. 1958 Marie Laveau, 2009/2013 Color pencil drawing over lithograph proof on paper Flint Institute of Arts Museum purchase with funds from the Collection Endowment 2013.64

-Will Juntunen

One Response to “COMMON GROUND Exhibition Proves There’s More Ground to Cover”
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  1. […] assembling a show of such scope from three collections, omissions are inevitable. HACK contributor Will Juntunen for example, was perplexed that Detroit artist Gilda Snowden was not included. Noticeably absent […]

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