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Jepson’s ‘State of the Art’ displays compelling contemporary works from across America

  • Photo by Edward C. Robison III, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art Vanessa L. German, born 1976; Artist Considers the 21st Century Implications of Psychosis as Public Health Crisis or, Critical/Comedic Analysis into the Pathophysiology of Psychosis, 2014; Mixed media assemblage, 40 × 55 × 26 in.; Courtesy Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Ark.
  • Photo by Edward C. Robison III, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art Emily Erb, born 1982; World Map, 2011; Dye on silk; 54 × 168 in.; Courtesy Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Ark.
  • Susie J. Lee, born 1972; Johnny, 2013; High-definition video portrait; 50 x 43 x 4 in.; Duration: 1 minute, 13 seconds; Courtesy Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Ark.
  • Photo by Stewart Clements Photography Sheila Gallagher, born 1966; Plastic Lila, 2013; Melted plastic on armature; 81 × 64 1/2 in.; Courtesy Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Ark.
  • James Lavadour, born 1951; Out of Range, 2013; Oil on panel; 36 × 48 × 2 in.; Courtesy Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Ark.
  • Photo by Tom Little Lenka Clayton, born 1977; 63 Objects Taken Out of My Son's Mouth, 2011-2012; Acorn, bolt, bubblegum, buttons, carbon paper, chalk, Christmas decoration, cigarette butt, coins (GBP, USD, EURO), cotton reel, holly leaf, little wooden man, sharp metal pieces, metro ticket, nuts, plastic "O", polystyrene, rat poison (missing), seeds, slide, small rocks, specimen vial, sponge animal, sticks, teabag, wire caps, and wooden block as laid out: 1 × 36 × 36 in.; Courtesy Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Ark.

Jepson’s ‘State of the Art’ displays compelling contemporary works from across America

17 Feb 2016


What: “State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now”

When: Feb. 19-Sept. 4

Where: Jepson Center, 207 W. York St.

Cost: Varies




6-9 p.m. Feb. 18

Opening lecture and reception with Susie J. Lee

Free for members or $12 for non-members

Seattle-based video artist Susie J. Lee’s work in “State of the Art” adds a new dimension to the ancient art of portraiture. She asks her subjects — workers in the oil and natural gas “fracking” industry in her native North Dakota — to sit silently for her video camera for up to 30 minutes at a time. The videos can cause you to feel uncomfortable, even voyeuristic, but also create a powerful awareness of shared humanity and empathy. Recognized as Emerging Artist of the Year for the “intelligence, emotion and sensuality” of her work, Lee was also named an “Artist to Watch” by ARTnews. Her work has been exhibited and commissioned in the U.S. and abroad, in such venues as the Mitchell Center for the Arts, Denver Art Museum, Frye Art Museum, Blanton Museum, Crystal Bridges Museum of Art and other notable public collections.


6 p.m. March 31

Lecture by Vanessa German

Free for members or $12 for non-members

Described by the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art as a “force of nature,” Vanessa German creates compelling works that invoke the power to protect children endangered by circumstance and location. Her “power figures” feature accumulations of found objects that decorate black figures she constructs from dolls and found objects, and imbues with beauty and magic. German is a vigorous advocate for children in her Pittsburgh neighborhood, creating safe spaces for art-making amid violence and danger. She launched Art House in a formerly derelict HUD home to offer children the opportunity to create beauty and build self-esteem. German, a sculptor, actress, performer and educator, has also pioneered a performance style called Spoken Word Opera.


5-9 p.m. May 6

“State of the Art: Savannah Weekend!”

Free and open to the public

Support Savannah’s local artists in a weekend of fun including a presentation of videos exploring the local art scene by Telfair’s Teen Council and a Mega Art March through downtown and midtown Savannah by Art Rise and community partners.


1-4 p.m. May 7

Free Family Day

Free and open to the public

Savannah Weekend continues with a Free Family Day featuring demonstrations and performances by local visual and performing artists.


7-10 p.m. April 30

“State of the Art: Savannah Style”

$30 for members, $40 for non-members and $85 for VIP

Telfair will showcase some of Savannah’s finest fashion designers — Brooke Atwood, Merline Labissiere and Meredith Sutton — as they join forces to create a stunning fashion show highlighting the contemporary styles of Savannah. In celebration of “State of the Art,” guests will have an opportunity to explore the exhibition, browse the designers’ pop-up shops and enjoy the fashion show. Advance tickets only.


When we talk about magic, it’s usually in an abstract or metaphorical way, but real magic does exist. 

Its most obvious manifestation is in the objects and ideas that are conjured through the creative process. When a singular creative vision can be realized and put out into the world, a particular form of magic is summoned that can be as powerful as anything. The purity of creation is a miracle of our conscious minds, but that purity is all too often muddled by the academic side of the art world (among other things).

The exhibition that opens at Telfair’s Jepson Center on Feb. 19, “State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now,” is a much-needed corrective to the somewhat stale art-school philosophies that too often invade galleries and museums with confined conceptual views of what “fine art” is and should be.

“State of the Art” began as a project of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark., which was founded by Alice Walton, daughter of Walmart titan Sam Walton. In 2013, museum president Don Bacigalupi and assistant curator Chad Allgood ventured across the country to find artists whose work had “not been fully recognized on a national level.” They traveled about 100,000 miles over 52 separate trips to meet nearly 1,000 individual artists in their quest to assemble one of the most comprehensive and diverse shows of American contemporary art.

Diverse may be an understatement.

Bacigalupi and Allgood visited each artist’s studio and talked not just about the work, but about the artist’s upbringing and about their families. They eventually boiled their discoveries down to an exhibition that opened at Crystal Bridges in 2014 featuring 102 artists with every type of artwork imaginable, from “psychotropic video travelogs,” to “domestic fairytale ceramics.”

The exhibition that opens at the Jepson this weekend includes 40 of those artists and represents a wide sampling of their work, some of which may be familiar and some which may look as though it came from another planet.

“What hopefully this [exhibit] will show you is that artists are working in so many different ways and we’re going to react to them a little differently because of the experiences we bring to the viewing process,” explains Telfair’s associate curator of modern and contemporary art, Rachel Reese.

“The idea of the local is also very important in this show ... and bringing voices out from other areas that might not otherwise be heard.”

As Reese points out, there’s no grand, overarching theme in the exhibition other than a celebration of the ways artists around the country realize their respective creative visions. There are many threads and narratives within the various works that you can pull together if you like, but the one commonality they all share is that each is representative of an intense impulse to create.

Before “State of the Art,” many of these artists worked in relative obscurity — or at least were only recognized regionally — but they all share a deep compulsion to create magic out of a pure artistic vision.

One of the best examples of this is the work of Pittsburgh-based sculptor and performance artist Vanessa German. German is a supernova force of psychic intensity and her work reflects everything she stands for as a creative individual. She creates “power figures” constructed from found objects and re-sculpted dolls to resemble a reimagining of the traditional nkondi statues used in Congo spiritual practice to avenge wrongdoing.

Nkondi statues typically have nails driven into them to “activate” them, as do German’s figures, but in a bit of metaphysical irony, when German began creating her power figures, she had no knowledge of the Congo figurines. It wasn’t until a historian saw German’s power figures on display one day and explained the connection that German knew she was somehow unconsciously tapping into an ancestral tradition.

“I did something instinctively that I believe is a remnant in my soul,” German says. “And when I talk about my soul, I think about the accumulation of all of my ancestors being present in my DNA ... You are literally your past. You are literally the people who came before you.”

She knew immediately that she was part of an enduring cultural lineage that “works within the clarity of the spirit and the clarity of the hand.”

“There’s great power and beauty in being vulnerable and intentional with what you create ... It’s interesting for me to be a self-taught artist in the art world and to talk about my work and talk so much about things that you can’t see and stories that are not written in some academic text about line and shape and form.”

Like so many of the artists in “State of the Art,” German’s work is about channeling an intense form of creative energy. Another artist in the show, Jacksonville-based Hiromi Mizugai Moneyhun, is also self-taught and uses intricately hand-cut paper designs in the Japanese Kiri-e tradition to express her creative urge. The three pieces of hers that will be shown at the Jepson are part of a larger series called “Under the Rose.”

“The series focused on the reality of women living in a world in which they are largely subjugated to men’s wishes and expectations about female beauty,” Moneyhun says. Like a number of the other artists, Moneyhun was unaware of the Crystal Bridges project when she was contacted by the curators, but she was flattered by the attention.

“I was happy that someone outside the North Florida area was interested in my work ... I’m honored to have been part of [the original exhibit] and thrilled that they wanted three of my pieces for the traveling portion of the show.”

Also included in the sprawling exhibition is Jonathan Schipper’s “Slow Room,” which is an installation of household furniture and tchotchkes, with each piece connected to a cable and mechanism that pulls everything toward the corner of the room one centimeter a day.

Other works are as varied as Teri Greeves’ high-heeled sneakers beaded in the Native American tradition; Sheila Gallagher’s flower phantasmagoria made of melted plastic; Angela Ellsworth’s dangerous looking bonnets made of pearl corsage pins; and Jeila Gueramian’s alien life-form crocheted quilts.

Each work presents the viewer with its own particular brand of magic.

The opening reception Feb. 18 will include a lecture by Seattle-based video artist Susie J. Lee and Crystal Bridges’ curator Chad Alligood. There are also a number of other related happenings, including a public installation of work by local artists titled “Boxed In/Break Out” that will be shown in six of the Jepson’s windows beginning April 28. Vanessa German will be giving a lecture March 31 and there will also be a fashion show April 30, among other exhibition-related events.