MFAH Presents “Multiplicity: Blackness in Contemporary American Collage” in February 2024
The first major museum exhibition on this subject, Multiplicity explores the breadth and complexity of Black identity and experiences in the United States through collage and collage-informed works.
HOUSTON—November 2, 2023—The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, will present the exhibition Multiplicity: Blackness in Contemporary American Collage from February 18 to May 12, 2024.
Organized by the Frist Art Museum in Nashville, Tennessee, Multiplicity is the first major museum exhibition devoted to this rich yet understudied subject. Featuring some 80 collage and collage-informed works, the exhibition explores the breadth and complexity of Black identity and experiences in the United States.
With an intergenerational group of 52 living artists, Multiplicity examines how concepts such as cultural hybridity, notions of beauty, gender fluidity, and historical memory are expressed in the practice of collage. By assembling pieces of paper, fabric, and other often-salvaged or repurposed materials, the artists in this exhibition create unified compositions that express the endless possibilities of Black-constructed narratives despite our fragmented society. The artists range from established luminaries to early- and mid-career figures, including Mark Bradford, Lauren Halsey, Rashid Johnson, Kerry James Marshall, Wangechi Mutu, Jamea Richmond-Edwards, Deborah Roberts, Tschabalala Self, Lorna Simpson, Devan Shimoyama, and Mickalene Thomas.
“We are pleased to present this groundbreaking exhibition, drawing attention to the richness of collage as an art form and its role in expressing Black identity over multiple generations of artists,” said Gary Tinterow, Director, the Margaret Alkek Williams Chair, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. “It is also especially significant for Houston audiences that Multiplicity features the work of a number of notable artists who are so closely identified with this city, including Tay Butler, Jamal Cyrus, Rick Lowe, and Lovie Olivia.”
Multiplicity is structured broadly around seven themes that foreground personal and collective history, regional or national heritage, and gender and sexual orientation, in addition to racial constructs. The artists featured build upon the rich legacy of African American artists such as Jacob Lawrence, Sam Middleton, Faith Ringgold, and Betye Saar, as well as Romare Bearden, who received considerable critical attention as he experimented with collage in the 1960s to inspire collaboration and community. Drawing upon the work of these foundational figures, contemporary artists are making collages in an array of different ways, from traditional cutting and pasting to complexly layering materials, to creating works digitally. For some, collage is their principal strategy; for others, it represents a branch or chapter in their wider practice.
In the opening section of the exhibition, titled “Fragmentation and Reconstruction,” guests are introduced to a range of materials and techniques used in collage today. Many artists gather existing materials—magazines, photographs, books, newspapers, and maps—to form their compositions. Other artists use “new” paper, as is the case with Nina Chanel Abney; Yashua Klos, who makes his own woodblock prints; and YoYo Lander, who stains and washes watercolor paper to create her portraits.
The following section, “Excavating History and Memory,” examines the ways artists like Radcliffe Bailey, Jamal Cyrus, and Tomashi Jackson use historic photographs and publication clippings to highlight overlooked or lost narratives and link them to the present. Derek Fordjour, an alumnus of Morehouse College, celebrates the tradition and vitality of the HBCU marching band experience through his multilayered works.
The “Cultural Hybridity” section includes works by artists including Nigerian-born Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Jamaican-born Ebony G. Patterson, and first-generation American Helina Metaferia that address the challenges of navigating life in a new country while maintaining close connections to ancestral homelands.
In the section “Notions of Beauty and Power,” Jamea Richmond-Edwards, Tschabalala Self, Mickalene Thomas, and others challenge White ideals of feminine beauty historically espoused in popular culture and art history by inserting bold Black women into their compositions. Queer artists including Rashaad Newsome and Devan Shimoyama express the fluid nature of gender in an increasingly nonbinary world, while Lovie Olivia and Wardell Milan remind us of the value of safe havens for LGBTQIA+ people, from Harlem Renaissance house party venues to gay dance clubs, in the section “Gender Fluidity and Queer Spaces.”
Although most of the work in Multiplicity is representational, artists in the section “Toward Abstraction” create layered and often deeply personal abstractions with various materials. McArthur Binion, for example, uses fragments of his Mississippi birth certificate in his DNA series. Fiber and collage artist Brittney Boyd Bullock makes order from disorder by combining various elements into unified abstractions, often exploring the relationship between lightness and darkness.
The exhibition concludes by expanding the definition of collage beyond analog practices to include digital stitches—a seemingly inevitable evolution in today’s digitally saturated environment. For his large-scale wallpaper installations, Kahlil Robert Irving pieces together hundreds of digital images to evoke the continual feed of smartphones and laptops. Taking digital collage a step further, Arthur Jafa gathers the highs and lows of Black experiences in the U.S. into his poignant video montage Love Is the Message, The Message Is Death.
The accompanying catalogue Multiplicity: Blackness in Contemporary American Collage is designed by Polymode Studio, an LGBTQIA+ and minority–owned design firm; produced by Marquand Books; and distributed by Yale University Press. The fully illustrated 264-page publication was edited by Kathryn E. Delmez with contributions from Dr. Richard J. Powell, John Spencer Bassett Professor of Art and Art History at Duke University; Dr. Patricia Hills, professor emerita of American Art at Boston University; Dr. Tiffany E. Barber, assistant professor of African American Art at UCLA; Dr. Anita N. Bateman, associate curator of modern and contemporary art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Valerie Cassel Oliver, Sydney and Frances Lewis Family Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts; María Elena Ortiz, curator at the Museum of Modern Art Fort Worth; and Dr. Rebecca VanDiver, associate professor of African American Art at Vanderbilt University. Students at Fisk University and 2022–2023 Frist Art Museum curatorial fellow Chase Williamson wrote the artist biographies.
Organization and Funding
Multiplicity: Blackness in Contemporary American Collage was organized by the Frist Art Museum, Nashville, Tennessee.
Support for the national exhibition tour is provided by generous grants from the Henry Luce Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Generous support is provided by:
Jereann and Holland Chaney
Michael W. Dale
Jay Jones and Terry Wayne Jones
About the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Spanning 14 acres in the heart of Houston’s Museum District, the main campus comprises the Audrey Jones Beck Building, the Caroline Wiess Law Building, the Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden and the Nancy and Rich Kinder Building. Nearby, two house museums—Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens, and Rienzi—present collections of American and European decorative arts. The MFAH is also home to the Glassell School of Art, with its Core Residency Program and Junior and Studio schools; and the International Center for the Arts of the Americas (ICAA), a leading research institute for 20th-century Latin American and Latino art. www.mfah.org
Melanie Fahey, Senior Publicist
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Artists in the Exhibition
Nina Chanel Abney
Njideka Akunyili Crosby
Brittney Boyd Bullock
Kahlil Robert Irving
Kerry James Marshall
Lester Julian Merriweather
Troy Montes Michie
Devin N. Morris
Ebony G. Patterson
Lanecia A. Rouse
Nyugen E. Smith
Paul Anthony Smith