MCDONOUGH MUSEUM Exhibit examines symbolism of birds

The McDonough is the only Midwest venue to display 'Birdspace.'
YOUNGSTOWN -- The McDonough Museum of Art at YSU is excited and honored to present the national traveling exhibit, "Birdspace: A Post-Audubon Artists Aviary," which will be on display Friday through Nov. 4. It was organized by David S. Rubin, curator of visual arts at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans, in cooperation with Pamela Auchincloss, Arts Management.
This exhibition, a collection of 70 works by 50 contemporary artists from the early 1990s to the present, is an examination of birds as a means of artistic expression. It also represents the evolution of bird art since the days of John James Audubon. Many of the participating artists are particularly concerned with the welfare of birds.
"Over the past two decades, contemporary artists have focused their attention on birds and bird cultures in seemingly increasing numbers," Rubin writes. "The artists who use birds as subjects and symbols seem attracted to them because they are a microcosm of ourselves who seemingly have greater access than we do to some of the nooks and crannies of our universe."
Mass appeal
Leslie Brothers, director of the McDonough Museum, feels this exhibit will appeal to the community at large. "It is often difficult to build an audience for contemporary art," she says. "But this subject offers a wide range of interest to people of all ages. Birds have become so popular in our culture today, from Audubon Society members, to birders and nature lovers, people seem to have a deep connection to birds.
"This is a very big deal for us," she continues. "It is the largest and most complex exhibition we have ever done here. It is rare for a university this size to have its own separate institution such as the McDonough, a 20,000 square-foot facility and excellent example of modernist architecture, that is able to host an exhibition of this caliber.
"It began with our friendship with Pamela, who exposed us to 'Birdspace,' and offered it to us. We had an opening in our schedule, were able to secure the finances, and everything just clicked. This is just the beginning of the future in obtaining other challenging shows of this type.
"David Rubin organized this exhibit over a period of years," Brothers explained. "It took a tremendous amount of work to do the research, determine what he wanted to include, and find out if the works were available for the two-year commitment that the exhibition will tour. These artists are very well known, and their works are on loan from galleries, museums, private collections, and the artists themselves. The McDonough is the only Midwest venue to host this exhibition."
The exhibit is grouped in four themes, and the McDonough is trying to keep each category together as much as possible. Near the upstairs entrance will be pieces from the "Satirical Gaming" category, which includes works that Rubin perceived as humorous, witty and satirical.
Willie Cole's striking sculpture of a chicken made of matches, brooms and wax, called "Malcolm's Chickens I" is displayed near a wall containing ink and pencil drawings of birds uttering Hip-Hop lyrics, in a work called "Birds of North America Misquote Hip-Hop and Sometimes Pause for Reflection," by Amy Jean Porter.
In the lower galleries, "Identity and Autobiography" is represented by works which include "Mespat" by Mohawk artist Alan Michelson, a huge backdrop of white turkey feathers onto which a video of the urban landscape of an area between Brooklyn and Queens, filmed from a boat, is projected. Michelson believes it represents the path followed by white settlers who displaced the Lenni Lanape tribe there.
In another gallery is a huge weather balloon, onto which a series of slides are projected, moving "from angel wings to empty skies."
On the nearby wall are copper sculptures of the heads of eight North American bird species which have become extinct since 1900, along with coffin handles. This work, inspired by the death of the last carrier pigeon in 1914, is entitled "1614-1914 (A Disappearance of Wings)," by Pam Longobardi, and is representative of "The Humanity of All Living Things" category.
After a bird died in a failed rescue attempt, Kate Breakey was inspired to create a series of works memorializing birds and other small animals that had died. Two works from this series, called "Small Deaths" are part of the exhibit representing the category "Mortality, Loss, Remembrance, and Transformation."
The works in this collection range from comical to profound, bizarre to heartbreaking, but perhaps one of its most poignant and ironic aspects is the current situation in New Orleans, the place of origination of the exhibit, and home to many of the artists and people who worked to create it.
One had to escape her home and leave her belongings, including her art works, because of looting. Another was out of town when Hurricane Katrina hit, and his cat was unable to be rescued. Most people still don't know the fate of much of the city or of the museum itself.
The exhibition will open with a reception and presentation by exhibit curator David S. Rubin on Friday from 6-8 p.m. Silkscreened tee-shirts, a first for the museum, will be available, along with a limited number of booklets. Everyone who becomes a new museum member that evening will receive an origami bird, created by Noah Johnson.
Other events include Jacqueline Bishop, of New Orleans, who will discuss her work "Silueta" on Oct. 5 at 5:30 p.m. Anthony Pessler, of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, will present a lecture, which will include live birds from the museum's collection, on Oct. 14 at 7:30 pm. Anthony Pessler, of Arizona, will discuss his work "Drift" on Oct. 19 at 5:30 p.m. Info: (330) 941-1400.

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