The Maier Museum of Art
at Randolph College

Investigating Identity: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Contemporary Art

February 3 – April 9, 2017

Randolph College’s Maier Museum of Art presents Investigating Identity: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Contemporary Art opening February 3 and running through April 9, 2017. Investigating Identity features works of art from the Museum’s permanent collection of contemporary art and two works by the Baltimore artist Zoë Charlton. The exhibition is designed to complement the Spring 2017 special topics course Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Contemporary Art.

Terms like “identity politics” and “post-identity liberalism” have become particularly contentious in recent years. From the activism of Black Lives Matter to Hillary Clinton’s struggle to “shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling;” from immigration reform to the fight for transgender equality, identity remains a driving, if divisive, force within the United States and around the globe. Amidst these challenges, it seems that now, more than ever, art’s capacity for multiple, often contradictory, meanings makes it a powerful tool for investigating the complexity of identity issues today. Indeed, art’s capacity for indeterminacy allows it to create space for our most difficult conversations.

In an essay on identity as a critical term in art history, Richard Meyer writes, “The concept of identity must be recognized as an effect of refusal as well as affirmation, of evasion as well as inclusion.” Within the field of art history, the tension between a recognition of difference and the demand for equality is perhaps most visible when studying the impact of gender on the production and reception of art made by women. Artists like Helen Frankenthaler and Georgia O’Keeffe, for instance, rejected the notion that their work expressed a particular gendered experience because they were women. Others, like Betye Saar and Elizabeth Murray, were open about the relationship between their work and their personal experiences as women. Rather than determining the “correct” position to take with respect to an artist’s work, this exhibition leaves open the possibility for multiple positions to coexist, while inviting viewers to question ideas they may have about the representation of identity.

When conceiving of this exhibition and the related course, the work of Zoë Charlton was foremost in my mind. In her artist statement, Charlton explains that her intention is to “explore the ironies of contemporary social and racial politics.” She writes, “My deliberately humorous and sexual content challenges what we view as moral and ethical.” Charlton’s juxtaposition of objects, symbols, and bodies not only alludes to the construction of race, gender, sexuality, and class within our society and culture, but, through humor and irony, her work addresses our unconscious desires and ambivalences towards these categories. Like Charlton, all of the artists in Investigating Identity disrupt or challenge, rather than delimit our beliefs about identity, transforming “identity” into a process, rather than a product, of human experience.

Lesley Shipley, Ph.D., Curator of Investigating Identity
Assistant Professor of Art History at Randolph College

Investigating Identity is sponsored by Maier Member Alison Keller Townsend ’75.

Related Events

Opening Reception  |  Friday, Feb. 3  | 5-8 p.m.

Artist Talk: Zoe Charlton  |  Sunday, Feb. 19  |  2 p.m.

Lecture: “Picturing Modern Womanhood: Suffragettes, Flappers, and Other New Women in American Art, 1900-1950”  |  Thursday, March 30  |  7 p.m.

Outten Visiting Artist Lecture: Alison Saar  |  Tuesday, April 4  |  7 p.m.