The Norton Museum of Art's 80th anniversary season is all about the current zeitgeist.
“Opportunity” by Hank Williams Thomas from Art Finds A Way
Like most art institutions around the globe, the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach used its forced pandemic shutdown last spring to rethink and reassess. After almost a year of COVID-19 fears, a spring 2020 that brought race to the forefront of the national dialogue and a tense (to say the least) presidential election, the world is not the same, and neither is, by extension, culture. It’s obvious the Norton has taken note of all this, and the proof is in its programming as we head into the new year.
“Our 2021 season reinforces the power of art to address universal concerns,” says Cheryl Brutvan, director of curatorial affairs. “Art provides ways to understand and engage with contemporary issues, often through work that reveals artists’ insights and awareness of their own struggles with identity, immigration and racial injustice. It is an exceptional moment, and these exhibitions remind us of art’s power to engage the viewer, inspire empathy and, even, action.”
A 1941 postcard showing the Norton Museum of Art from Celebrating the Norton: Eighty Years
No words can better describe Art Finds a Way (through May 30), a showcase of works by artists such as Nina Chanel Abney, Kara Walker, Hank Willis Thomas and Faith Ringgold that reference historic and personal experiences, pop culture and media to address persistent contemporary issues of racial injustice. “A section of the exhibition will be devoted to art that may be interpreted differently during this time,” says Brutvan, “offering solace and reflection as we endure the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Also addressing current issues is Jose Alvarez: (D.O.P.A): Krome (through May 9), a selection of about 30 ink portraits by the Venezuelan artist created during his time in Miami’s Krome immigration detention center. After being arrested for passport fraud after his visa expired in 2011, Alvarez was placed under arrest at the center, and soon became all too aware of the legal system’s bureaucratic red tape and cold indifference to immigrants. While fighting to clear the matter, the artist completed drawings of his fellow detainees as a way to deal with his situation.
“Roberto Q., Guatemala” by Jose Alvarez from (D.O.P.A): Krome
Dealing with exodus and its repercussions as well is María Berrío: Waiting for the Night to Bloom (through May 9). The Colombian-born, Brooklyn-based artist’s first solo museum survey is made up of large-scale collages through which she reflects on issues of immigration and nature’s fragility through interior, domestic scenes and fantastical settings that recall the work of Frida Kahlo. This assemblage hits close to home for Berrío, whose family left Bogota when she was young. The collection of works also promotes the resilience of women as it urges viewers to find connection across cultures and experiences. “Berrío’s work explores contemporary themes of displacement through a visual vocabulary that employs both lifelike depictions and magical realism,” says Brutvan. “She intricately layers Japanese papers to construct scenes populated by women in lush landscapes and modest interiors. The evolution of her work from fantastic to realistic environments focuses on the theme of survival and other universal struggles, with images of women and the natural world to offer hope as she reflects on the effects of this extraordinary time in our existence.”
“Anemochory” by María Berrío from Waiting for the Night to Bloom
While attuned to current events, the Norton is also aware of the public’s need for positivity. To that end, coming next month is Celebrating the Norton: Eighty Years (through June 13), a selection of acquisitions and selections that tell the story of the museum and its influence on Palm Beach County’s culture scene through never-before-seen documents, photographs and highlights from the permanent collection. A day after the show opens, the museum will host a virtual celebration of those eight decades. “This will be an opportunity to joyfully honor all the ways that the Norton makes our community so extraordinary,” says Brutvan, “and to support the museum’s ongoing work.” 1450 S. Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach, 561.832.5196, norton.org
Photography by: Courtesy of the artists and Norton Museum of Art