SCAD Museum of Art Highlights the Life-Affirming Power of Personhood

The university for creative careers lives up to its moniker with a world-class fall exhibition slate in which a triumphant assertion of humanity underscores the works of Tyler Mitchell, Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley, Nina Chanel Abney, Yu Hong, Erwin Wurm, and more.

“Big Butch Energy/Synergy” by Nina Chanel-Abney

Since its founding in 2011, the SCAD Museum of Art has established itself as an indispensable resource not only for the Savannah College of Art of Design ecosystem of students and faculty but for the global art community. Its fall shows offer ample examples why—from installations deploying video game vernaculars to document the danger of being in a trans body to a revelatory exhibition of monumental paintings that take on the western canon from a contemporary Chinese perspective. 

The biggest get is no doubt a new show by acclaimed photographer Tyler Mitchell. It’s fitting that “Domestic Imaginaries,” his first solo museum show, should be in Savannah, not far from his upbringing in suburban Atlanta; it fills one of the museum’s long long galleries with references to historic domestic objects like bookcases and sheets, sometimes imprinted or displaying his gauzy, nostalgic photographs. A nearby gallery offers a less nostalgic view: Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley’s “Get Home Safe” asks viewers to negotiate a dim labyrinth that terminates in an RPG of a trans person similarly trying to find a way to safety. It’s chilling and utterly intense.

Nina Chanel Abney offers a far more joyful vision of queerness in her major show “Big Butch Energy/Synergy,” which brings together large-scale collages of Black figures in collegiate settings familiar from youth exploitation films like Porky’s. “I’m using coming-of-age movies as a kind of catalyst,” she told Surface, “to think about what is portrayed in popular culture in regards to queer, masculine-of-center women.” The result is skillful, affectionate appropriation rendered at a glorious scale.

The sheer space-filling size of Abney’s work beckons viewers into believing a better (or at least different) world exists for Black queer people. A sextet of paintings of similar dimensions by Yu Hong takes a different tack. “Night Walk” is the artist’s first stateside solo exhibition, and it’s stunning: her paintings depict the tumult of contemporary life, particularly in China, within frameworks of European masterpieces like Bruegel’s The Blind Leading the Blind (1568) and Munch’s The Scream (1893). “There is a certain hope invested in the ideal future, that tomorrow is always going to be better than today, and the past few years have really exposed a lot of problems that make us think otherwise,” she told Surface through a translator. “From these paintings of the past, you can tell that this has happened before. They tried to do better, and then it just all happens over again. In a way, that’s just the way life is.” Yu Hong’s work doesn’t shy from the chaos and grief of the world; its power derives from a complicated, furious hope that recognition might offer solace. 

Or, perhaps, we might just embrace the absurd. “Hot,” a two-pronged show of the conceptual photo- and sculpture-based work of Erwin Wurm, is infectiously playful. A pair of buckets, or a pile of ripe citrus fruit, become his “one-minute sculptures” when activated by your body; around the corner in the André Leon Talley gallery, collaborations with fashion brands like Hermès take the form of sculptures stretching the human body into odd, fresh shapes and photos of them that blur the line between ads and art. We live in a time when, as each artist in the SCAD galleries surely, fully knows, simply asserting the humanity of a “different” body can be a fatal proposition. While finding beauty in the different isn’t the only necessary response, it’s a life-affirming one. 

Fall Exhibition Highlights at SCAD Museum of Art 4
Fall Exhibition Highlights at SCAD Museum of Art
Fall Exhibition Highlights at SCAD Museum of Art

“Domestic Imaginaries” by Tyler Mitchell

Fall Exhibition Highlights at SCAD Museum of Art

“Get Home Safe” by Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley

Fall Exhibition Highlights at SCAD Museum of Art

“Hot” by Erwin Wurm

Fall Exhibition Highlights at SCAD Museum of Art

“Night Walk” by Yu Hong

(All photography courtesy of SCAD.)

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