The Culture of Violence

February 2 - May 17, 2002
Culture of Violence

It is with great respect that the University Museum of Contemporary Art presents The Culture of Violence, an exhibition that examines the pervasive manifestations of violence as reflected in contemporary American art and culture. Spanning the last 20 years, the exhibition presents a broad, multicultural view of this disturbingly widespread phenomenon through the work of 25 artists in all media. The Culture of Violence was organized by guest curators Donna Harkavy and Helaine Posner and will be on view at the University Museum of Contemporary Art from February 2 through March 15, and April 2 through May 17, 2002. An opening reception will be held on Friday, February 1 from 5 to 7 p.m. The curators will lead noontime tours of the exhibition on Thursday, February 7 and Friday, February 15.

The subject of violence, always one of the most compelling issues on the minds of Americans, has become painfully relevant since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11. Devastated by terrorist acts committed within our borders, alarmed by mass killings in the schools and at the workplace, and mindful of rampant domestic violence, our consciousness is saturated with violent images. Though we have been chastened by recent events and claim to deplore our fascination with violent themes, we continue to seek them out and reward those who purvey them in news coverage, the movies, popular music and video games.

The Culture of Violence looks at the cultural, social, political and personal aspects of violence in America with the intentions of posing significant questions that encourage dialogue, possibly leading to greater understanding. The exhibition contains a number of thematic categories such as terrorism, hate crimes, youth violence, domestic violence and street crime, among others, which cut across class, color and gender. The strategies and viewpoints of the participating artists reflect this diversity, and affirm the widely held belief that artists are the conscience of the society in which they live.

Gregory Green offers his perspective on the theme of terrorism. Green's non-functional homemade book and suitcase bombs startle us with the realization that virtually anyone has access to the ingredients necessary to fabricate weapons. Mel Chin and David Wojnarowicz examine hate crimes against Asian-Americans and gay men respectively. Wojnarowicz, who died in 1992, responded to the violence and pain in his life, such as gay bashing and AIDS, with an equally aggressive body of work exposing America's virulent and destructive homophobia. Bradley McCallum focuses on the victims and perpetrators of youth violence. He has worked within communities directly affected by crime and uses his art to begin a healing process. In Shroud: Mother's Voices (1992), he incorporated his videotaped interviews with the mothers of children killed as a result of gun violence in a New Haven neighborhood. Leon Golub's trenchant street scenes convey the tensions and incubating violence that characterize the contemporary urban condition. In Daniel Tisdale's Rodney King Police Beating (1992/2001), the eruption of these frustrating tensions is emphasized by the artist's repetitious use of the same video image seen repeatedly on television when the brutal police action occurred. We are reminded of the devastation that ensued in the Los Angeles riots during the spring of 1992. Artists Sue Coe, Richard Misrach, and Sue Williams explore violence against women. In her painting from 1984, Coe depicts the real incident of a women raped by four men in a bar while twenty people watched and did nothing. Misrach's series of color photographs of Playboy magazines used for target practice-the images of nude models riddled with bullet holes-conflate society's fascination with sex, violence and the media. Williams's Irresistible (1992), a heartbreaking sculpture of a woman curled up in the fetal position and marked by inflicted footprints, bruises and insults, makes the private humiliation and trauma of domestic abuse quite public. Also included in the exhibition are Andy Warhol's early and highly influential Electric Chair (c. 1971); a selection of photographs from Joel Sternfeld's On This Site: Landscapes in Memoriam (1993-96), in which he documents sites across the country where violent incidents had occurred; Felix Gonzalez-Torres's "Untitled" (Death by Gun) (1990), a memorial to victims of gun violence killed during one week in America; and Barbara Kruger's anti-violence public service announcements of 1996. Additional works are by Ida Applebroog and Beth B., Elizabeth Cohen and Michael Talley, Willie Cole, Lucinda Devlin, Peggy Diggs, Sharon Harper, Jane Kaplowitz, Bruce Nauman, Kristin Oppenheim and Marion Wilson.

The Culture of Violence is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with an extensive bibliography compiled by Michael Leininger. Essays by Ms. Harkavy, Ms. Posner, and Geoffrey Canada, President/CEO of the Rheedlen Center for Children and Families, cover the topics of the need to bear witness, the subjects of terrorism and hate crimes, and the effects of violence on children's lives. Also included is a conversation between James Cain, Assistant Professor of Literature, and Henry Jenkins, Professor and Director of Comparative Media Studies, both at MIT, about violence and culture in medieval epics and contemporary media. In conjunction with the exhibition, the film series At Human Cost will be screened during the spring semester. The selected feature and documentary films portray the consequences of violent behavior on personal lives and close relationships. At Human Cost is sponsored by the Mead Art Museum, Amherst College, and will be held in the Amherst College Campus Center Theater. A complete schedule of films, dates and times is on a separate list available at the University Museum of Contemporary Art, the Mead Art Museum, the Amherst College Campus Center as well as on the Gallery's web site. Since the two guest curators and the University Museum of Contemporary Art hope to advance community dialogue about this critical topic, a public panel discussion on violence will be held in mid-March with speakers and exact date to be announced. The exhibition will tour to the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, Maine where it will be on view September 26 - December 8, 2002, and to the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida, Gainesville, from mid-January to mid-April, 2003.

Support for The Culture of Violence has been provided by the Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation, the LEF Foundation, the Dorsky Foundation, an anonymous donor, Robert H. Fuller, the UMass Arts Council and the UMass Alumni Association. The University Museum of Contemporary Art, located on the lower level of the Fine Arts Center complex, is open to the public Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m. The Gallery is also open during evening performances held in the Concert Hall of the Fine Arts Center. For further information please call (413) 545-3670 .


Support for The Culture of Violence is provided by the Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation, the LEF Foundation, the Dorsky Foundation, an anonymous donor, Robert H. Fuller, and the UMass Arts Council.