vanessa german: Inaugural Joyce Foundation Fellowship
The Gray Center for Arts & Inquiry is proud to announce a long-term collaboration with self-taught citizen artist vanessa german in preparation for her first museum solo exhibition in Chicago at the Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago. Supported by the Gray Center’s inaugural grant from the Joyce Foundation, this two-part residency and exhibition project will unfold at a critical point in the artist’s career and bring together the conceptual manifestation of her visual art practice with german’s community activism.
Announcing vanessa german residency and exhibition at the University of Chicago.
Contemporary artist vanessa german awarded a Joyce Foundation Fellowship at the University of Chicago’s Richard and Mary L. Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry to Focus on Art, Spirituality, and Social Healing.
Solo Exhibition at Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago Curated by Zachary Cahill, Mike Schuh, and Stephanie Cristello to open July 19, 2024.
The Gray Center for Arts & Inquiry is proud to announce a long-term collaboration with self-taught citizen artist vanessa german* in preparation for her first museum solo exhibition in Chicago at the Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago. Supported by the Gray Center’s inaugural grant from the Joyce Foundation, this two-part residency and exhibition project will unfold at a critical point in the artist’s career and bring together the conceptual manifestation of her visual art practice with german’s community activism. Across her multimedia sculptures, performances, and installations, german seeks to dismantle the perceived separation of people, places, and things. The artist’s inherently itinerant practice has grown through her commitment to conceiving and exhibiting work in ways that specifically engage with place. Following recent presentations of her processional piece, BLUE WALK, at the National Mall in Washington’ D.C., Omaha, NE, Pittsburgh, PA, and Portland, OR, the artist’s capacity to move through the world as an instrument of social healing will be given a new platform in Chicago, involving local artists and public alike in creating a new history specific to the Great Lakes Region.
Beginning in January 2024 at the University of Chicago, german will create a new body of work with, and within, Chicago, culminating in the artist’s first solo exhibition in the city from July 19– December 15, 2024. The artist’s ongoing and dedicated role in activism will serve as the basis for a series of programs rooted in the city’s various neighborhoods to inform a new body of work surrounding ancestral knowledge. Through the lens of german’s “power figures,” sculptures modeled on Congolese Nkisi sculptures made of found objects that relate to the site-specific context in which they are shown, the workshops are conceived upon the axis on which Black power, spirituality, mysticism, and feminism converge.
Through an innovative approach to exhibition-making, curated by Zachary Cahill (Director of Fellowships and Programs, The Gray Center for Arts & Inquiry and Editor-in-Chief, Portable Gray), Mike Schuh (Associate Director of Fellowships and Operations, The Gray Center, and Senior Editor, Portable Gray) and Stephanie Cristello (Curator-at-Large, Kasmin), working in partnership with the Logan Center’s exhibitions team, the structure of german’s project will allow for the creation, response, and collaboration with Chicago’s arts and cultural ecosystem. Across the development of a living exhibition, the artist questions how people connect to objects, and how such objects are transformed into symbols of strength, influence, and representation. These subjects will be further explored in the Spring 2024 issue of Portable Gray, a journal published by The University of Chicago Press, with german as the cover artist her practice providing thematic inspiration for the issue.
"I am excited to be in a space of experimental agency to explore the creativities of spirit, love and soul as vital human technologies of wholeness and day-making," said artist vanessa german. "To be able to endeavor upon this excavation of heart in an environment that is both intimate and immersive is divine and radical in its willingness to hold space for the trembling unknown. We like to think that we know things. We don’t. We live things. And these things are always becoming us. There is nothing static in these investigations of creativity, relationship and deep wholeness. All we want is to be whole and alive at the same time—this is where we are going. Is it a cave? Will we have to hold hands to keep from being separated from one another—yes. Is this the new cathedral of academia—yes. And, it is always burning itself to the ground to make more space for cathedrals of the living. In this exploration we must go into our magic. We must break down all our previously known ladders of accomplishment. We give ourselves permission to tremble in this space of communal learning in the union of the heart. I do not know what will happen in my time at the Gray Center—isn’t this exciting? We commit ourselves to radical compassion. We commit ourselves to a courage so ripe it might be bloody. We commit ourselves to the pulse of our own breath. This is what school is now. Our curriculum is the vast room of the human heart. Our syllabus begins with eye contact. Let us see what we make of this togetherness.”
“We are so thrilled—and lucky—to be working with vanessa german on her first major exhibition in Chicago,” said Seth Brodsky, the Director of the Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry and Associate Professor in the Music Department at the University of Chicago. “We want to believe that art is about everything, that it pervades the fabric or spirit of a whole situation. But sometimes a practice comes along that makes that belief real; german’s singular approach to sculpture and the role of spiritual practices in art making do this. They reach beyond contemporary art into other ways of knowing, making, and caring through history, poetics, civics, and medicine. So, to me, she is the ideal Gray Center artist: a natural in cross-disciplinary collaboration and conversation, a knitter of materials and also spaces, across classrooms, galleries, and neighborhoods. I could not be more pleased that this is our inaugural project with the Joyce Foundation.”
Related programming for german’s time in Chicago will involve local partners, with a schedule to be announced in Spring 2024.
About the Residency
In the winter of 2024, the Gray Center Lab will become vanessa german’s studio as she works toward her exhibition while also co-teaching with the Gray Center’s Zachary Cahill as the visiting artist for the interdisciplinary studio/seminar course Paraäcademia — Art, Spirituality, and Social Healing, offered through the University of Chicago’s Department of Visual Arts.
With a focus on vanessa german’s concept of The Artist as Wholeness, the course will look at a set of knowledge bases that typically exist outside of officially recognized institutions of higher learning. It is the space where new, heretofore, unknown forms of art may come into being and underrecognized traditions will thrive. Coinciding with visiting artist vanessa german’s residency at the Gray Center, this experimental and interdisciplinary seminar will explore various schools of mysticism, art as a form of social healing, the political histories and methodologies of witchcraft, the aesthetics of the occult, and the technics of the supernatural. The artist will work with students on weekly meditations, the creation of healing spells, and imagining new zones of pedagogy generated from their own paraäcademic interests (a new term coined to echo 'parapsychology' or 'paranormal' that addresses bodies of knowledge and practices that have been historically excluded from academia).
The course will serve as a primary focal point for the new body of work that german will produce from her engagement with students, faculty, and Chicago artists and community members on the South Side, giving form to what a spiritual practice of art looks like today.
* vanessa german is spelled in lowercase letters.