If museums are charged with the task to preserve, educate and inspire, then the spring exhibitions “YuYu: Marc Johnson,” “Dear 1968: Sadie Barnette” and “Recent Gifts” at the Manetti Shrem at UC Davis do exactly that. The past, the present and cautionary implications for the future are on display in these three diverse and provocative exhibits.
“Dear 1968” is Oakland- and Compton-based artist Sadie Barnette’s first solo museum show. Despite the minimal, uncluttered, even clinical installation of the components, its purpose and meaning are deeply moving, and linger long after leaving the gallery.
With cheesy craft-store stick-on plastic diamonds and rubies, hot pink spray paint and glitter, Barnette’s girly materials stealthily deliver a story of familial love and aspiration spread-eagled under unrelenting government surveillance and institutional paranoia.
Barnette’s father, Rodney Barnette, served in the Vietnam War and was honorably discharged in 1968 with a Purple Heart. In response to systemic racism, sexism, homophobia and capitalist injustices, her father helped found the Compton chapter of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense.
Barnette’s exquisitely crafted text drawings, wallpaper, family photographs and redacted photocopies from her father’s 500-page FBI file unpack the story, separating political constructs and mythologies from everyday truths. In doing so, she shines a disco Day-Glo light on her father’s social activism and recalibrates how we see and think about indefensible wrongs that continue to exist today.
French-Beninese artist, architect and film director Marc Johnson’s short film, “YúYú,” is a riveting unfolding of spiritually based performance in communion with nature, agriculture and biological science.
Filmed in the Yangtze Valley of China, in a UNESCO Heritage Site, Johnson focuses on a beekeeper performing a rite of spring to address environmental imbalance. Standing over the endangered valley, the beekeeper permits bees from more than 40 hives to encrust his body. The process is filmed from when the first hive begins to hover and settle on his legs, to when the last hive is shaken loose and 11 pounds of bees completely obliterates his body. It is a mesmerizing and haunting spectacle of tolerance, humility and faith.
Johnson’s film questions the fragile fate of bees on this increasingly compromised earth. As the film pans across the sooty encroaching expanse of urban development, it also questions our complicity in its demise.
“Recent Gifts” offers an array of work given to the museum since 2012.
First-generation faculty member Robert Arneson and his wife, the artist Sandra Shannonhouse, ardently supported UC Davis Master of Fine Arts students, collecting early work as validation and encouragement for their careers to come. A knockout 1976 untitled ceramic, polychrome terracotta, and stone sculpture by Kelly Detweiler typifies Arneson’s and Shannonhouse’s predilection for funky ceramic sculpture. But Mark Emerson’s 1984 work on paper, “#10,” is a solid, minimalist meditation on the architecture of the grid, and the elegant 1986 gelatin silver print, “Arch,” by Lynda Frese wittily depicts a pair of legs straddling an orchard road, mimicking the curve of the overarching branches in the distance.
A significant number of works on paper, given by noted sculptor Manuel Neri, offers a look at his seldom-seen nonfigurative explorations into pure abstraction. “Emborados Series XIII (1976)” is a committed, powerful and elegiac study in yellow and black. A suite of five mixed media drawings, from the 1960 “Stelae” series, shows the artist’s nascent searching for the totemic figuration that will later become the spine of his best-known work. The convincing, gritty and humble probing in these works gives them a vitality and presence not found in the other more formulaic architectural abstractions.
Other notable gifts include an early stoneware jar by Gerald Walburg, quirky ceramic cups and saucers by Bruce Nauman, and “Minded Shelves (2012)”, a somber painting critiquing displaced pictorial illusion by recent M.F.A. graduate Erika Romero.
What: “Dear 1968,” an installation by Sadie Barnette, “Recent Gifts,” an collection of donated pieces, and “YúYú,” a short film by Marc Johnson
When: Through Friday, June 30 at noon-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Wednesdays and Fridays; noon-10 p.m. Thursdays and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays
Where: Manetti Shrem Museum of Art, 1 Shields Ave., Davis