June 26–September 27, 2020
Bethany Collins: Evensong
Gordon Contemporary Artists Project Gallery
Language and how it can reflect a cultural ethos, particularly the nuance of racial and national identities, is the primary subject in Bethany Collins’s multimedia practice. She painstakingly reproduces existing written texts—from the front page of The Birmingham News during the height of the civil rights movement to the Department of Justice’s report on the Ferguson, Missouri, police department in the wake of Michael Brown’s death—to critique the truthfulness and completeness of the official record. Often intentionally hard to read, Collins’s creations also offer commentary on the at times subtlety of systemic inequities.
Since 2016, when the presidential election revealed a national divide even deeper than most had imagined, Collins has grappled with what it means to be an American. This exhibition will explore the complicated relationship of a person with their homeland. A focal point of one gallery will be a newly produced artist book that contains one hundred laser-cut versions of “The Star Spangled Banner,” the U.S. national anthem since 1931. The many reinterpretations of the song, most modified to support a particular political or social cause—from temperance and suffrage to abolition and even the confederacy— suggest that there are multiple and dissenting ways to express love and pride of country, as well as dissatisfaction with the status quo. In another project, blind-embossed prints of classified ads looking for lost family members after the Civil War speak beyond the displacement experienced by recently freed enslaved peoples to the separation of families at the U.S.-Mexico border today. Likewise, tediously handwritten passages from Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey that express the warrior’s sense of unfamiliarity and sorrow with the homeland he finally returns to after the Trojan War extend to the artist’s own feeling of estrangement. Together, these works and more will prompt reflection on patriotism and individual position within national identity—particularly resonant topics during another election year.
Bethany Collins (b. 1984, Montgomery, Alabama) currently lives and works in Chicago. She received a BFA from the University of Alabama in 2007 and an MFA from Georgia State University in 2012. Collins has been included in numerous group exhibitions across the country, along with recent solo exhibitions at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, the Art Institute of Chicago, the University of Kentucky Art Museum, the University Galleries at Illinois State University, the Birmingham Museum of Art, and the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, among others. Her work is in the permanent collections of several notable institutions, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Smart Museum of Art, the Peabody Essex Museum, the High Museum of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and Yale University Library, among many others.
Recent awards include: Lucas Artist Fellowship (2019), Montalvo Arts Center; The LeRoy Neiman and Janet Byrne Neiman Artadia Award (2019), Artadia Chicago Awards; Public Humanities Practitioner-in-Residence (2019), Davidson College; Artist Fellowship Award (2019), Illinois Arts Council Agency; Foundation for Contemporary Arts Emergency Grant (2018) and Efroymson Contemporary Arts Fellowship (2019), CIC Foundation.
Organized by the Frist Art Museum