Artist Joyce J. Scott's "Mammie Wada" piece.
Artist Joyce J. Scott's "Mammie Wada" piece.

Baltimore-born artist Joyce J. Scott will be the subject of a 50-year career retrospective co-organized by the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Seattle Art Museum.

Joyce J. Scott: Walk a Mile in My Dreams will be presented in Baltimore as a special ticketed exhibition from March 24 to July 14, 2024, and in Seattle from Oct. 17, 2024 to Jan. 20, 2025.

According to an announcement from the BMA, the exhibit was developed in close dialogue with the artist, now 74, and her collaborators. It will feature more than 120 objects from public and private collections across the United States.

It will include significant examples of Scott’s sculpture—both stand-alone and wearable pieces—as well as performance footage, garments, prints and materials from her personal archive. It will also feature a newly commissioned installation that’s currently in development and an expansive scholarly catalog.

The idea is “to reveal the full breadth of Scott’s singular vision” over 50 years as an artist, the subjects she has explored and the impact she has had.

“Best known for her virtuosic use of beads and glass, Scott has upended hierarchies of art and craft across a spectrum of media over the course of five decades—from her woven tapestries and soft sculpture of the 1970s and audacious performances and wearable art in the 1980s to sculptures of astonishing formal ingenuity and social force from the late 1970s to the present moment,” the announcement said. “The artist’s works across all media beguile viewers with beauty and humor while confronting racism, sexism, ecological devastation, and complex family dynamics.” 

Artist Joyce J. Scott's "Black Madonna" piece.
Artist Joyce J. Scott’s “Black Madonna” piece.

The exhibit is co-curated by Cecilia Wichmann, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art at the BMA, and Catharina Manchanda,Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Seattle museum, with support from Leslie Rose, Joyce J. Scott Curatorial Research Assistant.

“Joyce J. Scott is a living legend and a pillar of Baltimore’s artistic community, whose multi-disciplinary practice has a profound effect on everyone who encounters it,” said Asma Naeem, the BMA’s Dorothy Wagner Wallis Director, in a statement. “The BMA has had the honor of engaging audiences with Scott’s work for many years through exhibitions, public programs, and acquisitions. We are absolutely thrilled to partner with the Seattle Art Museum to present this comprehensive exhibition that highlights the remarkable range of her career and celebrates the passion, vision, and innovative spirit that pervades her work.” 

“The collaboration between the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Seattle Art Museum epitomizes the boundless spirit of artistic synergy,” said José Carlos Diaz, Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art at SAM, in a statement. “By joining forces with Joyce J. Scott, together we amplify the power of her profound art to transcend geographical boundaries and ignite inspiration across diverse communities.”

The exhibit draws on the BMA’s holdings of Scott’s work, from the first acquisition of Nuclear Nanny (1983-84) in 1984 to several recent acquisitions such as Lynching Necklace (1998), Lynched Tree (2011/2024), and rare 1970s artwear garments.

It also includes SAM’s recent acquisition of War Woman III (2014/2019), a recent sculpture, as well as Scott’s longstanding engagement with audiences and artists in the Seattle region through residencies at such venues as Pilchuck Glass School.

According to the BMA, “Scott comes from a long line of makers in her family who created functional objects of great beauty in their quest for freedom out of slavery, sharecropping, migration, and segregation.” 

Artist Joyce J. Scott's "Man Eating Watermelon" piece.
Artist Joyce J. Scott’s “Man Eating Watermelon” piece.

Among the exhibit’s highlights are:

•  A fashion vignette featuring garments Scott made for herself and friends beginning in the 1970s and sculptural necklaces such as What You Mean Jungle Music (1987) and Hunger (1991) that bridge performance and sculpture, showing how wearing difficult truths can incite conversations about social justice. 

•  Significant examples from cycles of work reunited for the first time in many years, including Scott’s “Mammy/Nanny” series of the 1980s-90s, riffs on the watermelon trope such as Man Eating Watermelon (1986), and works from her “Still Funny” series that show Scott confronting American history and racial violence in the U.S. and abroad by “messing with stereotypes” to spark meaningful debate.

•  Ephemera and rare performance footage that bring to life Scott’s earliest performance collaborations with Robert Sherman (late 1970s), her legendary “Thunder Thigh Revue” act in collaboration with Kay Lawal-Muhammad (1985-90), and solo theater pieces such as “Walk a Mile in My Drawers” (2006).

•  A participatory weaving and storytelling environment, conceived by the artist as a hub for structured and informal programming.

A companion exhibit of Scott’s mother’s work, Eyewinkers, Tumbleturds and Candlebugs: The Art of Elizabeth Talford Scott, will be presented at the BMA from November 12, 2023, through April 28, 2024.,

The companion exhibit, guest curated by Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) Curator-in-Residence Emeritus George Ciscle, is also part of a broader community initiative organized by the BMA, MICA, and the Estate of Elizabeth Talford Scott at Goya Contemporary to celebrate Scott’s mother’s work through activations and events at eight partner sites across Baltimore City from February through May 2024.

“Joyce J. Scott’s sophisticated and virtuosic use of a wide range of materials brings beauty and biting irony to bear on subjects ranging from the traumatic to the transcendental,” said co-curators Wichmann and Manchanda, in a statement.

“Her intergenerational practice is radical in its commitment to community and place while building self-awareness and empathy. Those who already know Scott’s intimate and revelatory work will be delighted to see the many facets of her practice brought together­—and those who encounter her work for the first time can expect to be blown away.”

In addition, a fully illustrated 300-page catalog — co-published by SAM and BMA and distributed by Yale University Press — is envisioned as a critical resource that introduces the richness and complexity of Scott’s work across five decades through new scholarship, artist reflections, and a selection of vital out-of-print source materials.

Besides an introduction co-authored by Manchanda and Wichmann, the publication features two thematic interviews with the artist by Dr. Leslie King Hammond, Dean Emeritus of the Maryland Institute College of Art, and Valerie Cassel Oliver, Sydney and Frances Lewis Family Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Essays on key aspects of Scott’s work are contributed by established and emerging scholars Tiffany E. Barber, Angela N. Carroll, Henry J. Drewal, Ashley Minner Jones and Lowery Stokes Sims. Other reflections on Scott’s role as artist, mentor and educator will come from Oletha DeVane, Sonya Clark, Kay Lawal-Muhammad, Jeffrey Gibson, Malcolm Peacock, and William Rhodes.

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.

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