WOOSTER, Ohio — The College of Wooster Art Museum (CWAM) will present “Complex Conversations: Willie Cole Sculptures and Wall Works” Jan. 21 through Mar. 2 in Ebert Art Center (1220 Beall Ave.). The exhibition — curated by Patterson Sims, an independent curator — spans 35 years of drawings, sculpture, paintings, and prints by artist Willie Cole, who is best known for transforming consumer objects into sculptures in which the dichotomies of African Americans, U.S. history, and global cultures collide.
“Through the fortuitous confluence of campus programming, exhibition scheduling, and excellent campus partners and collaborators, this has become a very important year at The College of Wooster Art Museum, where issues surrounding the uncomfortable terrain of race are explored fully and in-depth,” said Kitty McManus Zurko, director of the art museum at Wooster. “This multi-prong inquiry into race began with ‘Posing Beauty in African American Culture’ in the spring and continued with ‘RACE: Are We So Different?’ and ‘The Performative in African Art’ this past fall. The Museum’s fourth exhibition in this series, ‘Complex Conversations,’ is a survey of the work of a uniquely vibrant American artist that I have wanted to bring to Wooster for (more than) a decade.”
Cole, who incorporates such items as hairdryers, high-heel shoes, and steam irons into his works, describes himself as an “urban archaeologist” who connects “the personal and the spiritual.” His assemblage-based works include scrap materials and objects that evoke images of traditional African masks and headdresses. “His art transforms everyday mass-produced objects into personal icons or symbolic representations that explore ideas of diversity, identity, and a consumer-based society,” according to a press release from the Weatherspoon Art Museum in Greensboro, N.C., where “Complex Conversations” was last exhibited. From Wooster, the exhibition will travel to the Faulconer Gallery at Grinnell College in Iowa.
Born in New Jersey, Cole attended Boston University School of Fine Arts and received his BFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York. His work is in numerous public collections, including the Museum of Modern Art and Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Cole is a recipient of numerous awards, including the David C. Driskell Prize — the first national award to honor the contributions to the field of African American art and art history.
“Complex Conversations” was organized by the James W. and Lois I. Richmond Center for Visual Arts at Western Michigan University. The exhibition at The College of Wooster Art Museum is supported by the Muriel Mulac Kozlow Endowed Fund. Cole’s lecture at Wooster is funded, in part, by the Department of Art and Art History.
The opening reception, which will feature a presentation by curator Patterson Sims titled “Sharing Complex Conversations,” will be held on Thursday, Jan. 23, from 6:30-8 p.m., with her talk scheduled for 7 p.m. Other associated events include a Gallery Walk and a light lunch with Kara Morrow, assistant professor of art history at Wooster, and McManus Zurko on Wednesday, Jan. 29, at noon. There will also be an artist’s talk by Cole on Thursday, Feb. 6, at 7 p.m. in Room 223 of Ebert Art Center, and an evening of Music in the Galleries with student co-ed a cappella ensemble Shades of Gold, performing soul, pop, R&B, and contemporary music on Wednesday, Feb. 19, at 7 p.m.
The exhibition, which is free and open to the public, can be viewed Tuesday through Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 1-5 p.m. For more information, call 330-263-2495 or visit wooster.edu/cwam.
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