What does it mean to be “Human”?
This is the question brought up in the Elmhurst Art Museum’s The Human Touch exhibit. Selected by RBC Wealth Management, a division of the Royal Bank of Canada, the curators picked 42 works from a larger collection of more than 400, to help celebrate people.
Their aim is to celebrate humans, regardless of race, gender, or other background. Featuring work by a variety of national and international contemporary artists such as Chuck Close, Nan Goldin, Roy Lichtenstein and Kerry James Marshall, just to name a few, we are able to really look at our species. We get to see art about those of us who have been ignored in art history for so long, such as women and people of color.
The Elmhurst Art Museum Tour
We are on hand at The Human Touch exhibit for a group tour led by exhibitions coordinator, Lal Bahcecioglu. On this Saturday afternoon, we are in a small group tour with an elderly couple, named Mike and Maura, who are members at the Elmhurst Art Museum. Mike says that they have yet to see this exhibit and have both made frequent trips to other art museums around the world. Lal walks us through the exhibit, picking certain artworks in each room and discussing their creation, providing information about the artist, how they created their artwork and what the meaning is behind their work. Walking through these white rooms, the only pops of color come from the artworks themselves, making the art that much more intriguing and eye-catching.
The insight that Lal provides allows us to really get to know the artworks (and the artists), giving us more appreciation that the regular museum-goer may not get the chance to know. After hearing Lal, this reviewer found herself seeing the artworks in new ways, knowing the reason why a certain artwork was made. Lal explains, for example, that the artist who created a work called Red Pants II, depicting Pinocchio, was fascinated with the character’s transformation from toy to human boy, and uses it as a symbol for what artists do: breath life into their creations.
This artwork as other in the exhibit begs to ask the question, What does a human look like?
The rest of the exhibit includes a variety of artworks all so different from one another, but with the common thread of being “human”. Some works are full of bright colors while others are in black and white. Some feature the human figure in the foreground and others cleverly hide the human figure in the background. Many interpretations with groups of renowned artists come together in this exhibit to explore human lives.
People of Color
We meet regular, everyday people of color. This exhibit works to draw attention to African Americans who have historically been ignored in art institutions throughout history through artworks by famed African American artists such as Dawoud Bay, Kehinde Wiley and Mequitta Ahuja, just to name a few.
Although people of color are explored throughout the whole exhibit, there is also one corner in the exhibit that features artworks with African American subjects. We walk over to this corner, situated in front of 3 art pieces. These artworks are each so different, not only in their concept but in their design. Right in front of us is a sculpture made out of plaster showing two kids gossiping, an elongated polaroid print of five teens and a long drawing showing a woman and her hair, reminiscent of Medusa. Lal explains that all of the art pieces were created by African American artists, all incorporating African American subjects.
One of these art works is a large 33 by 66-inch piece created by Dawoud Bay. In his large work taking up half of a wall, Bay wants to highlight the underrepresented group of young, African American teens. Some of teens look right into camera, while others stare off to the sides. It is impossible to ignore their faces, drawing serious expressions with two of the teen’s staring right at the viewer. The five teen’s serious facial expressions make this reviewer wonder what it must be like to be a young African American teen in today’s day and age. Bay shows another side to these teen’s, one that is soft yet strong—a view often ignored in the media, contradicting the “violent, African American, thug” stereotypes seen on our screens.
As customary with the Elmhurst Art Museum, interactive installations were created by artist, Donna Castellanos. They are in the lobby, to go with art pieces in the exhibit. These installations encourage audience participation whether it’s to stick color pencils into a board, or to play with a classic 3D pin art toy at a table.
The Pencil Me In installation asks its visitors to add colored pencils to a larger pencil mosaic hung up in the lobby, in the shape of Mequitta Ahuja’s piece in The Human Touch exhibit. Walking up to the board, we see a lot of colored pencils already stuck there, organized by color corresponding to the colors on the board. There are no rules stating the each colored pencil color must be grouped together, but that is one rule that has seemingly been decided upon by previous museum visitors, with each visitor after that continuing the same trend.
Underneath this board is a larger box of unorganized colored pencils, just waiting for them and make their mark. Unlike the art piece, this installation is full of color, accessible to everybody, and with a little stool for museumgoers of all sizes to participate as well.
There are no set rules for these installations, allowing visitors to engage in any way they chose to make their own human touch. Much like Castellanos, everyday museumgoers can make their own mark, even if it isn’t on 33 by 66-inch art works. These are simple activities that people of all ages can engage in, before their walk through the exhibit or after the exhibit, rounding up the trip.
Even though, The Human Touch is a small exhibit, each artwork has it’s own story that makes the exhibit seem large. It can seem like a lot to cover in one exhibit. No one piece of artwork is the same as the others. There is so much to see (and read) at each piece that does ultimately shine a light on and celebrate our people from all walks of life in our diverse society. Featuring many artworks from artists around the globe, this exhibit is a well worth the trip out to Elmhurst. We leave with a greater sense of being able to understand our fellow “Humans”.
For more information, visit the Elmhurst Art Museum Website
Kehinde Wiley, Passing/Posing 15, 2002, oil on canvas, 56 x 49 in.
Hung Liu, Baby King II, 1996, oil on canvas, painted wood, 48 x 40 in.
Lalla Essaydi, Les Femmes du Maroc, #21C, 2005, chromogenic print on aluminum, 60 x 40 in.
(Photos courtesy of the Elmhurst Art Museum)
May 14-August 27, 2017
Elmhurst Art Museum
150 Cottage Hill Avenue
Elmhurst, Illinois 60126
Adults - $9
Seniors - $8
Students & Ages 18 and under - Free