Menil expands horizons with Aboriginal, Caribbean art next season

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A report by Molly Glentzer for The Houston Chronicle.

After a year of focusing on its own holdings, the Menil Collection will host two major exhibitions next season that expand its horizons.

Fall’s “Mapa Wiya” show will bring more than 100 works by Australian Aboriginal artists; then Surrealism meets the Caribbean next spring with “Specters of Noon,” a show of seven, site-specific monumental works by the Puerto Rico-based duo Allora & Calzadilla.

“Mapa Wiya (Your Map’s Not Needed): Australian Aboriginal Art from the Fondation Opale” will be on view Sept. 12-Jan. 26 in the Museum’s west galleries, which currently feature modern works by Max Ernst, Pablo Picasso, Fernand Léger, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Georgia O’Keefe and others.

The exhibition’s title is from a recent drawing by Mumu Mike Williams, who will receive his first American museum exposure. “Mapa wiya” translates as “no map” in the Pitjantjatjara language of the Central Australian desert region. Williams’ use of official government maps and postal bags is a pointed response to the foreign cartographies of the country that Australian Aboriginal peoples embody.

Curated by Paul Davis, the exhibition draws on the vast Aboriginal art holdings of the Fondation Opale in Lens, Switzerland. Reflecting on the long history of Aborignal art, it will highlight work made after the 1950s, including contemporary paintings, shields, the hollow log coffins known as larrakitj or lorrkkon and engraved mother of pearl (lonka lonka or riji).

Artists Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla have studied the Menil’s Surrealism collection for several years to inform their show “Specters of Noon,” coming May 15-October 11, 2020 to the Menil’s east wing, where work by giants of contemporary art is currently displayed.

Their new works are inspired by early-20th century Surrealist texts that probe the pre-Christian mythology of noon, the time of day when shadows disappear and delirious visions momentarily reign.

Addressing conflicting phenomena of light and darkness from the point of view of the sunny Caribbean, a place of paradox rooted in the instability of environmental and colonial politics, Allora & Calzadilla have planned a dreamlike environment involving light projections; bat guano; ship engines and coal.

Their centerpiece,“Mains Hum,” is being fabricated this year from a Puerto Rican Electrical Authority power transformer damaged during an island-wide blackout. The artists are partly encasing the transformer in bright copper; the deep hum of reverberating electricity will be a tuning device for a live, continuous vocal performance composed by David Lang that will evolve throughout each day.

Admission is free to all Menil facilities.

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