Slew of New Exhibits Coming to MSU This Spring

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Left: Panel from the Observation Experiment. (Courtesy of the MSU Museum). Right: Claes Oldenburg, Alphabet in the Form of an Ice Cream Bar, 1971; annotated 1972. (Courtesy of the ELi and Ethel Broad Art Museum).

If the dull weather and melty, gray snow banks aren’t providing you with any inspiration, there’s a whole host of upcoming local art exhibits to enjoy. Take a stroll over to the Michigan State University Broad Art Museum and the MSU Museum for a dose of thought-provoking, colorful artwork. 

The MSU Museum is launching a new exhibition that Director Devon Akmon said builds on a previous exhibit, Tracked & Traced. On display from March 1 through April 30, The Observation Experiment focuses on how we observe the world around us and make sense of it.

This upcoming exhibit also marks a first for the MSU Museum.

“What’s really fun about this exhibition is we have three doctoral students who are serving essentially as co-creators, and they’ve spent the last several months exploring our collections, thinking about the ways in which we make sense of the world through observation. That’s really the lens by which this exhibition will come to fruition,” Akmon explained.

Using artifacts from the Museum’s collection, doctoral students in the SEEK (Sharing Expertise and Exploring Knowledge) Fellows program, worked to put the exhibit together. The graduate students include Sandy Burnley (Department of English), Carson Broeker (Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology), and Ramya Swayamprakash (Department of History). 

Ramya Swayamprakash is a doctoral candidate in the MSU Department of History.

In a press release, Broeker said working on this reminded him to really look at how we take in the world around us. “Most of us likely take for granted just how much we observe in our day-to-day lives. Observation is also the underpinning of the scientific method and all the research I perform as a graduate student.”

“We call it an experiment because for the first time ever, we’re trying something a little different with this show,” Akmon said. “This is going to be an exhibition that’s not entirely finished when it opens to the public. It’s actually going to be evolving over the course of the entire time it’s on display. We’re going to encourage visitors and other folks to help contribute to its evolution.”

Courtesy of the MSU Museum.

The Observation Experiment is on display through April 30.

Akmon added that the timing to try something new out is now, as the MSU Museum is coming out with a new strategic plan. Due to the pandemic, much of the Museum’s traditional programming went virtual, an addition Akmon said was favorable. 

“Longterm, if we’re being optimistic, I think you’ll see a combination of things,” Akmon stated. “Certainly, we’ll have some digital programming in the future because we’ve seen audiences like that, and have become normalized to having some of that. But at the end of the day, we’re in the business of building community as a museum, and it’s really important to bring people together. I would imagine we would continue to have a hybrid delivery system for the foreseeable future.”

The MSU Museum also has news to share about a new partnership with the Smithsonian to work on a year-long community engagement initiative. 

“This program is bringing together nine affiliates of the Smithsonian, the MSU Museum included, to get capacity building training, led by the International Coalition Sites of Conscience on how to develop more equitable and sustainable community partnerships with each institution’s audience,” Akmon said. “So for us, we have a particular focus that we hope to utilize some of these learnings in working with Michigan’s tribal communities.

“Our museum has a robust archaeology collection, one in which we’ve been looking at over the years, in terms of repatriation of certain objects back to tribal communities,” Akmon said. “It became aware to us through the lens of diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion, as well as some of our work to decolonize our own institution, that we need to be more responsive to Michigan’s tribal communities first and foremost. We’re using that as a lens as we try to build better, more sustainable, equitable relationships with these tribal communities. It’s also aligning with the university’s new diversity, equity, and inclusion plan.”

Courtesy of the MSU Museum.

The entrance to the MSU Museum, located on campus.

Akmon said the MSU Museum is proud to be part of this pilot program, being in the nine locations selected out of more than 200 affiliates. Museum staff will undergo consulting and training for the remainder of the year.

The MSU Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are free, but registration is required. MSU requires proof of vaccination, or a recent negative Covid-19 PCR test, to visit the MSU Museum. To meet the vaccine requirement, attendees must show their vaccination card or a digital image along with a photo ID matching the name on the card. For Spring 2022, vaccine and face covering mandates will continue. 

What’s going on at the Broad?

Over at the MSU Broad Art Museum, two new exhibits are on display. The first, part of the Artist Project Series program, features work by Joseph Tisiga, on display now until July 24. The large-scale installation examines historical perspectives critical of occupation and land rights in North America. Images and stories explore encounters between people of indigenous and colonial-settler ancestry. 

Courtesy the artist and Bradley Ertaskiran Gallery, Montréal.

Joseph Tisiga, Trespassers Menaced by Psychosis, 2017.

Senior Curator and Director of Curatorial Affairs, Steven L. Bridges, spoke about Tisiga’s subject matter. 

“His interest in land rights and the confrontation between settler-colonialism and indigenous communities also makes for a thought-provoking engagement with his work here in Mid-Michigan and at MSU, the latter of which just issued its own university-wide land acknowledgment for the first time in its history.” 

An air of mystery and a biting sense of humor make for a dramatic unfolding of events in Tisiga’s gallery, which invites visitors to continue the story through their individual imaginations.

Another exhibit, Art Along the River, Grand, part of the Museum’s 10th anniversary, is also on display from now until Aug. 23. The exhibit explores public art in the greater Lansing region. Showcasing public art as colorful sculptures, as well as community-building tools, the exhibit invites viewers to see things differently.

Shining a light on the historical importance of public art, and its lack of diversity and inclusivity, the exhibit elicits conversations about what public art is, who it is made by, and who it is for. Pieces like the Lansing Art Gallery and Education Center ArtPath, and public art on MSU campus are included. 

Bridges said this exhibition is rooted in public art projects of yesteryear (Michael Heizer’s This Equals That) or were proposed but never made (Claes Oldenburg’s Alphabet in the Form of an Ice Cream Bar). 

Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, Michigan State University, gift of the artist.

Claes Oldenburg, Alphabet in the Form of an Ice Cream Bar, 1971; annotated 1972.

“Much of the artwork in the gallery is referential to things that exist beyond the walls of the museum,” Bridges said. “Though art surrounds us in our everyday lives, it is sometimes easy to take public art for granted or to underestimate the ways it shapes and adds color and texture to places we inhabit. In order to activate the landscape of public art, multiple resources are provided in the show to enable visitors to better explore public art in the region and on the university’s campus. From walking tours to self-guided activities, people will find many ways to engage with art in the open air. Ultimately, public art is exactly that: public, free, and its enjoyment available to every one of us.”

Bridges said both exhibits inspired him, and he hopes will get people thinking about their own perspectives.

“I am always in awe of the creative process of artists and their ability to show us new ways of thinking about and approaching the world in which we live,” he explained. “Both exhibitions offer these kinds of experiences, albeit in very different ways. Joseph Tisiga’s exhibition creates an open-ended narrative that requires us to be aware of and question our own rights and access to the land we occupy and traverse, while Art Along the River, Grand points to the many ways in which artists contribute to shaping the visual landscapes of our cities and region. Above all, I have learned and reaffirmed the important roles that artists have and continue to play in helping to ask important questions – of ourselves and of others.”

The MSU Broad Art Museum is open Thursday–Sunday from 10 a.m.– 6 p.m. Tickets are free, but require reservations in advance. MSU requires proof of vaccination, or a recent negative Covid-19 test to visit the MSU Broad Art Museum.

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