June 7, 2019 - John Michael Kohler Arts Center - Dr. Charles Smith: Aurora
June 7, 2019

John Michael Kohler Arts Center

Dr. Charles Smith, (from left) Horn Player: "Louis Armstrong Series," c. 1985–c. 1999. Concrete, paint, and mixed media; 32 3/4 x 9 1/2 x 13 1/2 in. Rosa Parks, c. 1985–c. 1999. Concrete, paint, and mixed media; 40 x 18 3/4 x 29 in. Untitled, c. 1985–c. 1999. Concrete, paint, and mixed media; 44 1/2 x 9 1/2 x 12 in. Issues, c. 1985–c. 1999. Concrete, paint, and mixed media; 46 x 18 x 25 in. Woman with Fancy Earrings, c. 1985–c. 1999. Concrete, paint, and mixed media; 36 x 18 x 10 in. John Michael Kohler Arts Center Collection, gift of Kohler Foundation Inc. Photo courtesy of John Michael Kohler Arts Center.

Dr. Charles Smith
July 14, 2019–May 17, 2020

John Michael Kohler Arts Center
608 New York Ave.
Sheboygan, WI 53081
United States
Hours: Monday–Sunday 10am–5pm,
Tuesday and Thursday 10am–8pm,
Saturday–Sunday 10am–4pm

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Opens July 14 at John Michael Kohler Arts Center

One of America’s most powerful and under-recognized artists, Dr. Charles Smith expresses profound narratives about American and African-American history and culture through his sculptural figures. The largest museum exhibition to present his work, Dr. Charles Smith: Aurora, will be on view at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center from July 14, 2019, through May 17, 2020.

The exhibition will focus on more than 150 works that were part of a major installation at his home in Aurora, Illinois, from 1986 to 1999, which he titled The African-American Heritage Museum and Veterans Archive. The exhibition seeks to show the relevance of the artist’s work beyond its original setting. Most of the work has not been on public view since it was last seen in Aurora in 1999.

Beginning in 1986, Dr. Smith set to work transforming the entirety of his home and studio and its surrounding property in Aurora. In the ensuing years, Dr. Smith made hundreds of sculptures memorializing historical figures, community members, and celebrities, depicting the tragedies and triumphs of the African-American experience. His work drew hundreds of visitors each year to his home and studio.

When Dr. Smith relocated his project to Hammond, Louisiana, near New Orleans in 2002, the majority of the over 600 sculptures from his Aurora site were removed, conserved, and acquired by several museums. 448 sculptures were acquired by the Kohler Foundation Inc. with 200 gifted to the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, making it the largest single institutional holding of the artist’s work. The remaining 248 works were distributed to other institutions around the country in keeping with the artist’s wishes. Dr. Smith continues his work on The African-American Heritage Museum and Black Veterans Archive today in Hammond.

Dr. Smith often works in concrete, forming his sculptures on top of structures made of chicken wire. They are left outside to “weatherize,” which allows them to slightly crumble and decay. Once he is satisfied with their look, he will paint them, incorporating their “aging” into the final piece. The process can happen multiple times over each sculpture’s life with the effects of time and weather adding to the work’s meaning.

Dr. Smith is an artist, historian, activist, and minister who has worked prodigiously since 1986 using his homes as stages to express the impact of the entire arc of African-American history, from the diaspora to the present, on his psyche and on humanity. Dr. Smith combines home, studio, museum, and archive into powerful visual and experiential works of art as public history. His sites express history as a stream of historical moments created from the stuff of everyday life.

Designed to fulfill The African-American Heritage Museum and Veterans Archive’s intended purpose of education, the exhibition contextualizes each work within important periods in African-American history. Themes will include Civil Rights, Contemporary Life, Africa Before Slavery, The Great Migration, Sharecropping and Jim Crow, and more.

This exhibition also serves to preview the John Michael Kohler Arts Center’s Art Preserve, which is under construction and set to open in August of 2020. The Art Preserve will be the world’s first museum to focus entirely on work from artist-built environments. It will offer visitors unprecedented access and insight into the display, preservation, conservation, and interpretation of the Arts Center’s premier collection through tableaux as well as a unique system of curated, visible storage of the works of art.

Visit the Arts Center’s online collection page for more information about Dr. Smith and images of his work.

John Michael Kohler Arts Center
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