Wall to Wall, a new interactive exhibit, brings color to the Birmingham Museum of Art

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Prepare to be completely amazed by the work of Merritt Johnson. Photo via Jacob Blankenship for Bham Now

Have you ever looked at a painting and thought, “I wish I could just jump in?” The Birmingham Museum of Art (BMA) is making this a possibility through their inaugural iteration of Wall to Wall, an interactive exhibit featuring four works created by Alaska-based artist Merritt Johnson.

Wall to Wall is color therapy

Wall to Wall
Immerse yourself in bright colors and Birmingham’s landscapes. Photo via Jacob Blankenship for Bham Now

Wall to Wall, sponsored by PNC, is a new project where the BMA invites local, national and international artists to create works of art that relate to Birmingham.

Then, the museum turns the work into a wall covering that goes across areas of its lobby and cafe. Not only is it an incredibly cool concept, but this is also the largest site-specific installation the BMA has ever done.

“With the Wall to Wall exhibition series, the BMA offers visitors a unique opportunity to explore a diverse range of emerging artists whose works explore the dynamic cultures and lived-experiences of the South.

During this period of uncertainty, it’s important that Birmingham’s corporate leaders continue to support great programming and exhibitions like this one that reflects our state’s vibrant cultural art.”

Nick Willis, PNC regional president of Greater Alabama.

We caught up with two curators of the exhibit—Hallie Ringle, Curator of Contemporary Art and Emily Hanna, Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Curator of the Arts of Africa and the Americas—to learn how the project is transforming the way we view art.

“The idea is that artists will come to Birmingham and get to know the museum, the people and city and then make work which we will translate into vinyl wallpaper.

It really engages our lobby and cafe to make them more welcoming and have people experience art in a more immersive environment.

We thought, ‘What would it be like to sit in our cafe and feel like you’re inside of a painting?'”

Hallie Ringle, Curator of Contemporary Art, Birmingham Museum of Art
  • What: Wall to Wall, an interactive exhibit
  • Where: Birmingham Museum of Art, 2000 Reverend Abraham Woods Jr Blvd, Birmingham, AL 35203
  • When: On display now through Spring 2021
  • Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 10AM-5PM | Sunday Noon-5PM
  • Price: Free

Please do touch the art

“You can come bask as often as you want and it’s truly color therapy—it’s Cahaba Lily therapy. It feels so good to be surrounded by those colors.”

Emily Hanna, Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Curator of the Arts of Africa and the America, Birmingham Museum of Art

No restrictions here, Wall to Wall invites viewers to come and immerse yourself in the work. It also makes for a great selfie spot! With 180,000 square feet of space, there’s plenty of room to spread out and enjoy this exhibit.

Recognizable views are seen in a new way

If you step into Wall to Wall and things look a little familiar, it’s because they should. The scenes depicted on the wallpaper feature Merritt’s interpretations of Birmingham landscapes.

“The landscapes should be recognizable to everyone in the area—I can recognize Red Mountain and the Cahaba lilies, for example. It’s exciting for the museum and hopefully exciting for residents to come and see their landscapes.”

Hallie Ringle, Curator of Contemporary Art, Birmingham Museum of Art

After learning about our city’s environment and inhabitants, Merritt created the work, which she calls “… love letters to land and water.” While the scenes are beautiful, the artist also explores the way in which people have recently devalued land for profitable gain.

More about Merritt Johnson and her history with the BMA

Wall to Wall
Between the natural light and bright colors, the cafe at the Birmingham Museum of Art is transformed into a whole new world. Photo via Jacob Blankenship for Bham Now

Merritt is a multidisciplinary artist who incorporates performance into her work in addition to painting, sculpture and video. She is of Kanienkehaka (Mohawk), Blackfoot, Irish and Swedish heritage. Her pieces communicate her view on the environment and how the human population tries to extract and control nature.

“When creating art, Merritt is always thinking about the environment and how Indigenous or Native American people think about the environment and relate to it as opposed to nonindigenous people.”

Emily Hanna, Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Curator of the Arts of Africa and the America, Birmingham Museum of Art
“When they build fences against air and Water and ignored the ones they were killing.” Photo via Jacob Blankenship for Bham Now

Having Merritt as the inaugural artist for Wall to Wall is particularly special because she has a significant relationship and history with the BMA. Emily reached out to Merritt years back to acquire one of her pieces, but when funding fell through, both parties were devastated. However, one and a half years later, Merritt called the BMA and said, “I remembered that you loved these paintings and I’d like to give them to the museum.”

See more of Merritt’s work in the museum

It was a generous gesture, and one not taken for granted. Right now, two of Merritt’s works, Buffalo Vector Border Crossing (Yellowstone) and Crow booming the One Big Water, Gulls flying away hang in the All Things Bright and Beautiful exhibit curated by Hallie.

Her work travels around the museum, sometimes residing in the Native American exhibit or Contemporary, as they are now. Additionally, once Wall to Wall is over, you’ll be able to view Merritt’s four paintings from the exhibit at the museum.

“What’s most rewarding is seeing how many people stop. People cruise through a museum and they don’t always read the labels. But, they stop in front of Merritt’s paintings and look, and they can tell right away that there’s something compelling happening.”

Emily Hanna, Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Curator of the Arts of Africa and the America, Birmingham Museum of Art

Wall to Wall doesn’t end once you leave the museum

Wall to Wall
SmartGuide is another way to learn more about the exhibit, Merritt Johnson and her visit to Birmingham. Photo via Jacob Blankenship for Bham Now

We always take a little piece of our favorite works with us once we leave the museum, whether it’s inspiration or new knowledge. With Wall to Wall, the museum has created a SmartGuide so you can continue to experience the exhibit even after you leave.

SmartGuide allows you to delve into what really happened during Merritt’s visit to Birmingham. Listeners are also able to hear from other community members about what her work means to them.

It features commentary from local environmental leaders such as Charles Scribner with the Black Warrior Riverkeeper. You’ll also find photos from Merritt and narration about her experience viewing Birmingham’s landscapes.

“It has been the most fabulous adventure to have Merritt here. First, because of her incredible generosity in what her two donated paintings have meant to us. Secondly, it’s so special to have her make more work about this place where we live—about Birmingham’s environment and the beauty of our landscape.”

Emily Hanna, Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Curator of the Arts of Africa and the America, Birmingham Museum of Art

Visit Wall to Wall for free every Tuesday-Saturday from 10AM-5PM and every Sunday from Noon-5PM now through Spring 2021. To stay up to date on future exhibits, visit the Birmingham Museum of Art’s website, Facebook and Instagram.

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