“Ways of Seeing” connects Alabama + worldwide artists—why we’re drawn to it

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Ways of Seeing: Buildings and Monuments
“Ways of Seeing: Buildings and Monuments” features work from Alabama artists alongside worldwide sculptures, paintings and photographs. Photo via Matthew Niblett for Bham Now

How often do you think about the ways a building or space shapes your emotions and actions? With the COVID-19 pandemic, that answer has probably changed in the past year. In the Birmingham Museum of Art‘s (BMA) fourth installment of the series, Ways of Seeing: Buildings and Monuments examines how the built environment inspires everyday action.

Don’t miss this special panel discussion on the history of Linn Park!

Join prominent members of the Birmingham community, including the executive director of the Jefferson County Memorial Project, for a panel discussing the events that shaped Linn Park.

Among delving into the history of Linn Park and its monuments, the panel will also discuss the historical account in summer 2020 when Jermaine “Funnymaine” Johnson catalyzed the removal of the Confederate Sailors & Soldiers Monument.

By registering and joining the discussion via Zoom, you can participate and submit your own questions to the panel.

Can’t make it to the panel? Check out this interactive guide

There’s a lot to learn when it comes to the history of the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors monument, and the BMA’s newly launched interactive guide allows you to explore all of it.

The timeline highlights key moments in the monument’s history from 1880 to 2020. Whether you’re using it while you visit the museum in-person or at home, it’s a great resource to learn about the rise and fall of this controversial monument. Walkthrough it any time.

The walls that built us

Ways of Seeing: Buildings and Monuments
“Ways of Seeing: Buildings and Monuments” is on display now through spring 2021. Photo via Matthew Niblett for Bham Now

Kate Crawford, the Curator of American Art at the BMA, chose to host this theme for her installment of the series. In a time where even solid buildings are changing, it’s an ideal moment to reexamine the various built environments.

“I chose buildings and monuments because I wanted people to start thinking about the way that the built environment shapes their experience every day. It guides all of our interactions. Whether we’re in the street, the grocery store, home or at work, I feel like buildings, in particular, are always guiding you.

‘Ways of Seeing: Buildings and Monuments’ also thinks about the relationship between artists and architects. The ways those groups work together and the ways that some artists are thinking about the way their work will shape space seemed really important in the context of this show.”

Kate Crawford, Curator of American Art, Birmingham Museum of Art

What exactly is a built environment?

A built environment means man-made surroundings intended for human activity. It can include the building where you work to the park where you walk your dog. Ways of Seeing: Buildings and Monuments features works representing this type of art from all across the collection.

“You’re looking at African art, contemporary art and historic art in order to have these stories explore the ways in which buildings and monuments shape our experience in different parts of the worlds in different time periods.”

Kate Crawford

Ways of Seeing: Buildings and Monuments is not all literal—meet Little Willie

"Little Willy"
“Little Willie” is created by Alabama-artist Charlie Lucas. Photo via Bham Now

What’s art without interpretation? Not every piece strictly reflects a building, but it does reflect how structures impact us. For example, take my favorite piece in the exhibition—Little Willie.

“I think a lot of people encounter ‘Little Willie’ in the context of a show about buildings and monuments and say, ‘Why is this here?’ I included that because Charlie Lucas is an artist in Alabama and he has an entire artist environment that he’s constructed in Pink Lily, Alabama.”

Kate Crawford

My friend Little Willie is clearly not a building or monument. But, Charlie built him out of construction metal and recycled material like shoe parts and tools. He’s also made from rebar—a building material often used to create concrete structures.

“Before it came to the museum, ‘Little Willie’ could’ve hung on Lucas’ property in Pink Lily, AL.

There, you’re surrounded by his work in his environment. It belongs in the show because it’s made of building materials, but also because Lucas built this incredible artist environment where you’re immersed in his work somewhere else in Alabama.”

Kate Crawford

More of Alabama’s influence in Ways of Seeing: Buildings and Monuments

Ways of Seeing: Buildings and Monuments
Alabama has a much larger artist community than some people may realize. Photo via Matthew Niblett for Bham Now

Do you know what’s funny about this collection featuring works from across the globe? The main pieces which drew me, without even realizing it, were from Alabama artists.

Look at Little Willie, for instance. I also noticed a section featuring the Confederate Soldiers & Sailors Monument.

The right timing, the necessary discussion

The show was slated to open in April 2020, but COVID-19 derailed its premier.

Between April and October, when the museum reopened, a lot happened. One historical event was the Black Lives Matter movement gaining strength and prominence in Birmingham.

“We were thinking about buildings and moments for the show and we wanted to talk about the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors monument that previously stood in Linn Park.

What we’ve tried to do instead of say, showing a photograph of that monument and bringing it back to the space, which we wouldn’t want to do, we wanted to highlight the voices of the people who did the work tearing down that monument. We asked them what that experience was like and what they think Birmingham needs next.”

Kate Crawford

On Alabama soil

sculpture by William Christenberry
This sculpture by William Christenberry is a favorite among patrons. Photo via Matthew Niblett for Bham Now

Another piece many patrons gravitate toward is a model house from the BMA’s contemporary collection. The work is by Alabama artist William Christenberry.

“This show is also connecting Alabama artists to our global collection. William Christenberry is a perfect example of that. ‘Ways of Seeing: Buildings and Monuments’ shows his work alongside the work of a number of other artists who aren’t as connected to Alabama.

In that sculpture, Christenberry is expressing his feelings about Alabama and Hale County in general. I think this show is an interesting place to think about our very local context in Birmingham and our local context in the state of Alabama right now, through art which is exciting.”

Kate Crawford

Discover Alabama artists and more in the fourth installment of Ways of Seeing: Buildings and Monuments now through March 2021 at the Birmingham Museum of Art.

Don’t miss this special panel discussion on the history of Linn Park! Register for free TODAY.

For more information and up-to-date news on the latest exhibitions, visit the Birmingham Museum of Art’s website and follow them on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

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