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First Lady Chirlane McCray and Gracie Mansion Conservancy Announce the Opening of Catalyst: Art and Social Justice

February 20, 2020

Final, largest Gracie Mansion art exhibition of de Blasio Administration explores the connections between art, protest and social change

NEW YORK—First Lady Chirlane McCray and the Gracie Mansion Conservancy will open the final art exhibition of the de Blasio Administration today with an extraordinarily diverse and provocative show that examines art and social justice through over 75 works by more than 50 artists and activists since the 1960s.

Catalyst: Art and Social Justice will be the largest ever art exhibition at Gracie Mansion. It brings together mostly living artists –many of them New Yorkers and all with some connection to the City. Guided by seven themes, these artists, activists, student groups and collectives present their takes on some of the biggest challenges of our times:  racial inequality; climate change; ableism, homophobia; immigration reform, misogyny and more.

Catalyst showcases an array of important contemporary artists. Many have identified with groups that are under-represented in mainstream art. They include: Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, Teresita Fernández, Martine Fougeron, Jeffrey Gibson, Jenny Holzer, Baseera Khan, Glenn Ligon, Miguel Luciano, Gordon Parks, Kameelah Janan Rasheed, Robert Rauschenberg, Lorna Simpson, Tattfoo Tan, Hank Willis Thomas, and Nari Ward. The work of several additional artists, including Alexandra Bell, will be installed over the course of the exhibition, on display through Summer 2021.

As the culminating exhibition of the de Blasio administration, Catalyst reflects the Administration’s efforts to make Gracie the “People’s House,” a place where the history and the lives of all New Yorkers are reflected.

“The provocative final installation at The People’s House demonstrates the transformative power of the arts—and how profound and essential art is when promoting social justice,” said First Lady Chirlane McCray. Catalyst highlights the triumphs and difficulties, internal and external, of people as individuals and members of movements and communities as they wrestle with climate change, racism, misogyny, ableism, homophobia and more. Catalyst puts us in the middle of urgent national public conversations. This exhibition is certain to upend perceptions, expand awareness, and fire the imagination.” 

Catalyst artworks stretch across moments of social change and transformation from the 1960s to the present, and through many forms and mediums, including painting, sculpture, photography and archival ephemera.

The exhibition is organized around seven themes: Affirming Self; Concepts of Justice; E Pluribus Unum/Out of Many, One; The Habitable Earth; Health, Wellness, and Universal Access; A Livable City; and Pursuit of Equality.

“First Lady McCray has breathed new life into Gracie Mansion over the course of her tenure,” said Jessica Bell Brown, Catalyst curator. “Never before have the extraordinary works of such a diverse and inter-generational groups of artists of our time been front and center at Gracie. Artists time and again are witnesses to the truths of life, liberty and justice. They hold us accountable to each other as neighbors, as citizens, and as members of a wider collective.”

Brown is an Associate Curator of Contemporary Art at the Baltimore Museum of Art. Brown was the curator of the widely-acclaimed Gracie Mansion exhibition “She Persists: A Century of Women Artists in New York 1919-2019, which was installed at Gracie from January 2019 until early February, 2020.   Brown’s essays and art criticism have appeared in catalogues and publications for The Studio Museum in Harlem, The Museum of Modern Art, the Institute of Contemporary Art Philadelphia, Flash Art, Hyperallergic and The Brooklyn Rail.

Catalyst reflects an administration that has promoted many progressive initiatives: from establishing Pre-K for all to the Unity Project to aid LGBTQ youth to SheBuilt NYC, an effort to create monuments and other public art honoring women. CreateNYC, the City’s first-ever roadmap for cultural investment and equality, has increased equitable funding and support for culture, especially in historically underserved neighborhoods, and provided high-quality arts education for all NYC public school students

“We wanted the final exhibition at Gracie Mansion to portray the values of the de Blasio Administration,” said Roxanne John, Executive Director of Gracie Mansion and Chief of Staff to First Lady McCray. “Our progressive agenda has changed the lives of millions of New Yorkers for the better. Catalyst shows how artists portray and confront the very issues that inform our policies and practices. This exhibit honors the great strides we've made as a city and as a country, along with sometimes raw and sometimes poetic assessments of where we still need to go. It has been an honor to promote the arts in the People's House.”

Paul Gunther, Executive Director, Gracie Mansion Conservancy, said: "Robert Rauschenberg, summed up best the guiding intent of Catalyst in 1987, when he identified artists as the first collective force challenging social injustice. Visitors can use this curatorial gateway to consider how this creative dynamic flows and adapts to the pursuit of justice today." 

Conservancy programs are made possible in part by the generous support of David Bohnett Foundation and The Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice. While some of the objects were already a part of the Gracie Mansion Conservancy collection, dozens more lenders contributed to Catalyst.

The Gracie Mansion Conservancy is not-for-profit organization established to preserve, maintain, enhance and enliven Gracie Mansion. The mansion is one of the oldest surviving wood structures in Manhattan and has been the official home for all the sitting New York City mayors, beginning in 1942 with the family of Fiorello H. LaGuardia.

As in the prior three art installations at Gracie during the de Blasio administration, the artwork and objects featured in Catalyst will be integrated into Gracie’s existing artwork.

"Catalyst celebrates the profound ability that art and artists have to spark dialogue and inspire change,” said Thelma Golden, Director and Chief Curator, The Studio Museum in Harlem. “New Yorkers and visitors will have the opportunity to discover new perspectives and ideas by some of the most important visionaries of the last half century, in the historic setting of Gracie Mansion."

 “Catalyst is a timely, thought-provoking installation perfectly served by the juxtaposition of these rallying-cry artworks on Gracie Mansion’s well-mannered walls,” said Jan Ramirez, Executive Vice President & Chief Curator, National September 11 Memorial & Museum. “Here, there is no complacency at home.”       

Some Highlights of Catalyst: Art and Social Justice

I am A Rainbow Too
 (2019)
  Jeffrey Gibson is a multidisciplinary artist of Choctaw and Cherokee heritage who combines Native American symbols and materials with contemporary Western art forms. In The Future is Present and I Am a Rainbow Too, Gibson unites geometric abstractions found in both modern art and his own cultural heritage. He then adds another hybrid layer of pop culture lyrics rendered in his self-designed lettering style. Gibson’s conjunctive artwork challenges presumptions about how Native American art should look and forces the contemporary art world to reckon with the long-time exclusion of Native art from major exhibitions and institutions. 

S.O.S. Free Seeds Library (2018).  Tattfoo Tan’s totemic public sculptures, modeled on the “Little Free Library System” provide New Yorkers -- especially those in underserved neighborhoods -- with free seeds for edible or flowering plants. The seeds are meant to provide a healthy, native, and accessible food supply.

Small American Fires (2016). Teresita Fernández’s paintings, using colored ink and pencil on wood panels, depict the slash and burn land management of Native Americans.  These paintings show the oppression that has been ignored by the traditional historical record.

March on Washington (1963). Gordon Parks, one of the most celebrated and multi-talented photographers of his time, recorded the progress of the Civil Rights Movement through its leaders and everyday people.  The photograph of the 1963 March on Washington documents the historic march, where an estimated 250,000 people gathered at the Lincoln Memorial to support Civil Rights legislation and to hear the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his I have a Dream speech.

South Bronx Trades (2011-present). Martine Fougeron’s photographs capture industrial steel production, new economy green roof builders, and artisanal family trades like baking, printing, and hand-made bedding. These images highlight the skills and dedication of the laborers to the small businesses that have traditionally offered immigrants financial opportunities and a first-step toward American citizenship.

ARTISTS

Benny Andrews
Alexandra Bell
Tania Bruguera with Mujeres en Movimiento
Linda Goode Bryant
John Coburn
Elizabeth Colomba
Diana Davies
Torkwase Dyson
John Edmonds
Tatyana Fazlalizadeh
Teresita Fernández
Martine Fougeron
Devra Freelander
Shannon Finnegan
Naima Green
Jeffrey Gibson
Felix Gonzalez-Torres
Guerrilla Girls
Philip Guston
Keith Haring
Lucia Hierro
David Hirsch
Jenny Holzer
Peter Hujar
Baseera Khan
Perla de Leon
Glenn Ligon
Miguel Luciano
Katharine Clarissa Eileen McCray
Aliza Nisenbaum
Lorraine O’Grady
Gordon Parks
Kameelah Janan Rasheed
Robert Rauschenberg
Faith Ringgold
Kay Rosen
Martha Rosler
Dread Scott
Allan Sekula
Richard Serra
Alice Sheppard
Lorna Simpson
Sable Elyse Smith
Students at Calhoun School
The Silence=Death Project
Tattfoo Tan
Hank Willis Thomas
Steven Tucker
Mierle Laderman Ukeles
Unknown Artist
Unknown Artist
Unknown Artist
Unknown Artist
Visual AIDS Artists’ Caucus
Nari Ward
David Wojnarowicz

Lenders

Nina Chanel Abney and Jet Toomer
ACA Galleries
American Contemporary Art Foundation, Leonard A. Lauder, President
Artist and Hudson Valley Seed Co.
Artists Rights Society (ARS)
Brooklyn Public Library, Clippings File Brooklyn Collection
Tania Bruguera with Mujeres en Movimiento
Bequest of Peggy Cooper Cafritz, The Studio Museum in Harlem
John Coburn
Perla de Leon
Beth Rudin DeWoody
Disability Dance Works
Torkwase Dyson
John Edmonds
Martin and Rebecca Eisenberg
Electron Arts Intermix
Tatyana Fazlalizadeh
Ronald Feldman Gallery
Avram Finkelstein
Shannon Finnegan
Martine Fougeron
Estate of Devra Freelander
Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation
Linda Goode Bryant
Gracie Mansion Conservancy
Alexander Gray Associates
Naima Green
Guerrilla Girls
Paul Gunther
Hauser & Wirth
Jenny Holzer
The Peter Hujar Archive
Carlos Ishikawa, London
Sikkema Jenkins & Co
Baseera Khan
Glenn Ligon
Miguel Luciano
Lehmann Maupin, New York
First Lady Chirlane McCray
Merchant's House Museum
Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York
Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York
Museum of the City of New York
National September 11 Memorial & Museum
NYC Pair Program
New York Public Library
New York Preservation Archive Project
NYC Pair Program
Lorraine O’Grady
Pace Gallery, New York
Gordon Parks Foundation
Project EATS: The Artists, Farmers, Health Professionals, and Citizen Activists
Kameelah Janan Rasheed
Robert Rauschenberg Foundation
Faith Ringgold
Martha Rosler
Dread Scott
Allan Sekula Studio
Jack Shainman Gallery
Lorna Simpson
Sable Elyse Smith
Simone Subal Gallery
Studio Museum in Harlem
Hank Willis Thomas
Steven Tucker
Mierle Laderman Ukeles
Amanda L. Uribe
Visual AIDS
Nari Ward
Weeksville Heritage Center
Whitney Museum of American Art
Alia Williams 

Celebrations and Events for Catalyst: Art and Social Justice

A closed-press, invitation-only opening reception at Gracie Mansion, 6 PM to 8 PM, Thursday, February 20

Free guided public tours resume Monday, February 24, with 10 AM; 11 AM; and 5 PM tours. Reservations needed.

School Tours resume Wednesday, February 26 with 10:30 AM and 11:30 AM tours. Reservations needed.

Public Open House Saturday, March 7, Noon to 3 PM.  Reserved tickets available on a first-come basis at www.nyc.gov/mospce or at graciemansion.org or by calling 311.

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