Chains, Sweet Gum Pods and a Flag: the Metaphorical Power of Singular Objects
As historian and material culture specialist Richard Grassby has noted: “Culture is…evinced in distinct forms generated by human responses to opportunities in specific historical contexts.” We therefore can “use artifacts…to reconstruct the patterns of meanings, values and norms shared by members of society.” This lecture will examine the recent deployment of single objects as carriers of meaning and commentary on American culture and historical trajectories. We live in an era where the representational character of public monuments and installations can be mired in controversy, and evoke various receptions by multiple publics. On the other hand, the metaphorical potency of seemingly ordinary objects—chains, sweet gum pods and flags—has been effectively parsed by artists: notably Charles Gaines, Oletha DeVane and Sonya Clark. They have succeeded in engaging the viewing public in some of the most compelling discourses around the destiny of African Americans in this country.
A specialist in modern and contemporary art, craft and design, since the 1970s, Lowery Stokes Sims has fostered diversity and opportunity in the art world for five decades. In 2015 she retired as Curator Emerita from the Museum of Arts and Design in New York where she served as the Charles Bronfman International Curator and the William and Mildred Ladson Chief Curator. From 2000-2007 Sims was executive director, president and Adjunct Curator for the Permanent Collection at the Studio Museum in Harlem. She was on the education and curatorial staff of The Metropolitan Museum of Art from 1972-1999.
Since 2015 she has worked as a guest curator and independent art historian for the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute, NYC, the Craft Contemporary Museum, LA, Grounds for Sculpture, Hamilton, N.J.; the Contemporary Craft Museum, Los Angeles; the Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati; the Baltimore Museum of Art; and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Sims has been a Visiting Professor at Queens College, CUNY and Hunter College, CUNY in New York City, a Visiting Scholar in the Department of Art at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, and a Distinguished Professor in the Art Deparment at the Univeristy of California, Irvine. She was a fellow at the Clark Art Institute, and was appointed the Kurt Varnedoe Distinguished Professor at the Institute of Fine Arts for the Spring, 2018 semester and Visiting Professor in Spring 2019 and Fall 2020. She also served as the 2021-22 Kress-Beinecke Professor at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Visual Arts (CASVA) at the National Gallery.
Sims is a founding board member and former president of Art Table, Inc. and serves on boards of the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, and the Richard Pousette-Dart Foundation. She served on the board of the College Art Association, the Tiffany Foundation, and was elected trustee emeritus by the Art Matters Foundation. In 2003-2004, Sims served on the jury for the World Trade Center Site Memorial Competition to choose the memorial for the site.
Introduced by Daré Dada, CCS Bard Graduate Student.
CCS Bard Speaker Series
Each semester CCS Bard hosts a program of lectures by leading artists, curators, art historians, and critics, situating the school and museum’s concerns within the larger context of contemporary art production and discourse. Speakers are selected primarily by second-year graduate students and also by faculty and staff. All lectures are free and open, and are documented through audio recordings that reside in the CCS Bard Library & Archives and online here.
Accessibility for Public Programs
American Sign Language Interpretation
ASL-English interpretation is available for public programs upon request with two weeks advance notice. To place a request, please contact CCSVisits@bard.edu. Relay and voice calls welcome.
Verbal description is available for public programs upon request with two weeks advance notice. To place a request, please contact CCSVisits@bard.edu. Relay and voice calls welcome.
When public programs are held over Zoom, live transcription is available..