For immediate release: February 5, 2018
Sam Gilliam In Dialogue
Sam Gilliam (American, b. 1933 ), Situation VI–Pisces 4 (detail), c. 1972. Museum purchase, Otis Family Acquisition Trust and Kathryn Hurd Fund. Image courtesy of Joseph Goddu Fine Arts, Inc., New York.

Sam Gilliam (American, b. 1933 ), Situation VI–Pisces 4 (detail), c. 1972. Museum purchase, Otis Family Acquisition Trust and Kathryn Hurd Fund. Image courtesy of Joseph Goddu Fine Arts, Inc., New York.

Sam Gilliam In Dialogue marks the debut of the Williams College Museum of Art’s recent acquisition of Situation VI-Pisces 4 (1972), a nearly 40-foot poly-propylene painted multiform that defies conventional definitions of sculpture, architecture, and painting. Originally created for exhibition at the Galerie Darthea Speyer in Paris, Situation VI-Pisces 4 can be draped over sawhorses and ladders, or suspended by rawhide from the ceiling in order to cascade through a painted wooden structure and pool into waves of color on the gallery floor. The size and lyricism of the installation invites innovative dialogues with the people and works of art surrounding it. In the spirit of Gilliam’s experimental practice, this exhibition will see a complete reinstallation of the gallery space three times, bringing both the work and the words of thirteen different artists in and out of conversation with Gilliam’s signature work, sparking different themes and interpretations.

“Sam Gilliam is rigorous, dynamic, and playful when it comes to re-thinking and re-interpreting his work,” says Assistant Curator at the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA), Horace Ballard. “The show’s title references our generous, wide-ranging conversations and nods toward the American artists Gilliam has been in dialogue with for over sixty years. It’s a triumph, really, that works from our modern and contemporary collections provide such a nuanced visual context for understanding the critical evolution of Mr. Sam’s artistic process.”

Gilliam’s pioneering use of abstract layers of pigment on un-stretched material actively unravels the all-too prevalent narrative that black artists excel solely in figural representation. The first installation, Race + Representation, acknowledges Gilliam’s groundbreaking presence in American art. On view from February 15 through April 22, this rotation addresses the difficult relationship between race, representation, and individual artistic practice head-on, putting Situation VI-Pisces 4 in dialogue with the work of Willie Cole, David Hammons, Barkley L. Hendricks, and Kara Walker.

The second installation, Form, symbolically shifts the conversation from race to architectural form. On view from April 26 through June 3, it positions the Gilliam with sculptures by Melvin Edwards, Sol LeWitt, and Robert Morris as well as a painting by Joan Mitchell. This installation explores how these works of art use space and industrial materials architecturally, sculpturally, and as forms of experimentation.

Topographies of Color, on view from June 7 through September 3, focuses on the visual, spatial, and emotional power of color. Joining Situation VI-Pisces 4 are a poured polyurethane work by Lynda Benglis, a stained canvas by Helen Frankenthaler, vertical stripes of color in paintings by Gene Davis and Morris Louis, and floating shapes of color in a Jules Olitski painting.

“Situation VI-Pisces 4 is a game-changing addition to WCMA’s collection made possible with the generous gift of funds from Jacqui Bradley and Clarence Otis, ’77. This important early experimental work by Sam Gilliam hits on so many curricular registers on campus,” said Lisa Dorin, Interim Director of the Williams College Museum of Art. “Horace Ballard’s multi-phased curatorial approach has teased out extraordinary connections within the collection. We are grateful to Jim Fieber ’76 and the University of Michigan Museum of Art for loans that will amplify the Topographies of Color presentation.”

About the Artist

Sam Gilliam was born in Tupelo, Mississippi in 1933. He was raised and educated in Louisville, Kentucky, receiving a BA and MFA in Painting from the University of Louisville after a two-year stint in the Army. In 1962, he moved to Washington, D.C., and created large-scale, non-representational color field paintings alongside Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, Tom Downing, and other artists loosely known as the Washington Color School. Gilliam began a relationship with the Galerie Darthea Speyer in the late 1960s and began traveling regularly to Paris, working with very large, unstretched materials which he draped and installed across walls, ceilings, fields, rock paths, and waterways to emphasize the relationship between the work and its environment. Since then, he has produced considerable bodies of work, ranging from geometric collage, etchings, watercolors, and quilted paintings to more recent forays into computer generated images and assemblage. Sam Gilliam was the first African American artist to represent the United States in the Venice Biennale (1972). He presented there again, to critical acclaim, in 2017. Gilliam’s work is held in major collections throughout the United States, and he has been the subject of numerous solo shows, notably at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Studio Museum of Harlem in New York, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the seminal 2013 Kordansky Gallery show in Los Angeles, curated by Rashid Johnson.

The three installations of Sam Gilliam In Dialogue

Feb 15–Apr 22: Race + Representation
Willie Cole, Sam Gilliam, David Hammons, Barkley L. Hendricks, Kara Walker

Apr 26–Jun 3: Form
Melvin Edwards, Sam Gilliam, Sol LeWitt, Joan Mitchell, Robert Morris

Jun 7–Sep 3: Topographies of Color
Lynda Benglis, Helen Frankenthaler, Sam Gilliam, Morris Louis, Jules Olitski

Related Programs

Season Celebration
Thursday, Feb 15, 5 pm
Raise a glass to our spring exhibitions: Sam Gilliam In Dialogue, The Seeds of Divinity, Rawr!, and Object Lab.

Close Look
Sartre’s Situations
Tuesday, Apr 10, 4 pm
Sartre famously said “there is freedom only in a situation, and there is a situation only through freedom.” Assistant Curator Horace Ballard explores the philosophical connections between Sartre’s Situations and Sam Gilliam’s work Situation VI-Pisces 4.

Related Performances

“Before painting, there was jazz” said Sam Gilliam, who has spoken at length about the impact of jazz music on his art. This series of jazz performances, organized in collaboration with the Williams College Music Department, respond to and resonate with Gilliam’s work and process.

Thursday, Feb 22, 6 PM
Jazz improvisations respond to Gilliam’s work in the gallery.

Monday, March 12, 5 PM
Celebrating Sam Gilliam’s love of Charlie Parker’s music, Kris Allen and Avery G. Sharpe perform original arrangements of Parker’s music on the anniversary of his death.

Monday, March 12, 5 PM
Celebrating Sam Gilliam’s love of Charlie Parker’s music, Kris Allen and Avery G. Sharpe perform original arrangements of Parker’s music on the anniversary of his death.

Press kits
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Joellen Adae
Director of Communications