CHAMPAIGN — Art historian Irene Small, a specialist in Brazilian art and archaeology, has visited Brazil several times, having met and spoken with many artists there in the process. Her husband, Tumelo Mosaka, curator of contemporary art at Krannert Art Museum, has visited Brazil, too.
After the couple heard that Jorge Paulo Lemann and his family had pledged $14 million to establish what is now called the Lemann Institute for Brazilian Studies at the University of Illinois, the two decided to mount an exhibition here of works by contemporary artists in Brazil.
Their show, "Blind Field," opens with a public reception this evening at Krannert Art Museum. Though it features pieces by 20 emerging and mid-career artists, "Blind Field" is not intended as a survey of a new generation of Brazilian artists.
"Instead, we're looking at artistic practices that respond to the particularities one finds in Brazil," said Small, now an assistant professor of art history and archaeology at Princeton University. "We think the works are more indicative of how globalization works, the kind of dynamics you see with intense urbanization, wealth and poverty."
And while the majority of the artists represented in "Blind Field" are Brazilian, at least four are not. They hail from Spain, Mexico, Argentina and the United States but live and work in Brazil.
"We wanted to stay away from the notion of Brazilian identity," Small said.
Mosaka considers the show "dense" in that the works — photographs, installations, video, paintings — are conceptual in nature. He said they speak to a much broader context than just Brazil, which since the 1940s has been called the country of the future because of its strong economy.
That situation has left Brazil in a state of "potentiality," as the two curators put it. Many of the artists represented in "Blind Field" address that potentiality in their works.
For example, Carlos Mlo's "Eve" series of photographs explores an office or conference space the evening before a presentation. The microphones, chairs and other office accoutrements are in place, ready for an event not identified or apparent to viewers.
Likewise, Lais Myrrha in his "Not Yet" video extends test-pattern images familiar to early television viewers that indicated a network going off the air or coming on.
"Campo Cego" (Portuguese for Blind Field), another series of photographs by Cao Guimares in collaboration with Carolina Cordeiro, focuses on rural-road signs obscured by red dust in a mining region of Brazil.
In the exhibition catalog, Mosaka describes the photographs as "suspended between obsolete use and possible signification" and argues that they insist on "the tangibility of opacity as significant in and of itself."
The exhibition title, "Blind Field," is a term coined by the French sociologist and philosopher Henri Lefebvre to describe the ideological gap between socioeconomic production modes as a space that needs to be filled.
"This exhibition takes up blindness as a critical category, a metaphor for the way in which the obstruction of perception can illuminate alternate modes of knowledge and experience," reads the introductory wall text for the show.
The artists represented offer critical perspectives on processes of transition within contemporary society, whether from the public space of the street to the virtual zone of the computer screen, from the intimacy of subjective perception to the structure of large-scale political action, the text reads.
After closing here March 31, "Blind Field" will travel to Michigan State University's Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum.
Other exhibitions opening this week at Krannert Art Museum:
"Jacob Lawrence: Toussaint L'Ouverture Series," on loan from the Amistad Research Center at Tulane University.
Lawrence (1917-2000) began this series of 41 paintings in 1937. They depict the life of L'Ouverture, the revolutionary leader who helped former slaves establish the republic of Haiti in 1804. The exhibition, which closes April 28, is part of the UI's celebration of the sesquicentennial anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Also, Barry Gaither, executive director of the Museum of the National Center for Afro-American Artists in Boston, will talk about the historical contexts of the Lawrence series from 4 to 5:30 p.m. today in the College of Law Auditorium across the street from the museum.
In "Counterpoints: Moshekwa Langa, In and Out of Africa," the South African artist responds to the objects and interpretive framework of Krannert's reinstalled African gallery. Langa uses a variety of media to challenge the conventional understanding of African art.
He will deliver an artist's talk at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 21 at the museum. The exhibition runs through May 12.
"Processing the Everyday" uses pieces from Krannert's permanent collection to explore how artists navigate the changing contexts and definitions of art in the era of mass media. Curated by Krannert's Kathryn Koca Polite, the exhibition features works by contemporary artists, among them Andy Warhol, Sam Jury and Ed Ruscha.
If you go
What: Public opening of four Krannert Art Museum exhibitions, with cash bar provided by Michaels' Catering; hosted by the Krannert Art Museum Council
When: 6 to 7 tonight (Jan. 24), with "Blind Field" exhibition curators Tumelo Mosaka and Irene Small giving a talk at 6 (the museum will remain open until 9); exhibit on display through March 31
Where: Krannert Art Museum, 500 E. Peabody Drive, C
Admission: Free, with donation suggested
Information: 333-1861; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.kam.illinois.edu.