“Wholly committed to creativity and diversity in our corporate community, the Corporate Art department uses The Progressive Art Collection as a tool to spark rich dialogue about the ideas and concerns of our time, ultimately inspiring our people to risk, learn, and grow.” —Excerpt from Corporate Art’s Purpose Statement
Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) thinking has been a central tenet for Progressive’s contemporary art collecting since the program’s inception in the late 1970s. Our Corporate Art team continues to focus on providing an array of programs, leveraging our artworks to encourage open-mindedness to what is unfamiliar and different.
In recent years, as Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) have taken flight at Progressive, our art collection has played an important role in helping Progressive people learn about these opportunities—and ultimately about one another and ourselves. Since the formation of Progressive ERGs, many of the groups have partnered with Corporate Art to organize specifically curated exhibitions. Many of these shows have travelled nationally to our contact centers and have been the backdrop for numerous conversation seminars germane to each ERG’s vision.
On the joyous occasion of our companywide 10-year anniversary of D&I efforts, we are delighted to present this celebratory exhibition, “Looking Back/Moving Forward.” Each artwork in this show has previously appeared in one of our past ERG partnership initiatives. Reassembled here as an “alumni” showcase, we hope these works give us great reflection on that which we have already achieved while providing stimulating conversation as we look ahead to new horizons and opportunities for even more robust accomplishments in Progressive’s D&I space.
(b. 1954 — Red Bank, New Jersey, U.S. — d. 1992) David Wojnarowicz never formally studied art but had an affinity for surrealism and dadaism. Wojnarowicz made “Pessimistic, fiercely critical paintings of great inventiveness and idiosyncratic formality.” The viewer feels the weight of pain in his work. Critic Lucy Lippard writes, “The freedom of vision, the use of art as a healing process for damaged lives, an occasionally raw technique disguising subtle content … Wojnarowicz balances aggressive violence and pessimism with transgressive, life-affirming vitality” (Lippard, “Art in America,” December 1, 1990). His work has much to do with the AIDS crisis and homosexuality and about the contradictions of the human condition. His work has been exhibited extensively since 1980.
iris print on Somerset velvet paper 33.75 inches x 46.25 inches
(b. 1954 — New York City, New York, U.S.) Dawoud Bey received his MFA from Yale University School of Art, Connecticut, in 1993. He is well known for conducting photo workshops with Black and Latino high school students and creating large-scale photographs that examine the conventions of formal portraiture. Bey further explains, “I tell the students that their lives are important,” he says, “And it is important to me that an intensely human image of them exists in order to challenge some of the stereotypes that often describe young people of color.” Filled with vibrant colors, his photographs humanize the subjects. Plain Dealer critic Steven Litt writes, “In three composite portraits ... Bey pushed the envelope. The works consist of trios of disconnected fragments ... that build a sense of the sitter’s identity without reverting to the overworked strategy of scanning the visual field with the massive Polaroid camera.” Bey is a recipient of numerous awards and commissions, including a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and a project for the George Gund Foundation. He was also commissioned to complete a series of portraits for the Cleveland Public Library in 1997. Bey had his first solo show at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1979 and has since had solo exhibits at the Chicago Cultural Center, the Walker Art Center in Minnesota, and the Cleveland Museum of Art, among others. His work is included in the collections of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the Brooklyn Museum, the Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
red pigment urethane, foam-lined plastic case dimensions variable
Cuban artists Marco Castillo (b. 1971 — Camaguay), and Dagoberto Rodriguez (b. 1969 — Caribbean) have emerged as vital forces in the ever-expanding terrain of global art. They live and work in Havana and continue to travel and exhibit on nearly every continent. Their carefully crafted works use humor and often biting criticism to address themes such as colonization, autocracy, and economic inequality. Fluido is a set of five red sculptures published in an edition of fifty. To create Fluido, Los Carpinteros first hand-sculpted small models made of oil-based clay and used them to create industrial open-faced casting molds from which the pigmented urethane sculptures were cast. The blood-red sculptures convey an eerie sense of organic motion. Despite their static attachment to the wall, the forms almost appear to be writhing among themselves and bubbling with molecular stimulation. This allusion to life and energy easily reminds viewers of the preciousness of fluids that are part of our daily existence. The sculpture’s color obviously references blood, but other suggestions to vital liquids like water, oil, and mercury also surface as prominent metaphors for life’s sustainability.
acrylic on canvas 47.5 inches x 39.25 inches
(b. 1957 — Garden City, New York, U.S.) In Night Visions, from the painting series “Life Sized Lead Soldiers,” Peter Drake was inspired by a collection of lead soldiers he inherited from his father. The artist was surprised to see that the Arab and North African soldiers depicted were demonized; that even in child’s play, the exotic could take on a menacing and evil aspect. The artist began the series by taking macro photographs of the figures in raking light to exaggerate the distortion in the figures. The photographs are then used as a starting point for the paintings. The images are blown up, creating an essential aspect of this work. Drake wants to reverse the roles of the viewer and the subject; to have toys loom over us. In Night Visions, a regal and battle-march poised Joan of Arc is surrounded, anachronistically, by a contemporary war scene reminiscent of the televised (and sensationalized) U.S. bombing of Iraq during the Gulf War. Perhaps this juxtaposition illuminates the grace and virtue like that of a Joan of Arc figure, required of a soldier or nation today confronted by the possibility of war and of killing. For Drake, the most exciting aspect of this body of work is the way in which the figures become distorted by scale. Hands and feet appear to have been mangled, the pockmarks of missing paint look like shrapnel wounds, faces that seemed acceptable as miniatures become grotesque when enlarged, swords become chainsaws, and rifles become candy canes. What was serious becomes absurd, and the innocent becomes morbid.
watercolor on paper 20 inches x 16 inches
(b. 1972 — Los Angeles, California, U.S.) Laura Ball’s narrative watercolors and oil paintings depict journeys, trials, and transformations that resemble contemporary fairy tales. Modern-day struggles of the subconscious unfold into playful conflict among surreal and dreamlike landscapes. The myth of the hero, or heroine, is a universal one. Ball’s work addresses this through the depiction of the heroine’s “call to adventure,” and the inevitable struggle and eventual transformation that follow this calling. Using Joseph Campbell’s “A Hero with a Thousand Faces” as a roadmap for the obstacles her heroines confront, Ball uses vibrant colors and exotic animals to create a fantastical world where one must undertake a journey. Themes of gender politics, the environment, and violence emerge from within her fantastical narratives, which are fraught with peril in order to gain a great prize or personal truth.
watercolor on paper 36.5 inches x 24.75 inches
(b. 1953 — Los Angeles, California, U.S.) Kim Gordon, a founding member of Sonic Youth, studied art at Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles and has been making visual art ever since. Painted on translucent rice paper, these ethereal images recall faces of audience members from the perspective of the performer herself. Speaking of her work, Gordon states, “I’m interested in the relationship between performer and audience, and the unspoken power that a performer has. For example, you sometimes have more power if you’re vulnerable; there’s a certain amount of trust that the audience gives you and they want you to come across for them. I thought about this kind of alternative perspective when I was doing a series of watercolors that depict audience members from the point of view of being on stage. I was trying to see how abstract I could make them and have them still look like faces. I used metallic inks to give the effect that I was turning the lightshow on the audience. I was trying to reverse the idea in my head that the audiences were the performers, and the performer is the audience.”
Bradley McCallum & Jacqueline Tarry
Mr. Jack Johnson & Wife as “Napoleon & Josephine”
oil on canvas and toner on silk 18 inches x 22 inches
(b. 1966 — Green Bay, Wisconsin, U.S. & b. 1963 — Buffalo, New York, U.S.) The collaborative artist team of Bradley McCallum and Jacqueline Tarry seeks to expose and discuss issues revolving around marginalized members of society. As an interracial couple, their work challenges viewers to face issues of racial and social justice. Depicted here are the famous African American boxer Jack Johnson and his wife, dressed as the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and his wife Josephine. Loaded with racial and social tension, McCallum and Tarry use this image to challenge the infamously hostile world of decadence and violence in which Johnson lived and force us to examine the lifestyle similarities between the first black world heavyweight boxing champion and an early 19th-century French emperor.
archival giclee prints 12 inches x 20 inches
(b. 1975 — Pakistan) Building upon her interest in architecture, Seher Shah combines her own drafting skills with appropriated imagery of historical constructions. Her almost-psychedelic compositions are meditations on the history of Islamic cultures, the West’s encounters with the East, and the construction of cosmopolitan identities.
Below is an excerpt from a 2007 interview between Tom Finkelpearl, the director of Queens Museum of Art, with Seher Shah.
Tom Finkelpearl: “Who are you? By this I am asking how you self-identify. I know that for many people … this is a very complex question. For me, I know that it is a question that has a fairly fluid answer. In some contexts, I am a dad, in others, a white man. In some contexts, I am a museum director, in others, an American. But I am asking in one particular context—who are you when you are making art or representing yourself as an artist?”
Seher Shah: “That is a very difficult question to answer. I think that identity negotiation when I represent myself as an artist is made up of fragments and pieces from an array of sources. I think the visceral quality of the fragments is the most important to me though. In fact for this particular series of works, it was about deconstructing images, relationships, and forms of both personal and collective identity for myself, and reconstructing it in the works based on personal values and systems based on where I had lived and what I had experienced, as opposed to those that were given by a particular cultural or family parameter. But I do feel that it is from a viewpoint of an outsider looking in. That’s why I also feel that the works are all explorations, and it is as much about the process of working through the images and symbols and finding connections, as it is about the finished work.
In terms of who I am when creating works and representing myself as an artist, I work with all the fragments of the pieces that make up my identity. That may be a simplified answer, but it’s the only space I feel I can create for myself where I can define myself in a manner of my choice, and one that encapsulates how I want to explore the works. The idea that the fragments are not in opposition but make up a whole is the most important part of representing myself as an artist.”
Sush Machida Gaikotsu
acrylic on panel 96 inches x 32 inches
(b. 1973 — Maebashi City, Japan) Heavily influenced by the Edo period in Japanese art, and particularly Hokusai’s famous woodcut print Great Wave Off Kanagawa, Sush Machida Gaikotsu has created his most lyrical and complex body of work to date. Machida layers familiar imagery with a pop sensibility; as if Lichtenstein’s “Brushstroke” works came to life, or Pollock’s expressive markings evolved into minimal graphic compositions. Machida turns the sense of looming maelstrom into formal finished surfaces; evoking the finish fetish works of the 1960s. While the works of the pop era commented on politics and social issues, Machida addresses nature and culture and, ultimately, a larger sense of order.