Blog / A Wangechi Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Posted By Wendy Hower

Wangechi Mutu

We send our original Nasher Museum exhibitions out to institutions around the world with excitement and, well … curiosity.
How will our exhibition look out there?

Wangechi Mutu: A Fantastic Journey opened at the Nasher Museum in March and traveled to the Brooklyn Museum, where artist Wangechi Mutu worked with angles, narrow passages and other space constraints to recreate her enchanted forest. We asked Mutu to talk about how her exhibition evolves from venue to venue.

“Basically this experience for me is first and foremost rather new, because I get to visit each and every venue in all of these museums and interpret the work–previously made work, some of it coming from over 12, 13 years ago and other works [that] are more recent,” Mutu said, from her Brooklyn studio, in remarks she recorded especially for the Nasher Museum Blog. “They’re all poured into these environments, these spaces, in a way that makes them fit the architecture, the vessel,  that these museums are providing me. So my point is to make sure that the title of the show is apparent in the experience of the works in the exhibition by giving the viewer as many interesting and exciting ways to understand and approach the ideas in the work, making it as much as possible into an idea of journey, idea of exploration, idea of movement. So I’m adapting certain installation and sculptural and soft-sculptural elements onto the walls. I’m working around the challenging parts of the spaces by molding them, giving them a feeling of a softer shift. I’m giving the exhibition a certain sense of chapters, so you feel like you’re not thrown into one large landscape, but in fact you have these intimate rooms and spaces to think within, and each space is different.”

An important element throughout Wangechi Mutu: A Fantastic Journey is a felt blanket with many uses, perhaps most recognizably in relief efforts by humanitarian organizations around the world. The artist chooses this soft, malleable material to transform the galleries and to build root structures for trees, which we saw here at the Nasher Museum. In Brooklyn, however, Mutu’s signature trees are bigger–and she made more of them. Mutu also infused the wrinkled, Middle Earthen trunks with bright red lace panties that spring from the folds like unexpected fruits. She embellished the base of the gallery walls with paint, creating the illusion of grass. The artist’s installation of sketchbook pages also evolved when the show traveled to Brooklyn; she added new collage elements.

“Nasher Museum had an incredibly open and very interpretable space; it was a space I could do almost anything to,” Mutu said. “Brooklyn Museum has the Judy Chicago Dinner Party, smack in the middle of the feminist wing, so it’s actually divided into one long gallery and another triangular shaped gallery with an angled wall. These are not easy, and I bring this up because they’re quite challenging types of architectural nuances to work around. So how to make the show about my work and this specific idea and less about another conversation?  How does one do that? One does that by enjoying the business of molding, reshaping and mutating the space, very much like I do within the collage work.”

The exhibition will be on view at the Brooklyn Museum through March 9 and travel to the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, in April 2014, and finally to the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL,  in September 2014.

“In a way it’s to make sure I’m not bored in showing each and every exhibition,” Mutu said. “I want to be excited, I want the viewer to feel the anticipation and the excitement and not the feeling that, oh, this is that show was over there, and I’ve seen it before or I heard all about it and saw images about it and I don’t need to see it. It’s got to be something that is dynamic and present for me in order for me to be able to speak to anybody else convincingly.”

Special thanks to Trevor Schoonmaker, Chief Curator and Patsy R. and Raymond D. Curator of Contemporary Art at the Nasher Museum, who organized the exhibition.
Wangechi Mutu
Wangechi Mutu

IMAGES: Installation views of “Wangechi Mutu: A Fantastic Journey” at the Brooklyn Museum.



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