Frontiers: Collecting the Art of Our Time

Beatriz Milhazes, O Paraiso, 1997, acrylic on canvas, 177.80 x 189.23 cm., Charlotte E. W. Buffington Fund, 1999.2

Through February 12, 2006

In 1998, the Worcester Art Museum announced a significant addition to its endowment for an ongoing program in contemporary art and, with it, a renewed commitment to collect the work made within the last 10 years by living artists from around the world. It is an outlook that assures the Museum's ongoing engagement with the present and emphasizes acquiring works by a younger generation of artists.

Frontiers marks the first occasion that a significant selection of acquisitions from this growing contemporary collection will be on view. Characterized by a youthful and multicultural personality as well as a diversity of materials, processes, and concepts existing simultaneously, Frontiers is a mirror of the formal and cultural hybrids typical of art making today.

While we might imagine how the art in Frontiers will reflect for future generations many of the cultural developments and social conditions of recent years, when seen today within the context of the Museum's historic collection, reminds us that all the art in the Museum's collection was at one time “contemporary art.” The Worcester Art Museum has a strong tradition of collecting the new work of living artists, going back to the daring purchase of a 1908 Water Lilies canvas by Claude Monet in 1910. Nearly a century later, the Museum's acquisition in 2001 of Bill Viola's video, Union, created in 2000, exemplifies how its collection continues to reflect the most current artistic practices and to embody the same dynamics as the time to which it belongs.

Contemporary art, in any format, is a critical tool for everyone who is interested in learning about and participating in today's world through the creative core inherent in each of us. The art in Frontiers broadly explores the contradictions of the times in which we live with deliberate and provocative juxtapositions of detailed naturalism and pure fantasy, of the handcrafted object and the digitally-produced image. Artists are experimenting with new forms of narrative and revitalizing the potentials of abstraction. They are sampling from the grab bag of the latest scientific and technological data while also looking for meaning through a thrift-store vernacular.

With a combined spirit of expectancy and urgency characteristic of the beginning of a new century, today's artist-visionaries embrace the world's uncertainties while navigating its complexities. Appealing to our innate sense of adventure and desire for knowledge, artists regularly open doors to thinking about contemporary experience in ways that did not exist before. This exhibition features over 40 artists, from as far away as Bogota and as close to home as Boston and Worcester, who inspire us to follow them into four thematic “frontiers,” as they envision the possibilities of place in Uncommon Terrains, re-imagine the human body's symbolic potential in Human Nature(s), probe the sensory and physical worlds in Material Revelations, and weave narratives of life and myth in Telling Tales.

Artists represented include Laylah Ali, Polly Apfelbaum, Fiona Banner, Claire Barclay, Uta Barth, Richard Billingham, Ambreen Butt, Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons, Willie Cole, Melvin Edwards, Tony Feher, Robert Ferrandini, Salomon Huerta, Jim Isermann, Howard Johnson, Byron Kim, Jim Lambie, Charles LeDray, Sharon Lockhart, David Maisel, Milton Montenegro, Catherine Opie, Iņigo Manglano-Ovalle, Beatriz Milhazes, Paul Noble, John O'Reilly, Nam June Paik, Sigmar Polke, Jennifer Reeves, Faith Ringgold, Alexander Ross, Doris Salcedo, Gary Schneider, Jenny Scobel, Yinka Shonibare, Amy Sillman, Kiki Smith, Lily van der Stokker, Do-Ho Suh, Shellburne Thurber, Bill Viola, and Rachel Whiteread.

Learn more about this exhibition in the Gallery Guide.

Supported by the Don and Mary Melville Contemporary Art Fund. Additional support provided by the Worcester Telegram & Gazette and WICN Public Radio 90.5 FM New England's Jazz & Folk Station.


Related Events

Exhibition Opening Reception
Saturday, November 12, 2005, 7-10PM
Celebrate the openings of two exhibitions of contemporary art, Frontiers and AFTERBURN: Willie Cole with the sounds of Solomon Murungo, cocktails, and eclectic sweets and savories. $10 members, $20 nonmembers. RSVP by November 8 to 508.799.4406, x3105 or by e-mailing

Family Day: Contemporary Connections
Sunday, November 20, 2005, 1-4:30PM
Discover the exciting world of contemporary art in this fresh and fun adventure for all ages. Art-making activities, performances, scavenger hunts, and much more. Free with Museum admission, and always free for ages 17 & under. Family Day is sponsored by Bank of America.

The Conservator's Perspective: Jim Coddington
Thursday, January 5, 2006, 6:30PM
It has been asked of museums and conservators: what are we saving and who are we saving it for? Contemporary art places these questions in especially stark relief by constantly expanding the definition of art and the materials eligible to create a work of art. The fugitive and temporal nature of some art even raises the question of how to preserve the intangible in any work that will ultimately disappear. This talk, led by Jim Coddington, Chief Conservator at MoMA, will attempt to illuminate this abstract discussion with concrete examples as well as theoretical approaches to preservation of the art of our time. Event includes a wine and cheese reception. Free with museum admission, but seating is limited. Support for this event has been provided by The Amelia & Robert Hutchinson Haley Memorial Lectures Fund.

Artist Talk: Jenny Scobel
Saturday, January 14, 2006, 2PM
Join New York artist Jenny Scobel at the Museum for a discussion of her art and her artistic process. Following the talk, come see her graphite and gesso drawing, March (2003), in the exhibition Frontiers: Collecting the Art of Our Time. Free with museum admission, but seating is limited.

Select Images from the Exhibition