Claremont, CA— The Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College is pleased to announce the launch of Wardell Milan: Recent Work, a two-part collaboration with the New York-based artist. The exhibition includes a new series 5 Indices on a Tortured Body which make up the artist’s first campus-based billboard project, spread across Pomona’s grounds in Claremont, California. The billboards are accompanied by an installation inside the Benton of several of his most recent monumental collages, including My knees getting weak, and my anger might explode, but if God got us then we gonna be alright (2021), a recent major acquisition by the museum. Wardell Milan: Recent Work will be on view from October 8, 2022, through April 2, 2023. The artist will be in residence at the museum from October 2 to 8 and will return for a fall exhibition celebration on Saturday, October 22.
“It’s been a joy to work closely with Wardell Milan over the past two years,” said Victoria Sancho Lobis, Sarah Rempel and Herbert S. Rempel ’23 Director of the museum. “One of the questions the pandemic brought forward is where art can and should be seen. This major billboard project helps us explore where art belongs, how we engage with it and who it is for. I’m thrilled to have the chance to live with Milan’s work both inside the walls of our museum and across the spaces of our campus.”
In the commission for the campus of Pomona College, Milan has created five billboards inspired by a philosophical treatise. The text, Fifty-eight Indices on the Body by French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy, examines the nature of the human body: its limits, its function, its relationship to the intangible features of humanity—spirit, essence, soul, mind. The artist has engaged this text as a provocation to reconsider the body—our collective bodies—as it and as we have navigated these last years of isolation, polarization, and perseverance. Choosing five bodies to explore and uphold, Milan revisits the eternal theme of the human figure through the urgent context of contemporary American experience.
5 Indices on a Tortured Body makes visible and even monumental those figures in society so often rendered invisible through marginalization or discrimination: the Black male body, the female body, the migrant body, the quarantine body, and the trans body. Each of these “bodies” is depicted on its own billboard. Milan uses different dimensions and styles of image-making in each billboard to consider the individuality of each of these marginalized bodies. He deploys here the visual strategies of fragmentation, distortion, and abbreviation.
The same strategies are at play in Milan’s works featured in the installation in the Fletcher Jones Foundation Foyer of the Benton. Four recent works are presented there, including My knees getting weak, and my anger might explode, but if God got us then we gonna be alright (2021), which was acquired by the museum earlier this year. Milan created these works with a wide range of materials, including charcoal, graphite, pastel, oil pastel, acrylic paint, and collaged paper, which in their layering register the complexity of individual, social, and collective experience. These four works all date from the recent past (2019–2021), however, their monumental compositional strategies elicit references to iconic works of art history.
Wardell Milan: Recent Work speaks directly to our current social climate. The power of the two-part collaboration lies in the beauty that Milan infuses into the human experiences of grief and hope, interior and exterior life, difference and complexity, rage and fear.
The billboard suite 5 Indices on a Tortured Body was commissioned by Pomona College and emerges from a series of performances with the same title first presented at the Bronx Museum in 2021. This project has been made possible by the Fund for Art in Public Places and by the Art Acquisitions and Programs Fund.
About the Artist
Wardell Milan (b. 1977 in Knoxville, Tennessee) is an artist working in both two- and three-dimensions to explore issues of personal identity, freedom, expression, and the physical body. His practice includes photography, drawing, painting, performance, and sculpture. He received a BFA from the University of Tennessee and an MFA from Yale University. Now based in New York, Milan was an artist in residence at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine and received a Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grants to Artists award in 2014. His work is in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago; Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago; Denver Art Museum; Brooklyn Museum; Hessel Museum of Art, Bard College; Museum of Modern Art; Morgan Library & Museum; The Studio Museum in Harlem; Whitney Museum of American Art; UBS Art Collection; Daniel and Florence Guerlain Contemporary Art Foundation, Paris; Hall Art Foundation; and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.