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University Galleries presents Bethany Collins: A Pattern or Practice

Artwork by Bethany Collins. An edition of the Southern Review that has been dismantled and displayed. Pages are filled with blocks of black covering the text.

Bethany Collins, Southern Review, 1985 (Special Edition), 2014-2015. Charcoal on paper. 57.5 x 104 inches. Collection of Eugene Fu.

University Galleries of Illinois State University is pleased to announce the opening of Bethany Collins: A Pattern or Practice, which will be on view February 15-March 31. The most comprehensive presentation of Collins’ work to date, A Pattern of Practice presents 30 pieces created from 2012 to 2019.  All events at the University Galleries are free and open to the public.

In her drawings, prints, paintings, sculptures, and artist’s books, Collins incorporates fractured or illegible phrases, either punishingly erased or arduously rendered. As Holland Cotter recently wrote in The New York Times, “language itself, viewed as intrinsically racialized, is Bethany Collins’ primary material.” The artist elaborates, “I adore language because of its potential capacity, but if language is biased and not representative of us, it’s bound to fail.”

Collins has explored personal, bureaucratic, and lyrical language. The earliest work in the exhibition is “Do People Ever Think You’re White?” III (2012), one of Collins’ White Noise drawings, which consist of writing in white chalk on a black chalkboard. The series began in 2010 when the artist was in graduate school in Atlanta, Georgia, and the panels are filled with nearly indecipherable clusters of letters that erratically spell out racially charged critiques of her work. Collins repeatedly wrote each phrase as a means of distancing herself from it and disrupting its systemic power.

She moved from personal to more authoritative language for her later Dictionaries series. For Colorblind Dictionary (2013-2014), she methodically erased all references to color in a Webster’s New World Dictionary, while for Black and Blue Dictionary (2014), she erased all terms related to the colors black and blue in a New American Dictionary.

The exhibition’s title is quoted from A Pattern or Practice (2015), Collins’ installation of 91 blind embossed prints featuring text from the U.S. Department of Justice report on the Ferguson, Missouri, Police Department following the killing of Michael Brown by a police officer. The embossed white Somerset paper requires an intimate proximity to read the protruding letters of the report, which is entirely present except its conclusion.

Collins has recently been researching historical songs and anthems. Her America: A Hymnal, is a 2017 hardcover book containing 100 laser-cut and burned versions of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.” The artist points out that each re-writing supports causes “from temperance and suffrage to abolition and even the Confederacy,” and each “represents a proposition of what it means to be American.”

Collins’ work has been exhibited at: The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa; Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis; Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, Alabama; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio; Locust Projects, Miami; DePaul Art Museum, Chicago; Hudgens Center for the Arts, Duluth, Georgia; and The Center for Book Arts, New York, among others. Her work is included in the collections of The Art Institute of Chicago; Birmingham Museum of Art, Atlanta; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; and Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, among others.

Collins was the 2015 recipient of the Hudgens Prize at the Hudgens Center for the Arts in Duluth, Georgia, and a 2018 recipient of the Efroymson Contemporary Arts Fellowship. She has received grants, awards, and residencies from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, Hyde Park Art Center, The Studio Museum in Harlem, Artadia, and the Rural Alabama Initiative, among others. Collins was born in Montgomery, Alabama, and currently lives and works in Chicago. She received her M.F.A. at Georgia State University and her B.A. at University of Alabama. She is represented by Patron Gallery, Chicago, and Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago and New York.

University Galleries is collaborating with multiple partners to present programming during, and following, Collins’ exhibition, including Milner Library, the Children’s Discovery Museum, Normal Editions Workshop, @Salon, and Obsidian: Literature & Arts in the African Diaspora. All events are free and open to the public.

Events and programming

February 15 through March 31
Satellite exhibition of Bethany CollinsAmerica: A Hymnal at Milner Library, including a display of related publications from Milner’s collection.

Friday, February 22, from 5 to 7 p.m.
Public reception with the artist at University Galleries

Saturday, February 23 at 1 p.m.
Exhibition tour and workshop co-presented with the Children’s Discovery Museum (CDM). Participants (ages 7-10) will meet at the CDM, come to University Galleries for an exhibition tour, and return to the CDM for an exhibition-related art-making activity. Registration is required for this free program at childrensdiscoverymuseum.net. This program is made possible by an Illinois Prairie Community Foundation—Mirza Arts and Culture grant awarded to the CDM.

Saturday, March 23 at noon
Public conversation featuring artist Bethany Collins and poet, author, and performer Duriel Harris, associate professor of Creative Writing at Illinois State University. This event is co-sponsored by @Salon and Obsidian: Literature & Arts in the African Diaspora, a biannual journal edited by Harris and published by the Publications Unit at Illinois State University.

K–12 field trip programs, free curator-led tours, and workshops are available through the exhibition by appointment.

Bethany Collins: A Pattern or Practice is organized by University Galleries Director and Chief Curator Kendra Paitz. The exhibition and programming are sponsored in part by grants from the Illinois Arts Council Agency, the Harold K. Sage Foundation, and the Illinois State University Foundation Fund. An exhibition catalog is forthcoming.

The spring schedule of exhibitions and events and additional information is available on the University Galleries website. University Galleries is located at the Uptown Station at the corner of Beaufort and Broadway streets. Free parking is available in the deck directly above University Galleries; the first hour is free as well as any time after 5:01 p.m. Please contact mailto:gallery@IllinoisState.edu or call (309) 438-5487 if you need to arrange an accommodation to participate in any events related to these exhibitions or to schedule exhibition tours.

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