Language shapes our understanding of the world and the character of our interpersonal relationships. A new exhibition of contemporary art at the Brigham Young University Museum of Art explores the nature of language and its effect on our lives.
“The Matter of Words: Adam Bateman, Harrell Fletcher, and John Fraser” features 46 works of art by three contemporary artists that reference the medium of the printed word. These works transcend the original contexts of their subjects, while giving expression to the powerful formal properties of their media.
For example, artist John Fraser uses the spines, covers and end papers of worn books to create Piet Mondrian-like compositions that reflect the format of the books from which they are derived.
“The Matter of Words: Adam Bateman, Harrell Fletcher and John Fraser” will be on view from Friday, April 8 through Saturday, Nov. 26, 2011, in the Marian Adelaide Morris Cannon Gallery on the main level of the museum. Admission to the exhibition is free.
This exhibition is generously supported by Worldwide Book Drive. Free docent-led tours can be scheduled with at least one week’s notice by calling the Museum Education Department at (801) 422-1140. More information will be available on the Museum of Art website,
The Museum of Art will host an exhibition preview on Thursday, April 7, 2011, from 7 to 9 p.m. Participants will enjoy entertainment and light refreshments in the Museum Café in conjunction with the opening. The public is invited to attend.
“The words we choose reflect our mindsets and establish our connections to our physical and social environments,” said Jeff Lambson, curator of contemporary art at the BYU Museum of Art. “Language can be thought of as a landscape of codes that we negotiate in order to understand or express a particular world or personal view.”
Adam Bateman’s and Harrell Fletcher’s works illustrate the idea of language as landscape.
Bateman’s work explores the relationship between language and objects, especially art objects. His study of language, as well as his interest in linguistic theory, prompted his creation of artworks that explore the ideas of object as language and language as object. For Bateman, language is made up of arbitrary symbols that have meaning when arranged in a certain way. His site-specific book sculpture in this exhibition is comprised of approximately 80,000 pounds of books — the equivalent weight of 30 to 40 cars — and resembles a geologic cross section of the Earth.
During Fletcher’s residency at Artspace in San Antonio, he met and befriended Veda Epling, a homeless woman then living in a church’s doorway. The artist noticed that Epling had a curious habit: she obsessively highlighted Bibles, imposing a code of her own invention upon page after page of scripture.
Fletcher provided Veda with materials, several Bibles and colored highlighters, and commissioned her to create these new works. Veda worked obsessively to communicate her idiosyncratic vision through the medium of the printed pages of her scriptures. Her Bibles are an example of the use of a restricted language code, as she is the only person who can understand her color-coded communications between herself and God. Her landscape is the landscape of communication.
Veda has been rewarded through a fund established by the artist from the sale of these works.
The works in this exhibition also pay homage to the Minimalist, Modernist, and Conceptual Art of the latter part of the 20th century. Modernism is the aesthetic that utilizes the most pared down elements to express significant ideas. Relying essentially on simple geometric forms such as the sphere, cube, line, and the space they inhabit, Modernist works of art inherently form a relationship with the viewer in a landscape-like setting.
“In an age of electronic media where the printed word is rapidly being dematerialized as a result of digital forms, ‘the matter of words’ may soon become an outmoded concept,” Lambson said.