Mel Ziegler: 1000 Portraits
Presented by the Atkinson Forum on American Studies: "Place, Memory, and the Public Monument," this exhibition marks the debut of Mel Ziegler's work based on his collection of vintage Mount Rushmore souvenirs. 1000 Portraits consists of 1,000 8" x 10" printed reproductions of each souvenir portrait of the presidents Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln, which line the walls of the gallery as if to emulate a large crowd or gathering. The collecting of the souvenirs, which spans 15 years, started with his curiosity of monuments in general as a trained sculptor, but this particular monument has held Ziegler's deep fascination due to "its scale, its absurdness, its iconic value, its reason for being, and simply its sheer physical attraction." His goal with the souvenirs was to produce an artwork with the aim of demonumentalizing this very monument by revealing deeper and hidden meaning beyond the face value of the four stone presidents.
Ziegler states, "The souvenir is a democratic object and as such an extension of one's experience of place. It is a complicated artifact in and of itself. That quality in combination with the historic idea of Mount Rushmore — whose subtitle happens to be 'Shrine of Democracy' — presents itself as an interesting binary opportunity. Each souvenir I have collected represents an interpretation of each president's face. Many didn't even bear any resemblance to the president depicted. It struck me that the souvenirs were, in essence, all people embedded in this monument; they were tributes to the proverbial everyman. By photographing each face within the souvenirs and then reinterpreting them as painted portraits, a more traditional art form but one with an elevated artful intention, we begin to understand the complicated meaning in this monument. Ultimately, we must get beyond the traditional interpretation of four monumental stone faces. With this exhibition — this crowd, this gathering — I am conceptually demonumentalizing Mount Rushmore to get closer to the idea of a 'Shrine of Democracy.'"
Ziegler is widely known for his collaborative work with his late partner, Kate Ericson. Beginning in the early 1980s, Ericson Ziegler pioneered the emergence of socially engaged practice and community engagement as vital forms of contemporary art. In the broadest sense, Ziegler's work asserts the value of rural identities and aesthetics and locates authentic spaces within the increasingly fragmented American experience. For Ziegler, the American landscape is a place of deep distress and profound optimism, yet his work finds new possibilities through monumentalizing and honoring the everyday. America Starts Here, the Ericson Ziegler retrospective, was co-organized by the Tang Teaching Museum and List Visual Arts Center at MIT and toured the country. Ziegler has presented solo exhibitions at venues including Secession, Vienna; Artpace, San Antonio; and the Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal. Ericson Ziegler's work is held in the collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the University of California–Berkeley Art Museum, Pacific Film Archive, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, among many others. Ziegler is a professor of art and social engagement at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. He is the founder and executive director of the Sandhills Institute in Rushville, Nebraska, which is a catalyst for developing new models of artistic citizenship in America's heartland. Ziegler is represented by Galerie Perrotin.
This exhibition is cocurated by Maria Park, associate professor and director of AAP Exhibitions and Events; and Jeffrey Chusid, associate professor and chair of the Department of City and Regional Planning.