WATERBURY, CT – On Sunday, May 2, The Mattatuck Museum opened “A Face Like Mine,” a new exhibition that examines Black life by positioning African-American artists to depict their own lives and culture from the Harlem Renaissance to the present day. A Face Like Mine includes over 75 works of paintings, sculpture, prints, textiles, and photographs by artists Romare Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett, Jacob Lawrence, Kerry James Marshall, Faith Ringgold, Lorna Simpson, James VanDerZee, and Kehinde Wiley and will explore themes such as identity, family, community, politics and performance. The exhibition is held in conjunction with the Grand Opening of the Mattatuck’s newly renovated and expanded facility.
A Face Like Mine is the second in a three-part exhibition series developed in collaboration with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The MFA Boston is the lead museum from the Northeast cohort of the Art Bridges + Terra Foundation initiative. The initiative, wholly funded by Art Bridges, supports multi-year exhibition partnerships with the mission of expanding access to American art across the U.S. Additional financial support was provided by Art Bridges; Carmody Torrance Sandak & Hennessey LLP; Eversource Energy; Morgan Stanley, John T. Daddona, Vice President, Financial Advisor; Post University; TD Bank Charitable Foundation; and Torrco.
Rather than presenting the art chronologically, A Face Like Mine has arranged the works thematically. The diversity of the works within each theme will challenge visitors to transcend time and place to reflect on the ideas and messages within each work, drawing broader connections between them, and deepen viewers’ understanding of the Black experience in the United States.
By exhibiting artwork spanning 100 years, A Face Like Mine illustrates how the representation of the African-American experience has changed over time. The variety of scale and the changes in artistic practice are evident within each thematic division, enlivening the physical space and creating a dialogue between historic and contemporary artists.
A Face Like Mine has been organized by Dr. Cynthia Roznoy, Mattatuck Museum Curator, and Martina Tanga, Curatorial Research and Interpretation Associate at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Works from the MFA collection and the Mattatuck Museum are joined by selections from other institutions and private collectors. This exhibition also provides The Mattatuck Museum (The MATT) with an opportunity to highlight recent acquisitions that reflect its concerted efforts over the past six years to enhance its collection of African-American art and art created by women.
One of the driving forces in the redesign of the Museum was the desire to make the building more open, more inviting and more transparent. The former façade was a solid brick wall flanked by two vertical windows, each darkened with film to obscure the view from outside. The MATT’s mission is to be a “gathering place that nurtures creativity and learning” and leadership of the Museum were convinced that to fulfill that mission it was essential to transform the building.
The design of the new Museum is open, free-flowing and flooded with natural light brought in by the floor to ceiling windows overlooking Waterbury’s historic Green. Passersby can see into the foyer, café, and studio. In the new elevator tower, art in the elevator lobbies is visible from the street. The new plaza and garden outside the building offer an inviting setting to contemplate the outdoor sculptures or to meet a friend for a quiet chat.
Waterbury is a city that has developed over time as a patchwork quilt of diverse and distinct neighborhoods. These little “villages” have grown up around shared ethnicities, shared religion and shared histories. Although the neighborhoods have changed with time, they remain a focal point for these diverse communities. With more than 40 languages spoken in the Waterbury schools, the city is rich with varied backgrounds and experiences; the Museum is working to reflect this diversity through its exhibitions and programs.
Past exhibitions and programs sought to increase outreach to the Museum’s immediate community, which includes many BIPOC (Black, indigenous, people of color). By re-imagining the physical space and reflecting the community on the gallery walls, the Museum is beginning a dialogue that will help to define its path forward. The African-American community is the largest minority community in the city and was selected as the focus for opening exhibits. A Face Like Mine is the largest exhibition of works related to the African-American experience in the Museum’s history. This exhibition and the associated programs are only the first chapter in the new history being forged by the Museum.
“It was important to feature this exhibition as part of the Grand Opening to reflect the Museum’s desire to be inclusive and welcoming, in particular to the surrounding community that has not always seen itself reflected within the Museum,” says Mattatuck Museum Director Robert Burns. “This is part of a larger effort to live by our mission and core values when developing exhibitions and programs.”
Among the contributors that assisted in the development of the exhibition, catalog, and accompanying programs is Rodney Miller, senior managing director of J.P. Morgan’s mergers and acquisitions group and an African-American art collector who focuses on works created by Black artists. In addition to loaning several works from his private collection to the exhibition, Miller helped identify other artists and collectors for inclusion. Exhibition planning began in 2017, but in the wake of the events of the summer of 2020 and the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement, this opportunity for engagement with Black artists has become even more important. In a recent conversation between Roznoy and Miller, after the death of George Floyd, Miller stated that “this exhibition was important, but now it is essential.”
Roznoy credits Atina Sutton, the Assistant Art Curator for the Culture - Fine Arts and Heritage Collections at Citi Center for Culture, as being instrumental in identifying the themes that the exhibition is structured around. “Atina was brought on to write an essay and collaborate in the creation of the exhibition catalogue but became an integral voice in the planning process as the exhibition took shape,” she says.
Unlike other major exhibitions at American museums in the last five years that focused on place and/or a specific aspect of Black life, A Face Like Mine surveys figuration in African-American art and it is unified over the depiction of people.
EDUCATION AND PUBLIC PROGRAMS
The Mattatuck Museum is a community resource for art and history education. The MATT has developed a host of programs inspired by this exhibition for students, families, and adults interested in a variety of subjects, including art, history, literature, music, and sports. This series of public programs will highlight African-American art and culture in the United States, and particularly in Waterbury. A Face Like Mine will be directly incorporated into school tours for students from Waterbury and other area school districts to complement their curriculum and augment the work that teachers are doing in the classroom.
The thematic approach to the exhibition will continue through the programs developed for families, and adults. These programs will not only present art in an historical context but will also create multidisciplinary approaches that bring in aspects of music, architecture, social and political perspective, and present new lenses through which visitors can interpret the artworks. To learn more about these programs and others associated with A Face Like Mine, visit the Museum’s website at mattmuseum.org/calendar.
ABOUT THE MATTATUCK MUSEUM
Located in the heart of downtown Waterbury’s architectural district, the Mattatuck Museum is a vibrant destination, known locally and regionally as a community-centered institution of American art and history. The collections at The MATT span the history of American art from the colonial era to the present day with special strengths in Naugatuck Valley history and Connecticut artists, as well as artists from around the world representing the diversity of our community. The collection includes more than 8,000 objects including paintings, unique works on paper, photography and sculpture.
Over the past two years, the Mattatuck has undergone a $9 million renovation project to reimagine the Museum while continuing to be a welcoming, inclusive, stimulating and enriching community anchor. During construction, the Museum operated out of Rose Hill, a nearby historic house, and continued to offer exhibitions and public programs. The “new” Mattatuck Museum, designed by Ann Beha Architects, includes an extensive 14,000 square foot renovation to the existing space and an addition of almost 7,000 square feet to enhance public access, educational programming, collections storage, and exhibitions.
The Mattatuck Museum is operated with support from the Connecticut Department of Economic & Community Development/CT Office of the Arts, which also receives support from the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency, and is a member of the Connecticut Art Trail, a group of 21 world-class museums and historic sites (ctarttrail.org). The Mattatuck Museum is located on the Green in Waterbury, CT at 144 West Main Street.
The Museum is open for timed admission, Monday-Saturday from 11:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. and Sunday from 11:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. with additional hours on Thursday nights until 7:00 p.m. Admission tickets can be purchased online at mattmuseum.org/visit. The website also outlines the Museum’s updated guidelines for visitors, including what to expect on your visit, cleaning and safety protocols, and frequently asked questions. Follow The MATT on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for more updates and content.
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