To begin to know an artist is to know what they make and why, but how often do we ask ourselves what artworks they collect? Juan Logan: Creating and Collecting, now on view at the Bo Bartlett Center, attempts to answer this seldom asked, but significant question. Logan, who lives and works in his childhood hometown of Belmont, NC, has had a long and successful career. His work can be found in the collections of the Whitney and the Philidelphia Museum of Art, among other museums and collections. Logan has long established himself as a socially-conscious modernist, developing a personal iconography that spans the various media in which he works. Creating and Collecting gives viewers a unique opportunity to see Logan’s own work alongside the works of artists who have not merely inspired him, but whose work he has added to his personal collection.
Creating and Collecting deals largely in relationships. Much of what Logan has collected was made by close friends or collaborators. Elizabeth Catlett, featured in the exhibition, was a dear friend who Logan showed with in New York early in his career. Beyond personal relationships, viewers will find that Logan’s work strongly relates to the works he has acquired. A painting titled Elegy XVI (2017), featuring Logan’s signature head symbols, hangs in proximity to Robert Motherwell’s impenetrably black Running Elegy (1983). Didactics on the wall explain why Logan collects works by Jasper Johns. The heads that permeate Logan’s works are akin to the recurrence of the American flag in Johns’. Logan’s Outskirts 6 (2014), composed of the silhouettes of hundreds of tiny puzzle pieces, is in direct dialogue with the intricate pattern of tiny triangles in Anni Albers’s Second Movement 1 (1978). It is clear that Logan’s work is neither derivative of nor deferential to the works in his collection. Instead, this exhibition displays a conversation between Logan and his peers.
The venue in which Creating and Collecting is mounted only helps to fortify the concept of relationships. The Bo Bartlett Center, which opened in 2019, is the project of Columbus, GA native and realist painter, Bo Bartlett. Occupying the top floor of Columbus State University’s art building, the gallery is spacious but compact. Its open-concept design means that Bartlett’s monumental paintings are often in the line of sight of Logan’s exhibition. In any other case, this may be a serious drawback, but here it serves powerfully. When viewers make their way to the back of the Center, they find a gallery filled with Bartletts. Logan’s Foundation (2008), however, sits squarely in the middle. Foundation is made up of 44 cast-iron blocks stacked in a pyramidal shape. Each block is cast with the same stylized figure on its hands and knees, presenting a flat back upon which the other blocks appear to rest. The sculpture, as monumental as the paintings surrounding it, signifies slave labor. Bartlett’s Civil War (1994) hangs in the distance directly behind Foundation, functioning as its de facto backdrop. Civil War depicts a genteel young woman in a cascading white dress cradling a Black male figure. He drapes across her lap in a manner reminiscent of Michelangelo’s Pietà. Foundation alone asks us to reckon with an unjust, cruel past, and in combination with Civil War, the effect is only amplified. Meaning is added not only to each individual work, but to the very effect of curation.
Juan Logan: Creating and Collecting is on view at the Bo Bartlett Center through June 18.