Gary Burnley’s collages explore representation, memory, and an image’s meaning through contrast in the exhibition Stranger(s) in the Village at the Amarillo Museum of Art.
Gary Burnley: Stranger(s) in the Village
January 14–March 26, 2023
Amarillo Museum of Art
Gary Burnley (b. Saint Louis, Missouri) creates physical collages that encourage dissociated images to merge in the eye and mind of the viewer. Resulting in optical rivalries that explore representation, memory, and an image’s meaning through contrast, his amalgamations imagine strange bedfellows congruent for moments in time, space, and reason. The title of this exhibition, Stranger(s) in the Village, is taken from an essay by the writer and activist James Baldwin. In the essay, Baldwin relates his experience of visiting an isolated Swiss village whose residents had never seen a Black man before.
Gary Burnley states, “Black Americans live in the same world as white folks only we live in it differently. Duality is part of our identity, present in how we are seen as well as how we see ourselves. Within the world of art, I felt like an interloper. Over time the irrational, inconsistent allegories that symbolized the duality of my existence; the layers of stereotypes, simultaneous perspectives, and contradictory expectations accompanying a double consciousness W.E.B. Dubois speaks of, became the foundation of the images I create.
“The world of most Western museums was created for, and is meant to be consumed by, white audiences. The history of art has largely reduced Others to an uncomplicated characterization of a stranger in the world of the white man’s imagination, a shadowy figure without a gaze, a presence, or a voice. Whiteness is and has been the exemplar of beauty, curated, maintained, and preserved in museums, excluding non-whites except in reference to a vanishing past or less-than-desirable future.
“I think of being an artist as a way of trespassing where historically, Others have not been welcomed nor seen as belonging. If one of the primary functions of any image is to validate and give permanence to the world it describes and to the persons that inhabit that world, the physicality of collage allows me to, materially and psychologically, construct a world of my specification. A world of previously uninhabited territory where I am able to share context, content, dividends, features, traits, reason, and consequences in the eye and mind of the viewer. A world where I am free to traverse time, conflate and query a variety of sources, upending expectations and modifying vernacular.”
Burnley received a BFA from Washington University in St. Louis and an MFA from Yale University. His work is part of many museum and private collections in the US, including the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and others. His work has also been included in solo and group exhibitions throughout the United States and abroad. Burnley is the recipient of individual artist fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the State of Connecticut, the New York State Council for the Arts, and the Creative Artist Public Service Program. Burnley is also a recipient of the 2022 Guggenheim Fellowship and has received generous support from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the Aftermath Project, and Light Work, Syracuse.