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Common Ground: Discovering Community in 150 Years of Art -- Selections from the Collection of Julia J. Norrell

October 23, 2004 - January 31, 2005


Common Ground presents an exploration of community and its complex web of human connections. Celebrating the universal human experiences of struggle, transcendence and redemption, the exhibition showcases such notable artists as Shimon Attie, Whitfield Lovell, Carrie Mae Weems, Roy DeCarava, Fred Wilson, Malick Sidibé, Howard Finster, Jacob Lawrence and William Christenberry, among others. Dedicated to building bridges between cultural understanding and art, Julia "Judy" Norrell has assembled an outstanding collection that addresses the notion of a collective past and the role of memory and activism in finding common ground among diverse communities. Encompassing photography, painting, sculpture and works on paper, Common Ground: Discovering Community in 150 Years of Art is on view at the Corcoran Gallery of Art from October 23, 2004 through January 31, 2005.

"There are many different ways in which artists have explored the nature and diversity of 'community' during the past 150 years: as a sense of place and as a concept that defines our bonds with the outside world," notes Philip Brookman, Corcoran Senior Curator of Photography and Media Arts. "This is always a process of discovery, one that emerges from relationships established between artists and communities. Artists' responsibilities have not been simply to observe or document the world we know, but to create from their observations new and progressive ways for us to see into universal human experiences."

From an early focus on books and folk art from the American South, Norrell has expanded her collection to encompass more than 1,500 works by artists from throughout the United States and abroad. Featuring approximately 185 works of 19th, 20th and 21st-century photography, painting, sculpture and works on paper, Common Ground is divided into five sections guided by key themes: past and present; a sense of place; community; hope and belief; and memory and tribute.


Past and Present addresses historical events and political struggles in the United States and abroad, as well as how photography pictures the passage of time. This section features pieces by James VanDerZee, Deborah Luster, Walker Evans and Roman Vishniac, among others.
A Sense of Place explores land, nature and people's relationship to the environment; this section highlights major works by Ben Shahn, Renée Stout, Beverly Buchanan and Gordon Parks.
The Community section delves into the territory of places, people, kinship and race and incorporates a diverse selection of works by Dorothea Lange, Lewis Hine, Jim Goldberg and Margaret Bourke-White, among others.
Hope and Belief focuses on the universal concepts of belief, faith and loss and concentrates on works by Brassai, Addison Scurlock, Richard Misrach and Edward Grazda.
Memory and Tribute is devoted to works about family, dreams, memoirs and personal narratives and includes pieces by William Eggleston, Eudora Welty and David Driskell.


"When I first started collecting art, I chose works that spoke to me in an immediate, visceral way. Over time, I was increasingly drawn to pieces that addressed tough, universal issues such as racial conflict, hypocrisy, politics and religious intolerance," comments the Washington, DC-based Norrell. "Growing up in the South, I witnessed inequity and dire limitations on freedom. I was one of those Southerners who loved the South but hated the irrationality, hated the cruelty, hated the ignorance disguised by arrogance."



The daughter of two members of Congress from Arkansas, Julia J. Norrell grew up in Monticello, Arkansas and in Washington, DC. She attended The Holton-Arms School, Ohio Wesleyan University, and in 1957, before beginning her law studies at George Washington University, accepted a Fulbright Fellowship to study philosophy at the University of Madras in India. While in India, Norrell traveled with her Leica camera and three lenses and thought about becoming a professional photographer, though ultimately she preferred to view images rather than make them. Norrell has been a lobbyist for all her professional life.



The exhibition catalogue is published by Merrell in association with the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Featuring 130 illustrations (40 in color), the catalogue includes a preface by President Bill Clinton; essays by Jacquelyn Days Serwer, Corcoran Chief Curator, Philip Brookman, Corcoran Senior Curator of Photography and Media Arts, Paul Roth, Corcoran Associate Curator of Photography and Media Arts, Merry A. Foresta, Senior Curator of Photographic Collections for the Smithsonian Institution, and Julia J. Norrell; and biographical information about the featured artists.



Artist Talk: Deborah Luster
Thursday, October 21 at 7 pm
In this free slide-illustrated talk, artist Deborah Luster traces her career as a photographer. The lecture will take place in the Frances and Armand Hammer Auditorium at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. For additional information, call (202) 639-1727.
Family day
Saturday, October 23, 2004, 10 am to 3 pm
This free all-day, all-ages, all-out celebration at DC's neighborhood museum will include art-making workshops, storytelling, live music, theatrical performances, and family tours of the Corcoran's current exhibition Common Ground: Selection from the Collection of Julia J. Norrell. No reservations are required for this event. For additional information, call (202) 639-1727.



Common Ground: Discovering Community in 150 Years of Art, Selections from the Collection of Julia J. Norrell is organized by the Corcoran Gallery of Art and supported by The President's Exhibition Fund.



Following the presentation at the Corcoran, Common Ground: Discovering Community in 150 Years of Art, Selections from the Collection of Julia J. Norrell will begin a national tour.

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