Mementos: Paths That Cross
Images from the show Mementos: Paths That Cross
Material Exhibitions, 2025 W. Belmont, Chicago, IL, 29 Aug-19 Sept, 2021
Photo Documentation: Jean Frater Alexander
Essay: Jefferson Godard, Curator, Salina Art Center
When visiting Nancy Wisti Grayson’s Mementos: Paths that Cross, one is immediately struck with wanderlust. Travel and her memories of these travels are gifts that the artist shares with us as we navigate this series of paintings and wall sculptures installed at Material Exhibitions. Since we are currently bereft of doing so otherwise, it is an offering to step inside these concatenations of historically important paintings and allegories. Framed as fragments, the viewer can easily piece together familiar and canonized artworks, while being diverted with snippets of works that echo material configurations rather than seemingly dismantled references. It is almost as if we are meant to re-navigate our understanding of this exhibition space with the artists’ evocations rather than by historical allusions. While most of these original paintings exist in important museums throughout the world, the artist offers the viewer new connections which entice us to make new connections. Chronology, hierarchy, and symbolism are dissolved in this exhibition where works are placed around the viewer.
Famed fashion impresario Dianna Vreeland once exclaimed “The eye has to travel,” and Wisti Grayson certainly does this in Mementos. Arranged within clusters, spread out, or layered, these delightful works are situated at varying heights within Material Exhibition’s space. Some even gingerly resting on the floor echo a cinematic space that parallels this history yet allows for new narratives to take place. This cinematic space is further evidenced in the way in which Wisti Grayson renders her works. Individually, they hearken pieces broken off while collectively, we are meant to connect; yet this artist trusts the viewer to make their own conclusions. By giving us familiarity, we are left to then venture on our own. Granted, these themes are quite serious, ranging from Goya’s references to the devil in Witches’ Sabbath, or the wrath of the Franco-Prussian War, which was echoed in War by Henri Rousseau, yet the artist does not hold us vigilant to the referent. Even through the somber and serious natures of these mentions, the artist brings her own nostalgic leanings, even humorous ones.
Sentimentality is often a pejorative, but here it is both guide and confidant. Elvis, Howard Finster, and even Henri Rousseau are cajoled in a small black silhouetted bird entitled Howard, Henri and Elvis at Three Are All Angels To Me, inviting us to alleviate the serious nature of many of these references and just laugh. Befit with overalls and spread wings, this humorous and uplifting work cautions us not to be too certain of the serious tone, demonic references, and art historical cannon that surround us. Rather, we are comforted, entertained, and bemused by these mementos. Wisti Grayson gives the viewer a much needed respite with Mementos, and we are equally as better off for having made the journey.
Salina Art Center