On the June day that “Revelations: Art from the African American South” opened at the de Young Museum, artist Lonnie Holley shared a stage with two actors who are among the most celebrated in their fields (Danny Glover and Delroy Lindo) and with art scholars who are equally esteemed. The introductory discussion was supposed to give the audience a more tangible connection to the paintings, sculpture, and other objects on display. It did, but it also confirmed something for those who had never heard of Holley: He keeps people spellbound with his oratory, humor, and insights into art-making.
Holley’s art does the same. He makes the kind of sculpture — and produces the kind of music — that changes people. It gets into their emotional and intellectual core and forces them to rethink art and history, as well as their own assumptions about how the world works.
This is not an exaggeration. This is a fact. Anyone who attended Holley’s panel discussion will testify that Holley has a gift of “vision” and “spirit” that is undeniably powerful, and that he links art — poetically and practically — to things like humanity’s ability to steer the earth’s environment back to health.
“We are the doctor, and the art is the medicine,” Holley said to rapturous applause that June day at the de Young.
Who is Lonnie Holley? He’s the artist who made a piece called A Box for Woman: The Pure White Spirit Trapped in Her Space, a work whose pink veneer and white cross overlap with a mouse trap, mouse skeleton, other animal bones, a syringe, leaves, and organic debris. Holley created it from parts he found in the kitchen of a virtually blind neighbor in…
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