Martin Johnson

September 2 – October 16, 2011

This mid-career survey of Johnson’s work offered the Richmond community the first opportunity to view his paintings, sculptures and installations in more than 20 years. Johnson had last exhibited in Richmond as part of the VMFA’s Un/Common Ground: Virginia Artists exhibition in 1990.

Stylistically linked to folk art, art brut and outsider art, Johnson creates theatrical and playful sculptures, paintings, assemblages, and installations. For more than 30 years he has transformed found objects and non-traditional artists’ materials into a whimsical extravaganza of image and text. Johnson intends for his installations to engulf the viewer in the artist’s experimental assessment of language, consumerism, accumulation and abundance.

FORward featured a site-specific installation and more than 100 sculptures, paintings, collages and constructions created by Johnson from 1974 to the summer of 2011. This exhibition both reevaluated his early work and introduced his recent sculptures and paintings and methods of studio practice.

Born in New Jersey in 1951, Johnson moved with his family to Richmond at age five. He earned a degree in Architecture from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and an MFA in Studio Art from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Upon graduating from UNC in 1977, he moved to New York City where he was granted a studio at PS1, the landmark institute of contemporary art that is now a permanent exhibition site for the Museum of Modern Art.

From his studio at PS1, Johnson attracted the attention and support of curator Marcia Tucker, director of the New Museum of Contemporary Art, and gallery owner Phyllis Kind. Johnson was represented by Phyllis Kind Gallery in Chicago and New York from 1979 to 1987, and his work was collected during this period by Richard Brown Baker, Charles Beneson, Mr. and Mrs. Edwin Bergman, Alan Koppel, Don and Mera Rubell, and famed conceptual art collectors Herb and Dorothy Vogel. Recently, as part of the Vogels “50 x 50” gift to museums and art institutions across America, Johnson’s work entered the collections of 35 museums, including the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the National Gallery of Art.

In 1987, Johnson abandoned his thriving art career in New York and moved his young family back to Virginia. Since then, he has continued to work prolifically in his studio while maintaining a full-time career as president of Virginia Marketing Associates, a sales agency based in Richmond.

Johnson has presented his work in numerous solo and group exhibitions, including PS1, School of the Visual Arts, New York, the Virginia Museum of Fine Art, the Chrysler Museum, the High Museum of Art, and the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art. His work is in the permanent collections of the Yale University Art Gallery, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Miami Museum of Art, and the Portland Museum of Art, among others.

Ray Kass, adjunct curator of Southeast American Art the Taubman Museum of Art, delivered a gallery talk on Johnson’s work on Thursday, Sept. 15, at 6:30 PM. Free public screenings of the acclaimed documentary film on the Vogels, Herb and Dorothy, took place on Thursday, Sept. 22, at 7:30 p.m. and Tuesday, Oct. 4 at 7:30 p.m.

Exhibitions at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond are supported by Altria Group, Inc. Visual Arts Center of Richmond receives support from the Virginia Commission for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.