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19 Oct 2023

Both/And: Immaterial Mediators with Julianne Swartz

Many artists from AFAM’s collection, such as Emery Blagdon, Judith Scott, Melvin Edward Nelson, and Lonnie Holley transform found materials and everyday objects into vehicles for ritual, healing, and communion. These practices straddle material and immaterial realms, building bridges between earthbound sensation and spiritual transcendence. In this context, the medium of art is polysemic, operating simultaneously as the material of artistic expression and as mediators channeling otherworldly thoughts. 

Curator Brooke Wyatt is joined by Julianne Swartz, a sculptor who combines sonic performative acts and installation to build spaces for intergenerational communication and care. Focusing on works from the “In the Spirit” section of Material Witness: Folk and Self-Taught Artists at Work, the speakers will discuss how historical and contemporary artists have redefined our understanding of materiality and medium, weaving notions of public space, healing and spirituality together.

Inspired by artist and writer Lorraine O’Grady who uses the concept of “both/and” to think in a non-hierarchical way, the “Both/And” program series explores the breadth and complexities of AFAM’s collection beyond the untrained/skilled, craft/art, and amateur/fine art divides. Speakers approach artists and their objects as agents capable of posing questions to us, the viewers, rather than the other way around.

Material Witness is generously supported by a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation. Presented in the Daniel Cowin Gallery – originally established by Trustee Joyce Berger Cowin in memory of her husband, also a Trustee and champion of the Museum, it includes recently acquired works, including selections from the Audrey B. Heckler collection, and gifts from Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz, Peter J. Cohen, and Willett Bracken Evans.

Space is limited; advance registration is required. Please consider making a donation when you register to support ongoing virtual programming.

Instructions for joining with a Zoom link and password will be provided by email upon registration confirmation under “Additional Information.” ASL interpretation and live captioning in English will be provided. For questions or to request accessibility accommodations, please email

About the speakers

Julianne Swartz creates immersive installations, sculptures and photographs. Her work combines intangible elements, like sound, light, air and magnetism, with a variety of materials to generate multi-sensory, participatory experiences. Exhibition venues include: the Tate Liverpool Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art (2004 Biennial exhibition) the New Museum, the Jewish Museum, New York, MoMA PS1, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Art Gallery of Western Australia.  Awards include: the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, Fellowship in Music and Sound, Anonymous Was a Woman Fellowship, American Academy of Arts and Letters Artist Fellowship, the Joan Mitchell Foundation Award for Painters and Sculptors, and the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Sculpture. Articles and reviews include: Art in America, Artforum, Frieze, Artnews, Sculpture Magazine, The New York Times, The Washington Post and the The Boston Globe.

Brooke Wyatt is Luce Assistant Curator at the American Folk Art Museum where she is working on a series of exhibitions drawn from the Museum’s collection of folk and self-taught art. She practiced as a clinical therapist in community mental health settings and worked as an art teacher before beginning her PhD in the History of Art and Architecture at the University of Pittsburgh. Brooke’s doctoral dissertation, titled “Séraphine Louis and French Self-Taught Art in Transatlantic Modernist Discourse,” explores the material and representational strategies of the French artist Séraphine Louis, foregrounding how histories of race, gender, class, and disability have shaped the reception and exhibition of Louis’s work across Europe and the Americas from the late 1920s to the present day.


Left: Emery Blagdon, Untitled, ca. 1955-1986, steel wire, paper, and tinfoil. American Folk Art Museum, New York; gift of Audrey B. Heckler, 2022.6.85. Right: Julianne Swartz, Sine Body, 2017, blown glass, unglazed porcelain, electronics, sound generated from the objects, dimensions variable.

1:00 pm–2:15 pm

Virtual; free with registration