Touchstone Gallery Presents America is … Group Exhibition

By Editorial Team on July 30, 2019

Fri, 02 August 2019 - Thu, 29 August 2019

Ti Rock Moore and Nic Brierre Aziz “Gazing”. Image courtesy Touchstone Gallery.
Opening Reception: Friday, August 2 from 6pm to 8:30pm


  • Rachel Adams, Chief Curator and Director of Programs, Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts (Omaha, NE)
  • Taylor Bythewood-Porter, Assistant History Curator, California African American Museum
  • Jen Mergel, Independent Curator, Vice-President, Programs, Association of Art Museum Curators; Founding Director, Curatorial Network Accelerator of Boston
  • Jennifer M. Williams, Public Programs Manager, New Orleans Museum of Art

Touchstone Gallery presents its third national juried exhibition following the success of “Art as Politics” in 2016 and “Art of Engagement” in 2017. This year artists from across the United States confront the question of how we define our national identity and values during a time of divisive politics and great social change. Four jurors from across the nation have selected the works of artists who best address this question.

“Contemporary artists . . . have the vision, creativity and talent to help us see and appreciate the complexities and possibilities that we otherwise wouldn’t,” says Boston-based juror Jen Mergel, Vice President, Programs, of Association of Art Museum Curators (AAMC), who recently was The Armory Show Curator of Platform and before that served as the Beal Family Senior Curator of Contemporary Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Ms. Mergel also added: “There is no single or simple answer to what “America Is.” “The selected artists are contributing to the conversation of how diverse this nation is today, employing a variety of techniques and concepts,” adds juror Rachel Adams, newly appointed Chief Curator and Director of Programs at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts (Omaha, NE). What stands out in this show, according to juror Taylor Bythewood-Porter, an Assistant History Curator at the California African American Museum (CAAM), is “the range of works submitted and the topics they address … from issues around climate change to immigration, from forgotten Americana to marveling at the everyday.”

Rachel Adams is the newly appointed Chief Curator and Director of Programs at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts. From 2015 until October 2018, she was the Senior Curator of Exhibitions for the UB Art Galleries in Buffalo, NY. Adams holds an MA in Exhibition and Museum Studies from the San Francisco Art Institute and a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her areas of research are varied but include a focus on the crossover between contemporary art and architecture, performance and video and new media practices. Recently, she curated Jillian Mayer: Timeshare, Ernesto Burgos: Implications, the group exhibition Light, Line, Color, Space and co-curated Introducing Tony Conrad: A Retrospective, the first exhibition of Tony Conrad’s work after the artist’s death at the UB Art Galleries with the Albright Knox Art Gallery. Her 2017 exhibition Wanderlust: Actions, Traces, Journeys 1967-2017 — a 50-year survey of artists performing in the landscape — was awarded grants from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts with a catalogue by MIT Press. She has worked with artists including Amie Siegel, Ragnar Kjartansson, Kambui Olujimi, Brendan Fernandes, Seher Shah, John Grade, Claire Ashley and Alyssa Pheobus Mumtaz. Her writing has been included in exhibition catalogues Introducing Tony Conrad: A Retrospective, Out of Easy Reach, Prospect.3 New Orleans, and Texas Prize 2012 as well as Afterimage,, Art Papers, Art Practical, Modern Painters, and Texas Architect. She is an alumni of the 2016 ICI Curatorial Intensive in New Orleans and the 2016 Artis Curatorial Research Trip to Israel. She has lectured at MOCAD, The Rose Art Museum, Hallwalls Center for Contemporary Art, as well as PNCA, Texas State University, the University of Texas at Austin, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Forthcoming curatorial projects include solo exhibitions with Lui Shtini, Alison O’Daniel, Claudia Wieser and Maya Dunietz and a group exhibition titled People Every Day as a prior response to the upcoming 2020 elections in the United States.

Since 2017, Taylor Bythewood-Porter has served as assistant history curator at California African American Museum (CAAM). During her tenure she has contributed to several exhibitions including Circles and Circuits 1: History and Art of the Chinese Caribbean Diaspora (2017), Lezley Saar: Salon des Refúse (2017), How Sweet the Sound: The History of Gospel Music in Los Angeles (2018), California Bound: Slavery on the New Frontier, 1848– 1865 (2018), Los Angeles Freedom Rally, 1963 (2018), and The Liberator: Chronicling Black Los Angeles, 1900–1914 (2019).
Prior to Bythewood-Porter’s appointment at CAAM she served as president and a founding member of SIA Curates, a curatorial organization run through Sotheby’s Institute of Art at Claremont Graduate University that connects aspiring curators with Claremont’s MFA students to develop yearly exhibitions. Bythewood-Porter is also the recipient of the 2018 Travel Scholarship to attend the Association of African American Museums (AAAM) conference and a participant in the Independent Curators International (ICI) Curatorial Intensive New Orleans 2019. She holds a Master of Arts in art business with a concentration in contemporary art from Sotheby’s Institute of Art at Claremont Graduate University and a Bachelor of Arts in Communications with a focus on public relations and
journalism and a minor in art history from Monmouth University.

Jen Mergel is Vice President, Programs, of Association of Art Museum Curators (AAMC). In the past two decades, Mergel has organized more than 50 exhibitions with contemporary art and artists for museum and academic communities and the public realm. In 2018, Mergel was The Armory Show Curator of Platform and presented fifteen site-responsive artist commissions and installations under the theme The Contingent; in Boston, she organized the citywide public art exhibition Fog x FLO: Fujiko Nakaya on the Emerald Necklace. She is now researching the public works of Nancy Spero. From 2010-2017, Mergel served as the Beal Family Senior Curator of Contemporary Art at
the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where she was also the Interim Chair of the Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art. Her presentations included the touring exhibition Permission to be Global/Prácticas Globales; the U.S. museum debut Lee Mingwei: Sonic Blossom; and Darkness Made Visible: Derek Jarman and Mark Bradford. Previously at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art from 2005-2010, Mergel organized the touring survey exhibitions Tara Donovan and Charles LeDray: workworkworkworkwork and thematic shows including Acting Out: Social Experiments in Video. Prior curatorial projects include those at the Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy Andover, the Hessel Museum of Art, Bard College, the Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Skidmore College, and the 2004 Whitney Biennial. Mergel graduated summa cum laude in Visual and Environmental Studies from Harvard University, received her M.A. from Bard’s Center for Curatorial Studies, and is a 2017 Fellow of the Center for Curatorial Leadership. She is Founding Director of the Curatorial Network Accelerator BOSTON, a co-learning program for curators that fosters citywide partnerships to expand audience and cultural equity.

Jennifer M. Williams is the Public Programs Manager for the New Orleans Museum of Art. She most recently served as the Deputy Director for the Public Experience for Prospect.4. She received her B.A. in History with a concentration in Art History from Georgia State University. Jennifer has lived in New Orleans for over 10 years after moving from her native Atlanta, GA to serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA coordinating projects with the Tulane University Center for Public Service. For 6 years, she served as the Director and Curator of the George and Leah McKenna Museum of African American Art.
As a visual art curator organizing exhibitions & performances, Jennifer is committed to contributing to the cultural and artistic landscape in New Orleans. She supports and serves on a variety of art & community committees and boards including Junebug Productions, the New Orleans Photo Alliance, and the Contemporary Art Center’s John Scott Guild. She has participated and led in a variety of experiences around the world, including facilitating discussion groups at the Clinton Global Initiative-U, the Urban Bush Women Leadership Institute in Brooklyn, NY and the Dak’Art Biennial in Dakar, Senegal.

In this exhibition, there are works related to many national issues — political corruption, constitutional crisis, racism, stereotypes of immigrants, police violence, climate change, women’s rights, drug addiction, discrimination against the LGBTQ community, the distracting impact of the digital world, to name a few. The artists speak in many voices – some satirical or filled with dark humor, some confrontational and solemn, yet hopeful, some marveling at progress and some lamenting the lack of progress, some with explicit and direct commentary on the issues of the day, others with the subtle and metaphorical voice emerging from their highly original use of materials. The artists employ a variety of media; installations of life-sized scale sculpture, multimedia pieces, paintings and photographs, and fiber works.

This show is a feast for the eyes and a catalyst for reflection. Touchstone hopes that it will provide viewers with some insights and increase their empathy using masterfully presented perspectives of the exhibiting artists.

Participating Artists: Mia Adams, Ellis Angel, Robert Arbogast, Christine Atkinson, Ti-Rock Moore and Nic Brierre Aziz, Bobbi Baugh, Jennifer Becker, Aaron John Bourque, Joan Lobis Brown, John Coppola, Don DonCee Coulter, Connor Czora, Kara Daviau, Kendall Dorman, Jorg Dubin, Michalina Eisenberg, Abigail Engstrand, Andy Fernandez, Lloyd Foster, Jenne Glover, Lauren Gohara, Beryl Jazvic, Leonard Jewler, Melissa Joseph, Michael A Lang, Heather Layton, Jin Lee, Judith G. Levy, June Linowitz, Jim McKeon, Lori Mehta, Charles Mintz, Kerry Mitchell, Alx Orphant, Jessica Pace-Berkeley, Seol Park, Denise Poloyac, Bret Poplos, Matthew Rentz, Beverly Ryan, Corrina Sephora, Brandon C. Smith, Vincent Lee Smith, Ann Stoddard, Laura Sussman-Randall, Esteban Whiteside, Andrew Wohl, Jenny Wu.

Touchstone’s August exhibits include both “America Is … “ and a Touchstone Gallery Members’ small works exhibit in the Annex gallery. At the Opening Reception on August 2, 6-8:30 pm, cash prizes will be awarded to four of the artists participating in the national juried show, each selected by one of the jurors.

Gallery Hours:

  • Wednesday – Friday: 11pm to 6pm
  • Saturday – Sunday: 12pm to 5pm

Touchstone Gallery is located at 901 New York Ave. NW. For more information, visit