By Meghan Walsh
Kaleigh Pisani-Paige, curator of collections and registrar at the Canton Museum of Art, takes Canvas inside the sculpture and how it contributes to discourse about gender and modern depictions of animals in the art world.
The Canton Museum of Art recently acquired “Moonlit Dreamers” to its permanent collection. The ceramic sculpture was created by G.V. Kelley in 2022, with the intent of shining a light on gender identity and pushing the boundaries of traditional beauty standards. By combining the features of humans and creatures, Kelley opens up a conversation about autonomy, inclusivity and acceptance.
Canvas: What makes the piece noteworthy?
Pisani-Paige: “Moonlit Dreamers” has a delicate attention to detail and is a technical feat, as it hangs on the wall and effortlessly combines the anatomical features of humans and animals. It’s a study of gender identity and a questioning of your longstanding beliefs. The creatures themselves are gendered outside of the socialized binary of male and female. They challenge our ideas of socially acceptable beauty, femininity and gender. Through science fiction and fantasy, “Moonlit Dreamers” opens a dialogue about the gray areas of gender identity.
What response does this piece evoke?
For me personally, “Moonlit Dreamers” evokes whimsy and mystery. It draws you in with its detail and delicate features, and the uniqueness of it. The creatures stretch out their hands as if to hold yours, to see that we’re not so different after all. This, combined with the fact that the creatures are floating, also makes me think of Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam,” with hands outstretched to give life and new perspectives.
What was happening in the art world that may have influenced it last year?
There has been a noticeable shift in contemporary ceramics from the vessel to the figure. In the art world today, a large number of artists use animals as expressions of their personal experiences and to address complex emotional content. Animals are relatable and approachable.
What makes the piece relevant?
Gender identity is central to an individual’s identity and influences how they experience and interact with the world. Though progress is being made, the nonbinary population continues to experience discrimination and exclusion. “Moonlit Dreamers” creates visibility for those who do not fit into the binary. Traditionally, the nonbinary population has been underrepresented at museum exhibitions and in their collections. We want everyone to be able to see a reflection of themselves at our museum, and that starts with artwork such as “Moonlit Dreamers” to open dialogues and create acceptance.
What can you tell us about the artist?
G.V. Kelley is a nonbinary artist from the San Francisco Bay Area (currently based in Helena, Mont.) They make figurative ceramic work that explores ideas about gender outside of the binary through the hybridized animal/human as metaphor, with references to fantasy and science fiction. G.V. Kelley uses fantastical creatures to develop their own personal mythologies, metaphorically challenging the boundaries and binaries of identity.
What else should we know about this sculpture?
“Moonlit Dreamers” was based on a painting titled “Moonlit Dreams” by 19th-century French painter Gabriel Ferrier. Kelley’s “Moonlit Dreamers” keeps the original elements of Ferrier’s painting, combining the grotesque with the beautiful in an original way. Like the painting, Kelley’s “Moonlit Dreamers” has a classical, renaissance feel to it.
Artist: G.V. Kelley
Acquired: Permanently acquired by the Canton Museum of Art after being displayed in an original ceramics exhibition, “Thinking With Animals,” which ran from Nov. 25, 2022 to March 5, 2023.
Find it: On permanent display at Canton Museum of Art, 1001 Market Ave. N., Canton.