Within the Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, artist Marcus Jansen presents more than 20 works drawn from 15 years of artistic exploration. The artist—based between the Bronx and Fort Myers—was born in Manhattan and raised in the South Bronx and Queens before moving to Mönchengladbach, Germany. Jansen’s work in this exhibition, E Pluribus Unum, exists at the intersection of these disparate upbringings, influenced by the art that was being developed in NYC during the ’70s and ’80s, his experience as a person of color in early ’80s Germany, and his service in the US military. In fact, many of Jansen’s large-scale paintings act as a visual metaphor for the conflict zones he traversed while serving.
E Pluribus Unum follows Jansen’s first European solo museum exhibitions at La Triennale di Milano Museum and the Museum Zitadelle Berlin. For this mini-retrospective, some of the works are exhibited for the first time. All of them articulate Jansen’s societal awareness, and his critique of structural power and economic imbalance. And yet, despite their erudite foundation, there’s an unexpected and valuable spontaneity to his work.
“The title E Pluribus Unum addresses one of the core philosophies of the 21st century regarding the direction we will choose and the elements that stand in our way,” Jansen tells us. “The paintings reflect several global questions and concerns about our current political climate while highlighting emerging and sometimes fictitious threats that influence our beliefs. That includes increasing surveillance, deciding who writes our history, military conflicts, rising walls, economic inequality and the use of propaganda as a means of oppression. These elements will all influence the direction of human civilization.” Jansen hopes to encourage people to reconsider the influences they accept and consider the alternatives.
Gisela Carbonell, the museum’s curator adds that, for her “the title E Pluribus Unum (“Out of many, one”), a phrase we are all familiar with, has taken new meaning in recent years. This body of work encourages reflection on what it is that makes this country unique since its birth while also shedding light on some of the underlying structures that symbolize exceptionalism and its inevitable distortions.” She says, “at the core, there is a consistent concern throughout the selection, with the representation and perception of reality and history.”
In addition to producing his own cathartic works, the artist launched the Marcus Jansen Foundation Fund in 2019, with a mission “to highlight the conditions of economically disadvantaged areas or individuals” and to support “organizations that help veterans diagnosed with PTSD that are seeking art as a way to express” themselves. If anything is evident from the museum exhibition, and Jansen’s continued efforts in the crusade to alleviate PTSD, art does posses a transformational power.
E Pluribus Unum runs now through 3 January 2021.
Images by Austin Reeves, courtesy of the Rollins Museum