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Posted on Thu, Dec 16, 2010 : 1:39 p.m.

"Mai-Thu Perret: An Ideal for Living" exhibit opening at U of M Museum of Art (UMMA)

By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

Contempory Swiss artist Mai-Thu Perret’s exhibition, “Mai-Thu Perret: An Ideal for Living,” opens at the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) this weekend, Saturday, Dec. 18, and runs through March 13, 2011. This is the first large scale North American survey exhibition of Mai-Thu Perret's work. It includes many works never before shown in North America, as well as new work created specifically for this exhibition.

There will be a docent-led tour Sunday, Dec. 19, at 2 p.m., and the artist will be coming to Ann Arbor for an artist's talk on Jan. 19, 2011.

From a University of Michigan Museum of Art statement:

Mai-Thu Perret’s multidisciplinary practice fuses feminist politics with classic modernist abstraction and utopian dreams. Her installations synthesize a range of media and genres — including literature, design, craft, and performance — conjuring an imaginary alternate history of 20th-century art, design, and social activism.

“We are excited to be able to bring the profound and provocative work of Mai-Thu Perret to our audiences across the region,” said UMMA Director Joseph Rosa. “We hope through this exhibition to share the breadth of her vision more widely.” …

Much of Perret’s work over the past decade has stemmed from The Crystal Frontier, a fictional narrative she began writing in 1999. The ongoing, intentionally unresolved story follows a group of women who, in an attempt to escape the impositions of capitalism and patriarchal society, relocate to the remote New Mexico desert and form a utopian commune called New Ponderosa. Presented in the form of diary entries, letters, manifestos, handbills, and the like, this fragmentary archive serves as a generative mechanism for installations and objects that Perret presents as the hypothetical products of the commune’s residents.

The works that have developed out of this project draw on such diverse sources as Russian constructivist stage design to Busby Berkeley musicals, early-20th-century mysticism, and 1960s and ‘70s counterculture. From paintings and sculptures to ceramics and textiles or film, Perret’s works infuse the formal vocbulary of modernism with a distinctly handmade aesthetic.

Perret was raised in Geneva, Switzerland, and educated at Cambridge University. In 2004 she participated in the Independent Study Program at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. In addition to numerous group exhibitions, she has had solo exhibitions at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2009); The Kitchen, New York (2008); Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen, Switzerland (2008); Bonnefanten Museum, Maastricht (2007); The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago (2006); and the Centre d’Art Contemporain, Geneva (2005).

The artist will be traveling to Ann Arbor in January 2011 to participate in a public program designed to place her work in the context of contemporary responses to European modernism.

This exhibition was curated by UMMA Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art Jacob Proctor. Sponsors include the University of Michigan Health System, Office of the Provost, CEW Frances and Sydney Lewis Visiting Leaders Fund, Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia and the Consulate General of Switzerland in Chicago.

The University of Michigan Museum of Art is located at 525 S. State St., Ann Arbor, MI 48109.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second-generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Ann Arbor and the Big Island of Hawaii. She is editor of Asian American Village, lead multicultural contributor for and a contributor for New America Media's Ethnoblog. She is a popular speaker on Asian Pacific American and multicultural issues. Check out her website at, her blog at, and she can be reached at