Bennie's Picks, Fall 2016 and Beyond
Art collector and IRAAA advisor Bennie Johnson informs his collecting by keeping up with news on African American and African Diaspora visual arts. He shares the news with us and it's posted from the top of this column as he sends it, not in the chronological order of events. Most of the news relates to African American artists but it also includes work by other black artists and by non-black artists exploring themes and issues related to African and African Diaspora life and culture.
Past events are maintained in this column to provide an overview of the current season.
Kerry James Marshall: Mastry and Kerry James Marshall Selects, The Met Breuer, New York City, October 25, 2016–January 29, 2017
The largest museum retrospective to date of the work of Kerry James Marshall (born 1955) encompasses nearly 80 works—including 72 paintings—that span the artist’s remarkable 35-year career, this major monographic exhibition reveals Marshall’s practice to be a complex and compelling one that synthesizes a wide range of pictorial traditions to counter stereotypical representations of black people in society and reassert the place of the black figure within the canon of Western painting.
Kerry James Marshall: Mastry will be complemented by the concurrent exhibition Kerry James Marshall Selects, curated by the artist. Marshall will draw some 40 works from The Met collection, ranging from the Northern Renaissance to French post-Impressionism, and from African masks to American photography of the 1950s and ‘60s, underscoring the global and historical nature of the influences that are predominant in his practice.
“With our collection spanning over 5,000 years, The Met is uniquely positioned to highlight Marshall’s deep connection to history,” said Thomas P. Campbell, director and CEO of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. “Our visitors will be able to experience the many layers of Marshall’s groundbreaking artistic vision as they explore the influences that are central to his work.”
Shifting Views: People & Politics in Contemporary African Art, Baltimore Museum of Art, December 18, 2016 — June 18, 2017
The BMA’s first exhibition of contemporary art from Africa drawn from its own collection features photographs, prints, and drawings by David Goldblatt, Gavin Jantjes, William Kentridge, Julie Mehretu, Senam Okudzeto, Robin Rhode, and Diane Victor. Each artist offers pointedly political perspectives on the lives of Africans and their diasporic descendants.
Examples include two series of prints: Kentridge’s Industry & Idleness (1986-87), a critique of capitalism inspired by a suite of the same name by famed political satirist William Hogarth (English 1697-1764), and Mehretu’s Landscape Allegories (2003-04), etchings that mark the journeys of migrants and underscore the environmental effects of late-stage capitalism. Capitalism is more quietly confronted in a 1970 photograph of singer Margaret Singana taken by Goldblatt while on assignment for Anglo American, a major gold mining company. Okudzeto’s Fragment from the series All Facts Have Been Changed to Protect the Ignorant (2000-01) remind us of early capitalist drives that fueled the trade of Africans into slavery and Jantjes’ canonical A South African Colouring Book (1974-75) skewers apartheid-era surveillance and racist realities. In works from 2009 and 2010, Rhode’s Pan's Opticon Studies and Victor’s Smokescreen (Frailty and Failing) focus on individuals captured or lost in societies that either closely monitor movement of people deemed suspicious or blithely forget those with histories deemed too troubling.
Noel Anderson. Blak Origin Moment, the Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, February 10 - June 18, 2017
Noel Anderson is a Louisville, KY-born artist and a professor at the University of Cincinnati, presently working in New York City. He is known for complex investigations into the evolving make-up of black male identity translated through a variety of textiles – from old rugs to digitally produced tapestries. This exhibition emerges out of performance work Anderson is doing with readings of scripts established through interviews of black men. Prompted by the provocative question, “When did you know you were black?” he produces a series of intimate interviews/recollections as to the origin and genealogy of black consciousness . While there is no one consensus of black thought, there are shared experiences which propose the plurality of singularity, and vice versa. Through a diverse means of representation, this show seeks to examine material and immaterial manifestations of contemporary black masculine thought as expressed through analog (historical) and contemporary (digital) means. The works in this exhibition will range from prints and woven photographic textiles to video and live performance. While understanding is sought, closure is evaded in hopes the audience will leave provoked to further investigate.
Two Fred Wilson projects, Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, August 30-June 12, 2017
The two projects at the Allen represent both Fred Wilson's studio-made and fabricated works and his commissioned museum-specific installations created with the institutions’ own collections.
Wilson’s Wildfire Test Pit is at the Allen Memorial Museum’s King Sculpture Court.
Wilson designs one of his signature site-specific installations using the museum’s collection and several loaned items, including from the Oberlin College Archives and the special collections of the Oberlin College Library. Returning the King Sculpture Court to its classical roots, he creates an illusory space of ruin and redemption. Wilson weaves together objects and historical narratives that have flowed in and through Oberlin College over its 183-year history. Wilson’s primary inspiration is one individual of the 19th century and her collision and concurrence with the world of her time. Through Wilson’s abstract lens, her life and legacy reveal questions about 20th-century artistic and scholarly perceptions of what and who are important to be remembered, the burial of marginalized history, and ultimately, the 21st-century unearthing of what he calls the “alluvial fan of human, and art, history.”
Wilson’s Black to the Powers of Ten is at the Allen’s Ellen Johnson Gallery
Race, time, memory, and meaning are among the concepts explored in this exhibition of works from 2003–2014. Through glass works designed and fabricated in Murano and the Seattle area, as well as in paintings, sculpture, prints, and video, Wilson challenges assumptions about history, culture, and display practices, offering alternative interpretations and encouraging viewers to reconsider how they think and what they know.
Wilson represented the United States at the Venice Biennale in 2003, working there with traditional glassmakers to make black versions of 18th-century forms such as chandeliers and mirrors, highlighting the color in relation to race and mourning. His earlier experimentation with glass in 2001 in Seattle led to the black drips also seen here. The flag paintings, marked by an absence of color, ask visitors to think about nationhood and representation, while his sculptures call into question received historical narratives. A print series and the video September Dream, the latter shown at the 2003 Venice Biennale, present other aspects of Wilson’s work. Ink spots on the prints are in some cases accompanied by texts spoken by black characters from classic literature, while the video offers an alternate viewing of Shakespeare’s Othello, bringing to the fore themes of violence and nostalgia for the world prior to September 11. The title of the present exhibition refers to the 1968 and 1977 short documentary films Powers of Ten by Charles and Ray Eames, which examine the universe on its most macro and atomic levels.
Rashid Johnson Fly Away, Hauser & Wirth New York, Sept. 8 – Oct 22, 2016
This exhibition of new paintings and sculptures by Rashid Johnson is complemented by a monumental installation that engages the gallery’s soaring architecture. Taking its name from the time-honored 1929 hymn "I’ll Fly Away," a song reinterpreted over decades by scores of artists – from gospel legends of the Dust Bowl era to such contemporary pop performers as Kanye West – the exhibition reveals Johnson pondering themes of history, yearning, and escape while intensifying his longstanding investigation into the relationship between art, society, and personal identity.
Fly Away is a prelude to Johnson’s upcoming exhibition at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City MO, opening February 2017.
Previous IRAAA+ Rashid Johnson coverage includes this article.
All Power to the People: Black Panthers at 50, Oakland Museum of CA, October 8, 2016–February 12, 2017
This commemorative exhibition of rare historical artifacts, first person accounts, and new contemporary art show how the Party continues to inspire culture, activism, and community empowerment on local, national, and international levels.
Social movement, political party, cultural influencer, government target —there are many ways to feel about the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, founded in October 1966 in Oakland, California. As the Black Panther Party celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, the exhibition, All Power to the People, offers a contemporary view on the legacy of this visionary group, told from multiple perspectives.
Darkwater Revival: After Terry Adkins, Arthur Ross Gallery at the University of Pennsylvania, August 27 – December 11, 2016
Darkwater Revival: After Terry Adkins is an homage to the distinguished artist, musician, and University of Pennsylvania professor whose untimely death in 2014 was a huge loss to the artistic community.
The exhibition explores Adkins legacy not only as an artist, but as a professor, colleague and mentor, and is highlighted by the works of 10 artists and former students from the Penn Community who have been deeply impacted by Terry’s work and by their relationship with him.
Darkwater Revival will feature many of Adkins original works from Darkwater: A Recital in Four Dominions, Terry Adkins after W.E.B. Du Bois, his homage to Du Bois, 100 years after the publication of the Philadelphia Negro (published by University of Penn in 1899). The exhibition was a site-specific collaboration with the Arthur Ross Gallery, and combined sculptural elements with archival documents, artifacts, and prints and performance to create a recital in which Adkins was composer, conductor, and performer.
Darkwater Revival follows in Adkins’ footsteps, honoring the artist in much the same way, reflecting on Terry’s creative process, his intuitive and thoughtful approach to art-making, all highlighted by the recent works of his former students and collaborators Jamal Cyrus, Nsenga Knight, Ernel Martinez, Matt Neff, Tameka Norris, Sean Riley, Jessica Slaven, Ivanco Talevski, Sarah Tortora and Wilmer Wilson.
Darkwater Revival: After Terry Adkins is curated by Dejáy B. Duckett, associate director and associate curator of Penn’s Arthur Ross Gallery who curated Darkwater Revival with Adkins in 2002 and Demetrius Oliver, the New York-based artist 2004 graduate of Penn’s School of Design who studied under Adkins.
Terry Adkins joined the Penn faculty in 2000, and was known for using biographical information of often-overlooked historical figures in addition to the music and found materials that inspired his work. His art is in the collections of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, part of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington; the Studio Museum in Harlem; the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Museum of Modern Art in New York; and the Tate Modern in London. He was featured in the 2014 Whitney Biennial, and also the 2015 Venice Biennale.
Adds Demetrious Oliver: “His work, steeped in abstraction, left an indelible impression on me, it was his uncompromising principles and artistic stance that continues to challenge me today.”
Mickalene Thomas: Do I Look Like a Lady?, MOCA Grand Avenue, Oct 16, 2016 – Feb 6, 2017
For this exhibition of new and recent work, Mickalene Thomas has created a group of silkscreened portraits to be featured alongside an installation inspired by 1970s domestic interiors, and a two-channel video that weaves together a chorus of black female performers, past and present, including standup comedians Jackie “Moms” Mabley and Wanda Sykes, and pop-culture icons Eartha Kitt and Whitney Houston.
An incisive, moving, and at times riotous portrait of the multiplicities of womanhood, Do I Look Like a Lady? builds upon Thomas’s ongoing reconsideration of black female identity, presentation, and representation through a queer lens. This exhibition is organized by MOCA curatorial assistant Rebecca Matalon, with Hana Cohn, executive assistant to the chief curator.
Rodney McMillian, Chisholm's Reverb, Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Sept 10 - Oct 15, 2016
In this exhibition, McMillian utilizes a range of material, formal, and conceptual strategies to explore the complex and often tenuous historical narratives and social systems that shape our lives.
One of the predominant works in the exhibition focuses on the legacy of Shirley Chisholm (1924 -2005). In contemporary political discourse and much written history of the 20th century, Chisholm’s accomplishments are conspicuously absent or reduced to the status of the symbolic. Likewise, Chisholm’s person, her likeness, her body are not present.
In the center of Gallery 1, Chisholm’s May 22, 1972 speech at UCLA is projected from a public address system that is suspended from the ceiling. Shelves holding black vases, still lifes in three dimensions, surround the sound system. Historically, still life paintings have served as allegorical representations of the mundane and repetitive aspects of human life; particularly those related to the consumption of food and intoxicants, to knowledge, and to beauty.
While McMillian’s still life sculptures may point to an ordinariness of beauty, they are also vessels that once held flowers but now hold sounds. The viewer can wander here, examining each shelf, aware of their bodies in relation to the objects, listening to Chisholm’s words and to another audio piece that centers on Alice Coltrane’s “Journey to Satchidananda.”
Through this installation, McMillian proposes an alternate present that we might inhabit as a way to affect change in our current reality. This alternate present is one in which Chisholm’s effect on policy is manifest via a more equitable social and political reality.
The exhibition also includes McMillian's “prism” in Gallery 3.
Betye Saar, Black White, Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA, Sept 10 - Dec 17, 2016
The exhibition title announces its defining ethos: the dimensional exploitation residing in the distinction drawn between white and black, and the prejudices attached to each condition.
The employment of black, or white, connotes vivid associations, specifically emphasizing positive or negative designations: white light; white heat; white knight; white collar; whitewash; white flag; black humor; blacklist; black sheep; black magic; black death.
Mixed media works drawn from a 50-year period — 1966-2016 — comprise the show.
Saar deconstructs the sociolinguistics of race as performance: illuminating how for many, language is used to disguise oneself, controlling how white or black one sounds. Additionally, the looseness characterizing the cultural borrowing of language implies an easy permissiveness, though only from one direction; even those who do not directly participate are implicated in this shared and shifting ownership.
The exhibition will predominantly feature wall-based works alongside floor-based sculptural pieces. They will be installed inside an achromatic space, painted in alternating shades of white and black.
Theaster Gates, How to Build a House Museum, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, July 21, 2016 – October 30, 2016
Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates takes over the fifth floor of the AGO’s Contemporary Tower with an immersive exhibition exploring the potential of the house museum—historically important landmarks that have been transformed into legacy sites.
Organized as a series of symbolic houses dedicated to George Black, W. E. B. Du Bois, Frankie Knuckles and Muddy Waters, among others, the exhibition will use music, dance, signage, video, artworks and archival documents – many related to the black and queer experience – to explore how and what museums communicate.
How to Build a House Museum invites visitors to tour the house museum in its many possible forms: as an architectural monument, historical representation, or site of freedom.
Also at the Art Gallery of Toronto:
(Past show) Hurvin Anderson: Backdrop, ASO, Toronto, May 19 – August 21, 2016
British artist Hurvin Anderson is internationally renowned for his vibrant paintings of urban barbershops and lush Caribbean landscapes. Exploring the intertwined themes of memory and place and often imbued with longing, Anderson's work reflects his own experience with shifting notions of cultural identity. The artist's first major solo exhibition in Canada, Backdrop surveys Anderson's practice in depth, presenting new and recent paintings alongside previously unseen sculptures and photographs in addition to large-scale drawings.
Anderson was born in Birmingham, England, to Jamaican parents. His source material often stems from formative experiences in the local Afro-Caribbean community as well as in Trinidad, where he became intimately familiar with the Caribbean topography and its motifs. Throughout Anderson's compositions, the viewer is held back from the landscape by visual obstacles —vegetation, decorative fences and metal grills — making his scenes appear distant — a reflection, in part, of the artist's own complex reality.
Backdrop was organized by the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis
Hurvin Anderson’s talk with the ASO curator is here.
Leslie Smith III, Time Further Out, Ponce + Robles, Madrid, Spain, September 15-October 21, 2016
Inspired by the late Dave Brubeck 1961 album, “Time Further Out,” Smith’s recent paintings explore notions of time in ways that alter shape and form. Smith delves into the uncertainty of modular forms as the basis of his paintings’ construction. He joins shapes together with lyrical motives that allude to the interpersonal and gestural narratives at the helm of his creative practice. “Time Further Out” investigates the prospects of sequencing content over more than one canvas, where themes are developed in stages. In doing so, time synchronizes with space both literally and perceptually. The challenge presented with Smith’s “Time Further Out” is one’s ability to succumb to a fractured sense of pictorial space in order to process the subject within the personal confines of the mind.
Smith is informed by minimalist ideologies, particularly, Post Painterly Abstraction and New Geometric Conceptualism. Dimensional expansion of perceived two-dimensional space is at the core of Smith’s project. He questions principles of multi-dimensional geometries, creating unconventional viewing experiences, in which alternative pictorial spaces operate allegorically. In lieu of early 20th century fourth dimensional antidotes, “Time Further Out” reconsiders multiple dimensionalities contrary to cubism; where triangle facets represent an array of planes and angles seen from different points of view dismantling the matrix of realism. Leslie Smith III restructures the matrix of abstraction on a scale that encompasses painting as both object and image.
Leslie Smith III was born 1985 in Maryland and grew up in metropolitan Washington, DC, graduated with a BFA degree in Painting from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in 2007, and obtained an MFA degree in Painting and Printmaking from Yale University in 2009.
(Past show) Rodney McMillian: The Black Show, Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, through August 14, 2016
The exhibition is presented concurrently with the major solo exhibition Rodney McMillian: Views of Mainstreet (March 24–June 26, 2016) , The Studio Museum in Harlem, and the exhibition Rodney McMillian: Landscape Paintings at MoMA PS1 (April 3–August 29, 2016)
Rodney McMillian’s (born 1969 Columbia, SC; lives Los Angeles) broad artistic range forms an extended physical meditation on the United States. These sculptures, paintings, room-sized constructions, videos, and performances embody our social fabric in patterns cut by class, economic status, culture, race, gender, and history.
Deeply attuned to the social systems and policy decisions that economically and psychologically shape our bodies, McMillian engages the gestures of these forces directly: going large in scale through small actions, using post-consumer objects to reveal latent ideologies, exposing the violent strata by which a vulnerable citizenship is built. Added to this melting pot, here McMillian draws upon a fascination with science fiction to envision a place where fantastical physical transformation might express the unraveling of social injustices.
Jennie C. Jones , Amplitude, Sikkema Jenkins & Co, New York City, September 8 - October 8, 2016
Jennie C. Jones practice mines the territory of Modernism—abstraction and minimalism; experimental jazz; and seminal political and social shifts—to reveal the complex and often parallel legacies of the mid-20th century’s social, cultural, and political experimentations. Jones brings to light the unlikely alliances that emerged between the visual arts and the imprint of jazz, highlighting the way they became and continue to exist as tangible markers of social evolution and political strivings.
Also at Sikkema Jenkins
Leonardo Drew, September 8 - October 8, 2016
Leonardo Drew is known for his dynamic large-scale sculptural installations. On the one hand, Drew’s sculptures can be seen as exercises in formalism rooted in the very experience of looking. On the other hand, these works explore memory by employing a wide range of material to evoke common elements of the human experience and of our diverse histories.
Gary Simmons, Stairwell project, Drawing Center, October 7, 2016 - October 6, 2017
The Drawing Center has commissioned American artist Gary Simmons to create a site-specific wall drawing in the lobby stairwell.
Mining the iconography of American popular culture, Gary Simmons’s work addresses personal and collective experiences of race and class. He is best known for his “erasure drawings,” which he began while working in an abandoned school that contained an abundance of blackboards. Using white chalk on slate-painted panels or walls, Simmons blurs the drawings with his hands resulting in hazy but persistent images that evoke faded memories or classrooms at the end of the school day. For The Drawing Center, Simmons will create a text-based work consisting of names of African-American actors and actresses from the early days of silent film. The artist describes the installation whose scroll-like format recalls movie “credit-crawls” frozen in mid-motion, as invoking “the memories of actors that have been blurred in the history of Hollywood film…. [The piece depicts] a kind of silence in both voice and visibility.”
(Past show) Martin Puryear: Multiple Dimensions, 1st floor West, American Art Museum, Washington, DC, May 27, 2016 – September 5, 2016
Martin Puryear (b. 1941) is widely celebrated for his elegant but playful sculptures and his devotion to craft. His drawings and prints are less well known, but they are equally essential to the artist’s studio practice. Martin Puryear: Multiple Dimensions is the first exhibition to draw back the curtain on that practice and offers an unprecedented look into Puryear’s inspirations, methods, and transformative process.
Martin Puryear: Multiple Dimensions includes 72 objects, including 14 sculptures, spanning Puryear’s career from his college days to the present. Thirteen works from the SAAM’s collection are on display, including Bower, a major wood sculpture, and Cane, a portfolio of woodcuts Puryear created to illustrate a new edition of Jean Toomer’s influential 1923 literary masterpiece. Nearly half of the artworks on view have been borrowed from the artist, and several are being shown publicly for the first time.
The exhibition was organized by the Art Institute of Chicago and also was exhibited at New York’s Morgan Library and Museum. The final show is here in Puryear’s hometown.
Mark Bradford Will Be U. S. Representative at the 2017 Venice Biennale
The Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, will present Mark Bradford as the representative for the United States at the Venice Bienale’s 57th International Art Exhibition.
Bradford will create a new site-specific installation for the U.S. Pavilion in Venice, Italy, to be on view May 13 – November 26, 2017
Mark Bradford (American, b. 1961) is one of the most significant abstract painters of his generation. Working in the wake of Abstract Expression, his sweeping canvases recapture mid-century American art’s capacity to conjure the sublime and evoke deep feeling, while incorporating layers of social comment. In parallel with his work in the studio, Bradford maintains a social practice, anchored by his Los Angeles-based nonprofit, Art + Practice, which promotes education and culture by providing life skills training and arts education for foster youth in the community of Leimert Park, Los Angeles.