Bennie's Picks 2013

McArthur Binion: Ghost: Rhythms, Kavi Gupta, Chicago, Apr 6 – Jun 22, 2013, focused on the artist's early career in 1970s New York City. Like many of his peers, Binion was influenced by the Abstract Expressionists and had

 

McArthur Binion: Ghost: Rhythms, Kavi Gupta, Chicago, Apr 6 – Jun 22, 2013, focused on the artist's early career in 1970s New York City. Like many of his peers, Binion was influenced by the Abstract Expressionists and had 
 a deep interest in visual communication and Modernism. As Minimalism was well underway within the visual culture of the time, Binion developed his idiosyncratic style of "action painting,developed a deep interest in visual communication and Modernism. As Minimalism was well underway within the visual culture of the time, Binion developed his idiosyncratic style of "action painting," which is composed of pressing wax crayon on to the surface of aluminum and canvas, creating textured yet minimal surfaces and compositions. Though Minimalism was a movement that was mostly associated with and would historically become dominated by white artists, Binion's contribution to the movement as an African American artist can be traced through both his professional and personal relationships developed as he actively participated in the scene as well as his unique approach to Minimalism as a vehicle for story and memory.

 

A large part of this exhibition focused on large tarp-like works composed of un-stretched canvas which simulate aerial views of rural landscapes, abstracted and made of repetitive and diligent mark making. Titles such as Circuit Landscape give hints to a geographical genesis of the work, taking into consideration Binion's roots in Mississippi where his family lived and worked on a cotton farm to their migration to Detroit and his father's work within the automotive industry, autobiography was and is clearly a conscious influence on Binion's artistic practice. McArthur Binion would eventually be the first African American to graduate from Cranbrook University with an MFA after which he would move to New York City and eventually to Chicago, where he has lived and worked for the last thirty years. The labor experienced as a child picking cotton can additionally be attributed as an influence on Binion's practice in particular to his labor process of mark making.

While Binion was interested in the formal qualities of medium, shape, and color like his peers, he found a powerful voice in the language of modernism to share personal and African American narratives within the visual language of Minimalism. The title Ghost:Rhythms itself is an homage to the stories and tales Binion's mother and aunts would tell in his childhood of ghosts and family history, a tradition that stuck with the artist and influenced his desire to use visual language to continue to share narrative. This work was originally curated into an exhibition at the famous Artist Space during its inaugural year by Carl Andre, Sol Lewitt and Ronald Bladen. A further testament to the work's engagement with formal critique of the era, such as the grid and use of repetition.

 

Whitfield Lovell, Deep River, Hunter Museum of American Art, Chattanooga, TN, May 18-October 13, 2013

Whitfield Lovell, a 2007 MacArthur Fellowship winner, is internationally renowned for his thought-provoking images of anonymous African Americans from the 19th and 20th centuries. Using old black and white photographs taken in the early and mid-twentieth century, and more recently, imagery from contemporary sources, the Bronx born and raised artist pays tribute to his ancestors by spiriting them into the present.

The Hunter Museum exhibition features artwork created since 2008, including the artist's signature tableaux that are constructed of intricate charcoal drawings on vintage wood juxtaposed with found objects. Lovell prefers to leave the history of his salvaged wood intact, never removing the layers of age paint, adding only his Conté crayon drawings and the objects he has collected over the years. Pago Pago and Autour du Monde feature uniformed soldiers, referencing the service of African Americans through two world wars for a country that still didn't acknowledge their civil or human rights and a military that was not fully integrated. Billie Holiday's rendition of the song, I Cover the Waterfront, emanates from Pago Pago, seductively lulling the viewer into a sense of longing.

Theaster Gates: 13th Ballad, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chigago, May 18–Oct 6, 2013. 13th Ballad, an installation by Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates, is an extension of the artist’s 12 Ballads for Huguenot House, which was coproduced by the MCA and exhibited at

 

Documenta 13, the 2012 iteration of the international art exhibition that takes place every five years in Kassel, Germany.

Gates, whose practice includes performance, installation, and urban interventions, created 12 Ballads for Huguenot House as part of his ongoing efforts to rejuvenate—both socially and architecturally—his South Chicago neighborhood, a campaign that began in 2006 when he refurbished an abandoned building on South Dorchester Avenue as his studio and home. This effort was later expanded to include abandoned houses nearby, which the artist and a team of local laborers also renovated, reinventing them as alternative cultural spaces while also repurposing their materials to make both functional and purely aesthetic objects. For 12 Ballads, much of the raw building material from the house at 6901 S. Dorchester Ave. was transported to Germany and used in the partial restoration of the dilapidated historic building in Kassel called the Huguenot House—where the carpenters and students who were involved in this effort lived as part of the project—symbolically mending one neglected cultural history with another. Ultimately, 12 Ballads resulted in a poetic exchange of material and music. Before the sister house in Chicago was carefully disassembled, Gates and his collaborators from the musical ensemble Black Monks of Mississippi—an improvisational group that combines black spiritual music with the blues and Eastern chanting traditions—recorded a series of twelve songs and performances in the South Side home, which was later screened in Kassel and accompanied there by another set of live performances by the Monks.

For 13th Ballad, Gates creates a new large-scale installation in the MCA’s Marjorie Blum Kovler Atrium that comprises art objects and materials from the Huguenot House, as well as a set of repurposed pews from the University of Chicago’s Bond Chapel. The pews, having been removed recently in order to offer Muslim students a place to pray, are a symbolic gesture of religious tolerance. Gates thought broadly about spaces of worship while researching the religious persecution of the Huguenots, members of the Protestant Reformed Church of France, who were forced to flee discrimination by the Catholic Church and relocate in Protestant nations such as Prussia (modern-day Germany) between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. The installation features a monumental sculpture that showcases the everyday objects left behind by the artists and