“Barkley L. Hendricks”; at Jack Shainman (24th St.), through April 23:
Any time Barkley Hendricks (b. 1945) is in town–well, he’s earned a visit– explicitly on his own terms. Persevering with his steady Pop-Realist portraiture, he has contributed to “Black Arts” in the U.S. from the 1960s to the current Black Lives Matter movement. Of the former, we have been explicitly reminded by his iconic Lawdy Mama (1969, Brooklyn Museum of Art) popping up in the Lyon townhouse over two seasons of Empire; the latter, explicitly, with representations of the “hands-up” gesture in several works here.
Nurtured at PAFA and Yale, long bastions of realist technique and aesthetics, his m.o. is a poster-flat style spliced with crisp detail; likewise, he has stayed the course, as far as subject matter, throughout his ongoing, prolific career.
Hendricks’s 2008 retrospective, “The Birth of Cool” (organized by the Nasher Museum; exh. cat. Trevor Schoonmaker, et al.) solidified deserved wide-spread attention. A new context was much younger hotshots emerging since the new millennium, like Kehinde Wiley (post) and Titus Kaphur (post), who have picked up the figurative torch with similar intentions–namely, inserting real black presence into the mainstream white cube. In the display at Shainman it appears that, like many older artists who remain vital and relevant, Hendricks has now turned to them, collectively (i.e., two subsequent art generations), in terms of Black Life Matters, to keep moving forward.
The recent work here is generally tougher and more stark in its hard edge sensibility than that of his characteristic surface suave to this point. I must admit I was most drawn to a large-scale pink monochrome fashion-plate-type portrait evocative of his earlier, slightly silkier sartorial icons. But the activist enthusiasm of the rest equally left a strong impression.