Tag Archives: African American artists

world wide works of resistance

“Clapping with Stones: Art and Acts of Resistance” at the Rubin Museum (17th Street); through January 6, 2020.

As a post-millennium museum (opened 2004), The Rubin well represents the global age by linking past and present in its programming; namely, between its core holdings of historical art from Southeast Asia and and contemporary work that bears witness to the constantly shifting national and cultural borders, diasporas, and self-identities traced to the region–and even alliances and overlaps with disparate communities beyond this constellation, real and insinuated. This shows exemplifies all of that, taking up the theme of resistance (as per the title)—to oppression, to sectarianism, to homogeneity through diverse presentations of protest, rapprochement and healing, with violence prescient and hovering.  The ten artists included each make a distinct impression and collectively offer a multitudes of mediums and techniques.       

Located on the top floor (six) of this mini-Guggenheim, the dome above the central spiral stair is elaborated with a striking site-specific installation by Kimsooja of magenta-colored, lotus-shaped globe lamps, accompanied by a soundtrack blending Buddhist, Christian and Islamic chants.  (It’s amazing that this mandala-apropos architectural feature was left over from its original position in a department store.)  The show’s title is taken from Lida Abdul’s mesmerizing video (2005) on the destruction of giant sixth-century stone Buddhas in Afghanistan by the Taliban (2001) through local ritual, which takes on new relevance since the high-tech projection project of the destroyed statues on site by Chinese filmmakers Janson Yu and Liyan Hu (2015; intermittently repeated).      

Among the more poetic works, a suite of architectural ceramics by Shahpour Pouyan signifying on various architectural forms associated with aspects of his hybrid ethnic and national heritage; and a moving Abstract Expressionist-mode triptych-altarpiece by Nadia Kaabe-Linke, monochrome, smoky, and “scarred”—in fact incorporating tracings of bullet holes from a Nazi bunker.  At the opposite end of aesthetics, a strong documentary video on immigrant activism in Barcelona by Kader Attia aka the artist who created a spectacular couscous replica of the ancient Algerian town of Ghardaia in an installation exposing the unacknowledged inspirations of Le Corbusier (2009, Tate; seen in NYC at the Guggenheim in 2016).

Nari Ward contributes a now characteristic shoe-lace wall piece spelling out, “We Shall Overcome”; and a bricolage-type installation linking Africa to Harlem in a “living room” of discarded objects surveilled from above with a fish-eye mirror.  A large-scale seemingly faded photographic appropriation of a Civil Rights march by Hank Willis Thomas (see Thomas) takes on a kind of 3-D focus when viewed (as instructed) with a cell phone flashlight, alluding to the tricks of the journalistic trade and positive populism in the art gallery; while one of his steely, 3-D printed-looking sculptures deals with police brutality through synecdoche (cropped hands and baton).  Literal violence is broached with Ibrahim Quraishi‘s exploded violin piece (somewhat akin to Nouveau Realiste Arman’s smashed musical instrument) accompanied by a soundtrack of the destruction.

Detail of Hank Willis Thomas, “The March” (2017; UV print on retroreflective vinyl) at the Rubin Museum (one of several effects depending on lighting)

Fiercely feminist works by Nazia Khan include Mad Max / Game of thrones empty female armor and a watercolor homage to Indian female resistance fighter Rani of Jhansi; while Pallavi Paul’s tangled trail of heavily redacted paper points to the hidden fate of a WWII-era Indian female operative for Britain. Go through once just for the riot of textured, complex forms; and then again reading the backstories.

“Radical Love” at the Ford Foundation”

320 East 43rd Street, through August 17, 2019

If you’ve never been to the landmark 1960s building of the Ford Foundation for Social Justice, which has had an extensive public plaza-like space open to the public from the beginning, the new gallery and its programming (established 2018 in a building overhaul; this is the second exhibition) is even more reason to get going. Exhibitions focuses loosely issues and circumstances related to the Foundation’s mission, whether and both who the artists are. Here the thematic title reins in global artists dealing more and less with injustice, personal obstacles, wrapped up with self-love, communal celebration, and most often post-colonial, Diaspora, and transnational identities and social issues.

An innovative feature of the building is its tiered indoor tropical garden (above), the site of a sound piece (part of the show) by Umani Uzuri, which incorporates the spiritual, “Wade on the Water” to invoke a “hush arbor,” or hiding place for escaped slaves in the antebellum South.  On the second floor in the gallery proper a large entrance wall accommodates a kind of memorial to the protestors arrested in the Montgomery Bus Boycott by Bradley McCallum and Jacqueline Tarry, in which their individual photos have been developed on transparent silk and superimposed onto painted portraits for a ghostly stereoscopic effect.  A trio of figurative textile sculptures from the late 1970s by the still prolific Faith Ringgold (b. 1930) are as political as they are personal in their feminist form and subjects.  Most other works share some sort of visual dazzle through a riot of color, patterning, and textures.

A tin-foil-glittery, kitsch-Baroque, paper-mache rat-infested, gay-urban altarpiece by Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt, who started with this sort of thing c. 40 years ago, is impressive for its obsessive dedication to scrappy, inventive craft.  His semiotic linking of superficial sparkle with queerness as well as spirituality is seen elsewhere here; while others use glittery effects to other associative ends.  Ebony Patterson’s hanging, sequin-dotted patchwork tapestry, in which images of body parts peak through in sections, includes gold-painted conch shells and coins strewn below to reinforce the Caribbean context of her dreamy-nightmare aesthetic. Rashaad Newsome’s kaleidoscope-like photo-collages of glam-bling adornments on impossible bodies deals partly in drag ball fantasy, picked up in Athi-Patra Ruga’s staged portrait photos.  Weedy growths sprouting from high on several walls are tangled with bits of shiny detritus in an installation by Lina Puerta.   Raul de Nieves’s opulently costumed mannequins representing two aspects of his mother recall Egungun masks (which completely cover dancers in the Nigerian masquerade traditions) and Nick Cave’s “soundsuits.”  A gold-ornamented painted female portrait by Lina Iris Viktor includes a backdrop map melding Africa with sites of its Diaspora. An especially moving assemblage sculpture by Vanessa German depicts a “white-face” Madonna / nkisi (power figure in traditional groups of the Congos) cradling a black baby doll, with silver-beaded strands of tears. Probably the most arresting and eye-opening work for most viewers will be Sue Austin’s video of her underwater experience in a wheelchair specially equipped for the event. More than a half-dozen other works included are similarly engaging; and a bonus on my visit were publicly accessible works beyond the exhibit by Kehinde Wiley and Hank Willis Thomas (look down the hallways to and from the elevators).

Raul de Nieves, “Fina Beauty” and “Fina Nurture” (both 2019); at the Ford Foundation)
Foreground: Vanessa German, “Notes on the absence of Sacredness: How Little Black Girls Die” (2018); background: Lina Iris Viktor, “Eleventh” (2018); at the Ford Foundation.

Playing house with Derrick Adams


“Derrick Adams: Interior Life”; through April 20, 2019

at Luxembourg & Dayan (64 E. 77th St.,NYC)

Working with curatorial impresario Francesco Bonami,  Derrick Adams has grafted a fantasy modernist home onto the walls of this multi-tiered fancy townhouse gallery.   His vision is pristine and showroom-like, each flattened tableau (bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, etc.), mixing geometric motifs that glide between wallpaper, textile, furniture, and flooring with simulated shiny surfaces–the artist’s (collective) ideal interior (a double-entendre, as in the exhibition title). At the same time, the schema as a whole is credible and relatable, aided by quirky and familiar details and appointments, such as honeycomb tiling or candy-colored alphabet magnets on a refrigerator–as well as the individuality appended through framed cubistic collage portraits, in upright profile, included as part of the decor and reflecting (in context) the inhabitants, directly or indirectly. (These works on paper are part of a loose series completed over several years inspired by passers-by near his studio). It’s all further set into motion by the intermittent appearance of small images of African sculpture—in a mirror, a sink, on countertops, in corners—that read as trickster-like spirits—perhaps apotropaic.   They are differentiated from the tangible African “art” displayed in some of the spaces.

For over two decades, Adams has maintained, above all, a fluidity between topical subjects, broad themes, very mixed mediums, personal expression (typically muted), and art references—here a nod to Sol Lewitt’s foray into fresco-like environments seems apparent. The strong graphic style, anchored by repetitions of varied masonry patterning throughout, can be traced back to a provocative 2009 show in which he revisited his youth and the vicissitudes of his native Baltimore, largely through the semiotic lens of its architecture–colonial, neoclassical, colonial, postwar housing projects (see link ). His emerging design aesthetic was highlighted in his installation at the Museum of Arts and Design last year (see link) that mashed up playroom-plywood ingenuity, his now characteristic cubistic stoicism, and conceptual poignancy on the theme of “The Green Book” (turns out, especially presciently for American society at large). 

In short, the current show wows with boldy colored and pressed, Op-arti-ish patterning, brought to life by the stately patchwork portraits and (perhaps) ancestors that hold down the fort.

Derrick Adams installation (detail), Luxembourg & Dayan (NYC; 2/26/19)
Derrick Adams installation (detail) at Luxembourg & Dayan (NYC; 2/26/19).

High Road: Derrick Adams at MAD

Derrick Adams: Sanctuary, through August 12, 2018; at the Museum of Arts and Design, 2 Columbus Circle (59th St.)

Adams’s art practice has been grounded from the start on shifting, interdisciplinary mediums and methods; thus, it makes so much aesthetic sense (first of all) to see his recent collage-type production in the context of an installation at MAD.  The nominally functional associations with this venue are manifest in Adams’s theme and commemoration: safety and comfort on the road for African American travelers in Jim Crow America, as published in The Negro Motorist Greenbook (1936-67).  Adams’s titular terminology–sanctuary–may recall for some the decade-long traveling exhibition documented in the volume, Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America, (Twin Palms Publishers, 2000), to which Adams’s project offers supplement and antidote.

The gallery is bifurcated by a raised, yellow-lined “highway” reminiscent of an enlarged toy car track set, dotted with Dada vehicles comprised of sport caps of the era on wheels.  At several “intersections,” doors open onto a back wall of sharp-edged, cubistic collage-paintings, suggesting various types of establishments and topography through building-valise-parking lot hybrids embellished with key objects.  This group is rhythmically unified by brick patterns that have appeared throughout Adams’s oeuvre and may symbolize security and strength.  Elsewhere, slices of the road continue up pedestals topped with architectural models that repeat the door motif in miniature and are partly cast from milk cartons to evoke self-sufficient “beacons.”  Another wall is papered with blown-up, marked-up pages from The Green Book; which engages viewers in a search for recognized names and locales.  A playroom/craft shop sensibility hovers (also seen in much of Adams’s earlier work), which, leavens the historical phenomenon at hand, while the clean, carefully constructed geometry and clever signifying throughout  betray refined formal and conceptual preoccupation.

Toyin Ojih Odutola: Realist Portraits in a Faux-Collection

Toyin Ojih Odutola: To Wander Determined

Whitney Museum of American Art, through Feb. 6, 2018

A large-scale pastel drawing titled, Surveying the Family Seat (2017) which plants a strong, contemporary male figure in a high-ground position peering out over an extensive landscape, introduces and encapsulates the solemn, hermetic privilege that pervades this series of recent pastel and charcoal portraits by Toyin Ojih Odutola (b. 1985).  Here and throughout, verdant, serpentine terrain, rhythmically and colorfully delineated, melds into fabric folds and textile patterns, with emphasis on sartorial details and highlighted patches of exposed skin.  The latter is carried through from the artist’s earlier work, first in ballpoint pen and then other media, in which dense black-on-black face and body images were inflected with peaks of “shine” (following Krista Thompson, Shine: The Visual Economy of Light . . ., 2015) that could read as both emanating and reflective, and also allude to  scarification and masking.  Here the effect is subdued and woven into overall naturalistic representation and implied narrative.

A decorative wall text imitating a book-plate frontispiece introduces a credible but fictional backstory grounding the disjointed visual chronicle of the multi-tiered, upper-crust Nigerian clan featured in the ensuing display.  Linked through marriages and the business of maintaining wealth and status, the current heritors of a lineage portrait collection are a gay couple depicted in a work titled, Newlyweds on Holiday (2016)– artistic cousins to Kehinde Wiley’s intricately patterned pairs.  Kerry James Marshall’s domestic insights and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s imaginary portrait sitters are also recalled, forthrightly.

Ojih Odutola is of a millennial generation of artists of African descent working within and outside of Africa who are stretching diasporaic and transnational vision in multi-directions for art content.  Between them, new routes of artistic exchange—literal and metaphorical—have proliferated.  Beyond Yiadom-Boakye, a number of woman among them have pursued figurative modes with specific emphasis on simulated fabric and/or fashion flair including Amy Sherald, Jordan Casteel, and Njideke Akunliyi Crosby, the latter a compatriot (Nigerian) émigré and perhaps closest painterly peer of Ojih Odutola.  The works of these woman share a photo-like directness, incorporating typically shallow foregrounds that convey the desire to be boldy apprehended.

Among the distinctions of Ojih Odutola’s realism in this series is an enigmatic sensibility percolating beneath the surface linear fluidity of her pastel technique. Mostly, the depicted characters hold gazes that slyly confront or obviously deny viewers-voyeurs.  Gender ambiguity is a recurring theme, mashed up with postmodern global styling and localizing trends.  Ojih Odutola wrangles the controlled pose and inner ennui of her faux-subjects in the manner of John Singer Sargent—updated with the self-possessed polish and countour definition of Barkley Hendricks.  Finally, tilting picture planes bring japonisme into Ojih Odutola’s orbit of inspirations, and white-on-white, veil-like layerings add a breezy elegance across several works–formal effects coaxed effectively out her earlier close-cropped monochromatic variations.

Woman Across Generations, Modes, Mediums in Chelsea

“Kara Walker: Sikkema Jenkins and Co. is Compelled to present…” at Sikkema Jenkins (530 W. 22nd St.) through Oct. 14.

“Aurel Schmidt: I Rot before I Ripen” at PPOW (535 W. 22nd St. 3rd Fl.) through Oct. 7.

“Barbara Chase-Riboud:  Malcolm X: Complete” at Michael Rosenfeld (100 11th Ave. @19th St.) through Nov. 4.

“Mary Corse” at Lehman Maupin (536 W. 22nd St.) through Oct. 7.

“Suzan Frecon” at David Zwirner (525 W. 19th St.) through Oct. 21.

“Maya Lin: Ebb and Flow” at Pace (537 W. 24th St.) through Oct. 7.

“Janet Fish: Poppies and Pinwheels” at DC Moore (535 W. 22, 2nd Fl.) through Sept. 30.

The one with the most pre and post-opening press so far lives up to the billing – Kara Walker (Sikkema Jenkins).  These biting, heart-wrenching, sprawling, churning, Americanist, Freudian, large-scale drawings and drawing-like paintings push everything she has done over the past two decades to newly excruciating heights.   Beyond a challenge, they dare viewers into her racially-charged, amalgamated visions of depraved eroticism and emotional and physical violence through which the powerful have subjugated and bankrupted others historically; and ensnare with fluid linear elegance and mash-up iconography in which all manner of images across time and place are re-mixed and spewed.  Staying her decades-long artistic course, a reinvigorated investment in her hard-core thematics of race and linked monochromatic artistic roots are palpable.  She also continues with her extensive, only partly parodic exhibition (as well as art) titles–read this one in full at the gallery and consider it when musing on the work.  However, a shorter phrase wielded by precedent upstart Robert Colescott in his own pre-emptive defense of devil’s advocate race-baiting in his art would be  apt: “Self-censorship is a cop-out.”  No question, Walker remains one of the most gutsy, defiantly provocative artists out there.

Aurel Schmidt (PPOW) also specializes in colossal, curvy, psyche-scape drawings–in her case, post-pubescent, priapic fantasies conveyed through stoner-Eden settings inundated with butterflies, daisies, snakes, and vulva-centered spiderwebs.   Her sensibility blends faux-naivite with a dash of harajuku and a druggie- decadent twinkle.  Hello Kitty-ish kitties may be a bit rabid; and a few exquisitely drawn rodents (one on a skate board) just above floor level tug back to urban earth the flighty fancies envisioned above.  Trigger warning: the “high times” sexual undercurrent explodes (yes) in a back room installation-homage to the erect member of her bf—including several graphic close-ups.  Good for her (the careful attention to detail seems to express).  But the critter-and-flora-packed, delicately rendered mirages are the wow factor.

The sculptural sentinels, or steles (as they have been aptly, described) of Barbara Chase-Riboud (Michael Rosenfeld) are majestic, yet at a human scale that addresses the viewer as an autonomous entity.  The past decade (mainly) of work here is a collective tour de force of her renowned signature mode developed over nearly fifty years: thick folded slabs of cast steel and aluminum combined with densely draped, ropey textile elements.  The results of this gendered yin-yang formulation suggest soulful effigies akin to ka statuary of ancient Egypt. The metal sections and knotty, braided skeins visually meld through the monochromatic (mainly) schemes—deepest blacks, rich golds, and one blood red show stopper, furthering this effect of “beings.”  The works featured ostensibly complete a series begun in 1969 dedicated to Malcolm X—not at all a secondary aspect of the hovering content, though conferred after her initial foray into this formalist vein.

Mary Corso has also continued on an abstract trajectory from early on—namely, “light and space” exploration in painting formats (with others starting out in southern California c. 1970).  Again, I don’t hesitate to use the term “majestic” in summarizing the flickering Minimalist planes she creates with micro-plastic bits blended into tarry black pigment and juxtaposed with silky, silvery acrylic in broad, flat bands.  The very mechanics of seeing activates her surfaces, further impacted by viewer movement.  Recent work by Leo Villareal and Veja Celmins came to mind while staring into Corso’s spatial “galaxies”—achieved with streamlined methods and means.

Likewise, the recent work of Suzan Frecon (David Zwirner) conveys long-term, discriminating devotion to abstract painting–hers employing a very subtle palette of earth tones and lightly, carefully biomorphicized geometry.  She is most concerned with proportional relationships in terms of intuitive perception.  However, landscapes are implicated (not to say “depicted”), as much by tonal mood as by mounds and horizontal passages.  With a conceptual turn of intention and phrase, one could say the same of Maya Lin’s new sculptural installations (Pace), which translate rivers of the world from maps to glass marble arrangements and silver-pour creations crawling up the walls and pooling along the floor (along with a few other inspired material variations).  Since her spectacular public debut decades ago (The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, design c. 1981), virtually nothing Lin has produced has not been well worth experiencing and engaging.

An anomaly in the art age of millennial Chelsea is the gorgeous,  painted still life oeuvre of Janet Fish (DC Moore)–again an artist who has stuck with her early art impulses and affections.  The selections here, spanning over thirty years, highlight Fish’s studious yet exuberant fascination and facility with reflections, contours, textures, and color in the observed real world.  All manner and types of natural and artificial  objects are reigned into loose, often spilled-over set-ups that Fish maintains as she paints, working exclusively from life.   Collectible ceramics, kitsh tchokes, arm-to-table bounty, Chinese take-out, crispy potato chips, lush floral arrangements, poppy-pocked field flowers, and multiplying are glisten in jam-packed, vigorous compositions that fold in swiftly stroked patterned fabrics.  It’s a palpable pleasure to revel in these prosaic reveries grounded in domestic life.

Titus Kaphar stays the Course at Shainman

Titus Kaphar: Shifting Skies; at Jack Shainman (513 W. 20th; and 524 W. 24th) through January 28.

Kaphar had a breakthrough with his extensive painting series, The Jerome Project, 2014, in terms of public exposure, as well as artistic and socially committed aims.  This group of portraits juggled and compressed deep personal motivations, hyper-realist painting style, Byzantine-golden grounds, the visual rhetoric of mugshots, and post-painterly abstraction; in each, the subjects are partly obscured by tarry blackness seeping up over the image field.

Around the same time, Kaphar was developing two other directions (according to his first [dual] exhibitions at Shainman; see post): one, steeped in revisionist history thematics sprung from past art images as catalysts and templates upon which to surface and flesh out the ostensibly invisible black presences outside–or erased from–these “frames”–joining, in this terrain, immediate predecessors and peers like Robert Colescott, Whitfield Lovell, and (fellow Yale alum) Kehinde Wiley.  The other has been his direct engagement with and poetic documentation of Black Lives Matter from its beginnings, especially prominent images of the spontaneous hands-up-don’t-shoot solidarity gesture partly obscured by a maelstrom of ghostly brushwork.  (One of these was published in Time, 12/10/14, in conjunction with the selection of BLM as collective runner up for Person of the Year).

The works on view in the current show further all three veins mentioned, variously.  Individualistic portraiture remains prominent; notably in a series of intimate,  sepia-toned images on raw canvases, and larger, Warholian off-register-photo-silkcreen-type images of (to most) anonymous, “shaken” individuals.

Titus Kaphar; seen at Jack Shainman, 24th St. (Jan. 19, 2016)

The torch of history is carried through in the clever, curt, crunched and jewel-toned Twisted Tropes, 2016;

Titus Kaphar; seen at Jack Shainman, 20th St. (Jan. 19, 2016)along with other distorted, ripped and re-organized pictures and planes throughout; with several silhouette-cut-out wood panels that move away from paint entirely.  Elsewhere, more photo-based imagery vies with windy brushwork in soldier subjects–namely uniformed and armed (African American) Buffalo soldiers.  Familiar visages of George Washington pop up throughout; including (I believe–or a similar colonial “father”) in squished-profile within an  experimental glass series of amorphous-heads.  I think many will agree the most compelling is in the form of an over-blown, tipped and corked canister with a bit of “brown juice” (both liquor and molasses are evoked) puddling at the bottom.

Overall, the works here are no less energetic for also conveying a  slow and steady visual exploration of presence and absence simultaneously.

Meeting of Traditional African Masks with Contemporary art syncretism

Disguise: Masks and Global African Art.

At the Brooklyn Museum, through September 18, 2016.

Disguise, organized by the Seattle Art Museum, reverberates well in Brooklyn, which boasts ever-expanding networks of transplanted African, as well as American-born and other artists of African descent, including several here.  And that’s a delimitation–that is, all artists included are of African descent, some born and working in Africa, others not, on both counts, or some combination.  So then “global African art” (of the exhibition title) is a provocative umbrella in more ways than one, especially in some cases.  In addition, BM boasts a major collection of and commitment to traditional African art, culled from to contextualize the featured contemporary work.

In general, Western art audiences are a long way from MoMA’s infamous Primitivism (1984) when it comes to African art and aesthetics.  A rising tide of African Diaspora arts in the West that, increasingly, has “looked both ways” within the scope of a growing global contemporary scene, offers firm foundation for the fluid curatorial approach here.*  In New York, a small-scale recent precedent was The Met’s 2011 exhibition, Reconfiguring an African Icon: Odes to the Mask by Modern and Contemporary Artists from Three ContinentsWillie Cole, featured there, appears with a single work in Disguise, which was narrowed to focus on ten contemporary artists, supplemented with additions from another dozen (approximately) to suggest an expansive field of possibilities.

There is, throughout, a fundamental blurring of masking and disguise, as well as stated sub-themes that stem from the concept of “becoming.”  Yet, ambiguity between the gathered notions seems apropos, when so much of past African masking traditions have been lost and their continuing evolution is infinitely complex.

Virtually all of the contemporary works are complex and engaging; and the traditional works are interspersed effectively.  For example, a Yoruba pieced-textile egungun masquerade costume (Nigeria) and a Gola carved helmet mask and raffia ensemble (Liberia) are in proximity of a  signature Nick Cave “soundsuit” and a costume-sculpture used in performance by Alejandro Guzman. Cave’s decades-long oeuvre, which includes performance-geared costume-works as well as mannequin-sculptures implying motion and sound such as the one here that sprouted a faux-botanical armature, has evoked the legacy of African masquerade from the start, although not directly; whereas Guzman’s towering, multi-horn-headed construction of natural, industrial, and found African-crafted elements does.  Just running through a few, to give an idea of the visual energy:

Walter Oltmann‘s hobbit-sized, shiny steel “warriors” have a  polished (I want to say “decorative”) manufacture from a distance; however, their real razor and barbed wire edges quickly turn them subversive.  Two documentary photographers, Leonce Raphael Agbodjélou and Jean-Claude Moschetti, contribute gorgeous prints of ritual-ready, traditional egungun maskers, known for costumes (i.e., “masks”) with complete body coverage.  Zino Saro-Wiwa provides unusually intimate photographic glimpses, particularly as a woman photographer, of a relatively recently established, kind of rogue masking society (an offshoot within the Ogboni) and an engrossing triptych video that challenges the overwhelmingly male gendering of traditional masquerade in a moving performance of a private mourning cycle.  Wura-Natasha Ogunji directs female masqueraders in post-industrial hazmat-like apparel through the streets of Lagos, documented in cellphone videos.  Saya Woolfalk fills a darkened gallery with psychedelic video-loop-and-light-based installations that evoke futuristic female fantasies of serene beauty inspired by Mende helmet masks, exceptional for their use by female societies.  Compatriot futurist, Jacolby Satterwhite is represented with characteristic DIY sci-fi videos and a foray into digital painting.  Interspecies origin myths and masking are conjoined in Nandipha Mntambo‘s striking photographic self-portrait with bovine ears and horns, also translated into a bronze bust, recalling the animal-headed humanoids of her teacher, Jane Alexander, as well as the prosthetic-enhanced creatures of Matthew Barney.  A series of digital ink drawings by Brendan Fernandes also imagines cross-breeds—of animals and masks.  Loved his obvious but effective African mask-shaped, blinking neon signs, partly inspired by a stint in NYC’s Chinatown; Jakob Dwight‘s  mask-morphing, digital abstractions on monitors are a higher-tech version.  Repros of African masks and figure paintings by Western “masters” are collaged by William Villalongo to conjure post-colonial takes on Dada and Surrealist precedents.  Paul Anthony Smith amps up the latter in his photographic portrait of a Kuba-masked sitter embellished with “pricked” passages on the surface that appear simultaneously twinkling and furry.  Edson Chagas, who received wide exposure in New York in Ocean of Images, the New Photography  at the Museum of Modern Art (2015) is represented with a series of photo-portraits of a white-collar (literally) “manager” (loosely translated from the Greek series title, Oikonomos) with various mass-produced shopping and travel bags over his head.

The exhibition’s blend of vibrancy, erudition, and hodgepodge is compelling and will surely be of as much interest in retrospect (through the slim  catalogue emphasizing artists’ statements), as it is in capturing a moment in the evolution of art related to African cultural origins through time and around the world.

***

*I’m thinking, of the exhibition/catalogue, Looking Both Ways: Art of the Contemporary African Diaspora, ed. Laurie Ann Farrell; 2003.

Barkley L. Hendricks stays the Course at Shainman

“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.

Salvaged Furniture; Pink Playroom; Bling-based Illusions; at the Studio Museum in Harlem

At the SMH (125th St.) through June 25th:

“Rodney McMillian: Views of Main Street” (main galleries)

“Ebony G. Patterson: . . . when they grow up . . .” (downstairs)

“Rashaad Newsome: This is What I Want to See” (upstairs)

Although their sensibilities could not be more different, both McMillian and Patterson share an impulse to recoup real lives through found objects, sometimes with a heavy, manipulative hand, sometimes simply through juxtapositions.  Both are invested in material and social bricolage–the kind of upside-down–or rather downside-up, make-shift visual punning that art-magician David Hammons introduced into the mainstream postmodern art world in direct context of “black experience.”

McMillian’s approach is conceptual; yet, he has a palpable empathy for material (full-formed and fragmented) that has been interpolated by extensive use until thread-bare and discarded.  His sculptural wall and freestanding works can appear the result of rescue operations–a Sisyphus-like recovery of the spirits of those who marked and imbued them with meaning over time.  A broken couch crudely cemented together.  A defunct refrigerator-turned-sentinel-monument; bed sheets used as canvases.  A giant, abstract “painting” comprised of cracked and repaired linoleum flooring.  (Many among the 99% will identify with the periodic decorating event of choosing from among conventionalized faux-stone linoleum patterns, a cheap way to spruce up kitchens and easy to clean, though not especially durable.)

One tableau, in which a pile of paperback books stands in for a coffee table between two serviceable chairs (despite their missing seat cushions), perhaps nods most closely to Levi-Strauss’s anthropological concept of bricolage, whereby re-purposing cast-offs is propelled by economic necessity, and which breeds ingenuity. There are also a few enigmatic, thickly “tarred” wall-work abstractions that have affinities with the painting surfaces of Rashid Johnson; a melting “Hall of Justice” cut-out canvas; and several other assisted readymades wide open to myriad interpretations.

Patterson’s installation comes on the heels of her brilliant show at The Museum of Arts and Design, in which a definitive move from collage-ornamented painting to profuse assemblage was featured (see post).  Since her first wide exposure (c. a decade ago), her oeuvre has centralized Jamaican ethnic and social identities; and been characterized by a convulsive link between a contemporary neo-baroque surface beauty–especially “dancehall” style–and oppressive, economic and physical violence–with particular focus on post-adolescent young men.

Here, a candy-colored, furry-carpeted “playroom,” replete with dangling balloon-baubles and all manner of toys strewn about, looks to a younger set – and takes viewers down to their level to peruse the specifics — from chalk boards to superheros to guns to game balls; and especially, a mini-teepee with a floral memorial tucked inside.  On the walls are profusely ornamented portrait photographs that stare, icono-like, into the pink void, along with montaged individuals now “playing,” imaginatively, together.  The grounded objects incarnate the real childhoods shortened and lost, upon which her deeper, suggestive commentary revolves.  If the word “authentic” has any meaning any more, it fits Patterson’s committed and always eye-popping art.  She sticks emphatically to both focused concerns and a hot-house aesthetic strongly associated with Caribbean cultural heritage, energetically spinning it personal.

Ebony G. Patterson, detail of installation the Studio Museum in Harlem (3/25/16)
Ebony G. Patterson, detail of installation the Studio Museum in Harlem (3/25/16)

Newsome’s first widely exhibited works (creeping up on a decade) were small, sharp-cut collages of bling from fashion-type ads to create heraldic, interlacing designs.  As signifiers, the shiny, anamorphic illusions suggested queer hip hop aesthetics, sometimes infused with body parts and other disparate images for a Surrealist edge.  Gradually they grew larger and more complexly Photoshop-kaleidoscopic, with spell-binding results in a solo show at Marlborough Chelsea in 2011.  Since then, he has also picked up with related Op-Art-ish videos and a further push into non-objective abstraction, though generated from the same sources.  In the selection here, the all-overall patterning is at a premium, with the photo-works eliding into a large-screen video fantasia in a darkened viewing room; while two shorter videos in smaller format centralize the calligraphic motions of a dancer against the dizzying backdrops.  Again, an artist immersed in his niche who has not yet exploited its potential yield.