Tag Archives: Ebony G. Patterson

“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.

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.


Bright Bricolage / Sublime Ceramics at MAD

At the Museum of Art and Design (Columbus Circle)

Ebony G. Patterson: Dead Treez,” through April 3

Japanese Kogei: Future Forward,” through Feb. 7

*Wendall Castle Remastered,” through Feb. 28

Both Patterson’s mixed-media patterning and the kogei  ceramics show invoke roots and remnants of cultural identity in globalized, post-industrial society.

Patterson’s art is highly invested in her Jamaican heritage and homeland.  Her first widely exhibited works in the US (first decade of the new millennium) were essentially two-dimensional, though heavily collaged with fanciful fabrics and filigreed adornments derived from “dancehall” club styling, particularly associated with men.  (However, for mainstreamers, Rihanna’s hi-lo fashion-performance image gives an idea, in a broader Caribbean context.)  Characterized by mismatched, “loud” fragments, each a loaded signifier, the aesthetic and Patterson’s take share a post-colonial peacock vibe with the portraits of Kehinde Wiley (post)–except also emphasizing the skin bleaching that has been part of the regional mix.  Here, Patterson’s “paintings” are literally bling-encrusted baroque mash-ups of (mainly) found materials, even more so in a number laid on the floor like precious carpets; they function as coded memento mori.  Patterson’s cultural sensibility, conceptual methodolgy, and material approach can perhaps be summed up by the terms of bricolage–the subterranean appropriation and re-purposing of cast-offs from elite society by an under-class–in this case, one heavily oppressed, historically–whereby a shiny surface (literally and metaphorically-see scholar Krista Thompson on this) brightens and blankets endless cycles of violence and poverty.   The beauty that results in Patterson’s hands taps into the gansta/diva dichotomy in the US discussed by Andrew Ross way back in the mid-1990s (catalog essay for “Black Male: Masculinity in Contemporary Art,” curated by Thelma Golden for the Whitney).  The tour de force, which serves as a kind of sartorial “explanation” of it all, is a tableau of mannequins in full idiosyncratic dancehall regalia.  Finally, a site-specific, encased display in which Patterson has incorporated selections from the museum’s jewelry collection into a richly tropical yet terrifying hot-house terrarium that includes half-hidden tangled “bodies,” burrowing deeper into her main themes.

Ebony G. Patterson, detail of installation at MAD (1/29/16)
Ebony G. Patterson, detail of installation at MAD (1/29/16)


Kogei is a modernist arts and crafts movement (dating from the early 20th c.), in which traditional Japanese design principles and techniques are invoked, while individual artists take off in divergent directions.  Never mind. Just take a moment to be awed (perhaps unexpectedly) by among the most imaginative contemporary ceramic work that many will have ever seen.  Highlights: thick, seeming slab-formed and expressively molded vessels, boldly glazed and ornamented with bursting “radioactive” fragments (T. Kuwata);  a wall-scale installation of trompe l’oeil clay medallions (K. Nakamura); stone-like, surface-scored, life-size animals evoking effigies from an ancient tomb (H. Noguchi); demure, small-scale figurative statuary recalling the refined, foreign dignitaries of Chinese Tang ceramics (S. Nakamura); anamorphic, rococo “spun sugar” skulls of porcelain (K. Aoki).   For those interested, info (supporting wall texts, videos) is well presented.


*Big bonus: the concurrent main show of early-to-current, highly crafted modernist furniture by famous American designer Wendell Castle (b. 1932)–needless to say, worthwhile – especially the shaped woods (though not personally . . . piercing).