Tag Archives: Hank Willis Thomas

Brief notes on Chelsea Ground and the Met Roof

“Sean Scully: Wall of Light Cubed”; through May 20, Cheim & Read, 547 W. 25th Street.

“The Past is Present” (Hank Willis Thomas, Turiya Magadlela, Brad Kahlhamer); through April 22, Jack Shainman,  524 W. 24th Street.

“Robert Therrien”; through May 26, Gagosian, 555 W. 24th  Street.

“Erwin Wurm: Ethics demonstrated in geometrical order”; through May 26, Lehman Maupin, 536 W. 22nd Street.

“Kevin Francis Gray”; through April 22, Pace, 537 W. 24th Street.

“Yoshitomo Nara: Thinker”; through April 29, Pace, 510 W. 25th Street.

“Adrian Villar Rojas: The Theater of Disappearance”; through October 29, The Met roof.

*** Does “expert” abstract painting exist?  Like, an ideal display of formal dialectics (structure/not-structure; preconception/perception; accident/ rigor, rigidity/fluidity).  Within his own visionary constraints (not an oxymoron in his case) and despite inevitable association with the whole constellation of painting through time, Sean Scully’s work recalls really no one—well, maybe the ghost of Braque.  A relatively recent foray into sculpture is represented here by two colossal, fat columns of what appear to be stacked, staggered frames or square platforms – visitors cannot see the tower tops.  One is monochromatic black, coaxing out the ziggurat factor; the other features his noted greyed-tinged rainbow palette.  Each fills up the relatively small rooms in which they are (respectively) installed, so that a first reaction may be, why not in the large main gallery?  But, of course, given Scully’s deep, deft formal deliberations throughout his forty-some-year career, the body/space/object scale is surely integral.

*** I loved Robert Therrien’s caringly-burnished, matte-finish Minimalist sculptures and shaped paintings of the 1980s—still resonating beneath several chromed-hued, colossal versions here.  Likewise his overblown domestic geometry of the 1990s—as in generic furniture and plates, here metamorphosed into staged sets displayed in trailers, suggesting Surrealist theater and a compulsion to spotting and juxtaposing unlikely like forms.

*** Clumpy, lumpy, something borrowed, something of you—DIY on both sides of the art-making equation for Erwin Wurm.  Viewers will find faux-naively sewn or otherwise scrawled instructions in/on  deconstructed and reassembled furniture and other hybrid forged/found objects, which encourage explicit interaction with each piece (put it that way).  For example, you stick your feet into sawed holes in an old coffee table.  Do it.  Sublime bricolage (leftovers patched into service as art), with a chaser.

*** Slightly varied, big scary-cute-animé-tinged paintings of a slightly-cybor-girl from Yoshitomo Nara, a progenitor of the Japanese postwar sensibility and phenomena with global sympathizers and appropriators.   A group of black-and-white- glazed ceramics vessels decorated cartoon-like with the subject’s adventures and bearing mixed messages about society and love represents something new for Nara, and … dare I say … saleable?  (“Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”  J. Seinfeld).  They are very cool and accessible.  But, I’d rather buy one of the contour drawings that explore his obsessively repeated, enigmatic starlet.  And there are colossal, hobbit-strange sculptural sentinels to contend with, as well.

*** Hand-hewn Marble imitating plaster-putty neo-Baroque anatomy studies—mashup Bernini/Messerschmidt/Rodin/Francis Bacon—Kevin Francis Gray offers a compelling antidote to the 3D-printed also Baroque-ish creations of Adrian Villar Rojas currently on the Met Roof (more below).

*** Speaking of which, 3D printing had something to do with Hank Willis Thomas’s sculptures in Shainman’s tri-artist display—making them no less emotion-filled or savvy.  That’s especially if you’ve been along on his art journey over the past two decades, from cutting photographic commentaries on sports and advertising to his recent socio-community-network collaborations, like www.forfreedoms.org (currently featured in a small show at MoMA PS1, through September 10).  Two wall sculptures here are derived from photographic “points” of interest (Barthes’s punctum) within basketball play-action shots.  These hyper-realist, purple-tinged shining arm-to-fingertip-to-basket casts (resin-based) appear both celebratory and haunted by chance and instability.

Hank Willis Thomas, resin-cast sculpture from the “Punctum Series” at Jack Shainman; 4/19/17

And a column of b-balls is a great riff on Brancusi; while the theme and multiple-entendres of these, like all his b-ball-based works continue the props to David Hammons.  Also included are several of Thomas’s word paintings, which play with semiotics and visual perception while forthright in content.

I came with no background on the other two artists, but left a fan of Turiya Magadlela, who has wrung out translucent colorfield abstractions from stretched panty hose, shouting out feminist performance pioneer Senga Nengudi in the process, and was captivated by Brad Kahlhamer’s  wirey “dreamcatcher” American flag.

***Villar Rojas went nuts with the 3D printing in his Met roof installation.  Dicing digital images into intuitive new forms and sending them off to the object fabricator is an increasingly popular art process/technique, to be sure–not to be written off as mere fad or novelty.   Yet, in the age of digitized reproduction, as well earlier methods–art gains and loses (to clumsily invoke W. Benjamin).  The resultant, scattered tableau is “spectacular” (in the sense of G. Debord) and inevitable (back to Benjamin); but, what is the criteria for artistic/aesthetic engagement, differentiation, and quality with this new screen media-to-object trend?  So Villar Rojas has incarnated part nightmarish, part goofball hybrid figures, developed from from scans of works of art from the Met’s collection, redistributed, montaged, and melded with fleshed out human bodies, gathered at a kind of haunted feast.  It’s fun in a puzzle way and gains as one may recognize snippets and fragments.  There is follow-up thought on the glut of objects in museums and their often arbitrary taxonomies of forms, functions, and status.

Adrian Villar Rojas sculpture from The Met roof installation (4/29/17).

 

Snapshot: Spring Shows at SMH

At the Studio Museum in Harlem, through June 28:

Harlem Postcards

Trenton Doyle Hancock: Skin and Bones

Salon Style

Concealed

In Profile

The spring edition of Harlem Postcards is, as usual, a lively and intriguing welcome into the galleries (“Harlem Postcards”).  Love the “golden grapes” by Awol Erizko, inspired by an Egyptian kitsch image (T-shirt), and Elaine Reichek’s embroidered interpretation of a beaux-arts architectural detail (“Harlem Arcadia”).

The featured show, TDH (Amer., b. 1974): Sprawling, subversive, naughty, adolescent, densely-doodled cartoons; as per the title, the insides and outsides of human anatomy, real and imagined, rubbery, R. Crumb-“screwy,” Kerry-James-Marshall comics c. 2000, prehistoric and futurist, interspersed with hand-scripted odd-ball texts to match.  Keith Haring-like autonomy in the continuous, fluid contour drawing and mixed male messages.  Not particularly my sensibility; but surely, interesting critical investigations will be derived from this first (mid-career) retrospective for a driven, idiosyncratic draftsman.  If you do get caught up, you’ll be spending a good chunk of time unraveling it all.

More me (metaphorically; isn’t that the bottom line?) was the upstairs group show, “Salon Style.” (I once wrote a review, “Make-Up and Art” — see “Publications” page, 2012).  On the one hand, hair and (more recently in the grand scheme) nails, have become overdetermined tropes of black womanhood (globally), in specific terms of representation; on the other, related representations have been enormously influential, socially, politically and aesthetically, in the art world and beyond, since the early postwar years; and continue to be explored energetically. (I didn’t mention, in my post on the BMA Kehinde Wiley show, 2/23/15, the monument to ancestral-goddess hair, Bound, 2014).  Here, I was happy to see one of Chris Ofili’s idealized 70s-style fantasy watercolor portraits juxtaposed with one of Lorna Simpson’s similar photo-collage image-concepts (I noticed a kinship while both had simultaneous shows in NYC last year; see post, 11/3/14); as well as a demure Hank Willis Thomas manipulated “re-photograph”–ode to the perfect (female) Afro, and a small-scale Chakaia Booker (just because Booker’s formal “rubber-tire” inventiveness is always amazing).  But the star of this show is surely Pamela Council, with her “blaxidermy” (the artist’s term) art of artificial nails, from a series homage to the late, great Olympic runner Flo-Jo (Florence Griffith Joyner).

Being partial to both bricolage and Minimalist aesthetics, I was engaged by the bookish installation downstairs, Unbound (2015), in which artist Samuel Levi Jones has lined the gallery walls with tattered book spines, bindings, and covers, faded to beige and rust tones and arranged grid-like, to suggest both the immobility of entrenched, institutionalized epistemes and the malleability of collected knowledge vis-a-vis new contexts.

Highlights from two smaller installations of works from the permanent collection:

Upstairs in “Concealed” I would note: an early Willie Cole “domestic iron” piece, in which iron-burnt impressions suggest spear-shaped, worn masks (early 1990s); a realist charcoal portrait of a contemporary figure turned hybrid under a under a heavy, Baga-type mask by Robert Pruitt; and a manipulated photo-portrait by Paul Anthony Smith, in which a Kuba mask is superimposed on the sitter and “flecked” (actually pricked over with a sharp implement) to appear as shining.

Downstairs, “In Profile”: a small Barkley Hendricks “icon” of a shaded-glasses-70s dude that resonates right now with the similar recent, gold-backed portraiture of Titus Kaphur (see post 12/8/14) and Wiley (at BMA); also, a ceramic rosebud-blooming head by Simone Leigh, and a rough-hewn hair-shop-sign assemblage by Alison Saar, both of which would have looked great upstairs in “Salon.”

 

Notes on SMH Winter Shows: Printed Matter and Art; the Visual Rhetoric of Mug Shots; Ab-Ex Redo

Studio Museum in Harlem (www.studiomuseum.org)
Through March 2015:

Speaking of People: Ebony, Jet and Contemporary Art
Kianja Strobert: Of This Day in Time
Titus Kaphar: The Jerome Project

“Speaking of People” presents stylistically diverse contemporary work that refers in various ways to the long-running, African-American-run-and-targeted popular periodicals, Ebony and Jet, published by the Johnson Publishing Co. The  theme follows up on an exhibition by David Hartt, primarily a photographer, presented at SMH last year (Spring 2013), which explored the physical enterprise of the original Chicago headquarters of Johnson Publishing in documentary and aesthetic terms of African American modernism of the sixties and seventies. In the current show, Hartt is represented by a photo close-up of a patch of geometric/tribal-patterned carpet at Johnson’s, tilted into an abstract wall piece. Hank Willis Thomas provides literal and semiotic signage in his composite, punning logo paintings, Jet People, and  Ebony Life, to suggest associative binary word play. His installation of Jet “beauties of the week,” which plasters a downstairs gallery with examples (the magazine pages) from the early 1950s to the present, raises all sorts of questions about gender, race, visual culture, conceptual art, appropriation, the foundations and messages of Willis’s oeuvre to the present — in short, very .  . . interesting. Lorna Simpson’s recent hand-embellished collages, which dreamily conjure Afrocentric glamor, bear an interesting comparison with Chris Ofili’s wall of watercolor portraits concurrently on view at the New Museum (see post, 11/3/14) in the shared revisionist Age-of-Aquarius nostalgia and mix of unique identities and idiosyncratic idealization. Meanwhile Ellen Gallagher’s compilation of goofily obscured and graffiti-pocked ads promoting mainstream (mainly code white) beauty offers a critical antidote.

Loran Simpson installation at SMH (image: www.studiomuseum.org)
Lorna Simpson installation at SMH (image: www.studiomuseum.org; for the sake of comparison with Chris Ofili’s installation at the New Museum below (image: www.tate.org.uk)

Chris Ofili (image: www.tate.org.uk)

             Kianja Strobert is the kind of painter that restores faith in the unexpected sensory pleasures and powers of abstraction, in sharp  contrast to the multiplying, referential image-driven productions pervasive in contemporary art. Gritty and crystalline swaths of textural, metallic and charcoal-y substances are swept and woven upon and through boldly brushed autumnal color and punctuated by calligraphic drops and scrawls to suggest natural phenomenon, celestial visions, and psyche-scapes.

Titus Kaphar offers a group of photorealist-style mug shots of black men on gold grounds – icons – each partly obscured by  a tar-like black paint rising from the bottom. As with Strobert’s bravura in her metier, Kaphar’s refined painterly detail is appealing particularly as juxtaposed with prevalent appropriation and conceptual styles, here highlighted by the stark juxtaposition of the face-encroaching blotted scrims. The back story—Kaphar’s search for his father, which led to the depicted imprisoned men, each named Jerome, is crucial, and adds to the visual tension between stereotypes, individuality, and seriality conveyed in the row of images, as installed.