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Friday, May 30, 2008

Heavy Subject

posted by on May 30 at 11:00 AM

Carl Pope’s 2005 text piece, being used as the poster for the Black Is, Black Ain’t show at The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago.

Wednesday I spent some time at Seattle Art Museum with Sandra Jackson-Dumont, the deputy director for education at the museum and also curator of a new show in the Gwen Knight and Jacob Lawrence Gallery on the third floor, called Black Art.

A podcast with Jackson-Dumont will come out next week. In it, she talks a little about a future fellowship program attached to the gallery, the gallery’s future as a place devoted to artists of African descent—and she reveals that the next artist showing there will be this one:

Titus Kaphar’s Conversation Between Paintings #1: Descending From a Cross to Be Nourished at the Breast of Our Mother (2006-2007)

But the main event of our talk was Black Art, the first themed group show in the space. It’s a gathering of works, almost entirely from SAM’s permanent collection, that in one way or another address blackness either in terms of race, color, or metaphor. The hang is crowded, salon-style, and there are no wall labels, only info sheets set on the benches for the taking. Some of the artists are completely obscure, and some of the objects haven’t been out of storage in a while. Nowhere does the museum reveal which artists are black and which aren’t, although some of them are too well-known to evade racial identification: Richard Serra, Kara Walker, Chris Ofili, Mark Tobey, Kerry James Marshall, Stephen Shore, and Louise Nevelson, to name a few.

After the podcast, Jackson-Dumont told me a story about the title, Black Art. She considered using “Black Is Beautiful” instead, but liked the simplicity—and yet inherent complication—of the one she finally chose. It has paid off, too. One woman came in to the show, saw the title, and asked whether the curators hadn’t considered calling it “African-American Art.”

This person wasn’t seeing a show, she was seeing an empirical category. Her quick impression was that just as there was a modernism gallery, a contemporary gallery, and a photography gallery, so there was a “black art” gallery.

But solid categorization is what the show is designed to defy, as the woman discovered when she started to look around.

Jackson-Dumont was working at the Studio Museum in Harlem when director Thelma Golden and Glenn Ligon coined the term “post-black” to refer to a generation of artists finding more restriction than comfort in always being seen as “black artists.” (“Post-black [is] the new black,” Golden wrote.)

That’s the underlying subject of Jackson-Dumont’s Black Art at SAM, and it’s also the subject of a show up now at The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago called Black Is, Black Ain’t (poster image above, brought to my attention by Seattle independent curator Jim O’Donnell, who just returned from seeing the show).

The best explication of this I’ve seen is in a 2004 essay called Black Light written by Glenn Ligon in Artforum.

Ligon quotes David Hammons:

Turrell, he’s on a different wavelength. He’s got a completely different vision. Different than mine, but it’s beautiful to see people who have a vision that has nothing to do with presentation in a gallery. I wish I could make art like that, but we’re too oppressed for me to be dabbling out there…. I would love to do that because that also could be very black. You know, as a black artist, dealing just with light. They would say, “How in the hell could he deal with that, coming from where he did?” I want to get to that, I’m trying to get to that, but I’m not free enough yet. I still feel I have to get my message out.

And then Ligon writes:

It’s hard to leave your body behind, especially when your body is always being thrown up in your face. But being heavy is a motherfucker. The question is: How to remove weight, to move toward lightness, as Hammons has? How to do this while still acknowledging the particular history of a body that has been used, as Stuart Hall suggests, “as if it was, and often it was, the only cultural capital we had”? These questions now occupy several young artists who walk the threshold between a dematerialized and a historicized body.

More on Black Art in print.

RSS icon Comments



Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me | May 30, 2008 11:55 AM


Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me | May 30, 2008 11:57 AM

And "AZ" gives it that touch of elan

Posted by Jig | May 30, 2008 12:38 PM

The boxing and show posters from which Carl Pope stole his poster idea and execution contained worlds. His only refers to them. His work isn't anything; it's ABOUT things, and his flabby faux-controversial slogan doesn't help. Art that would be infinitely better if it was replaced by an essay isn't very good art.

Posted by Fnarf | May 30, 2008 1:39 PM

@4: ...and a comment that stops short of contributing any actual dialogue about an insightful blog post on a piquant topic by offering a superficial and palpably naive dismissal of the very first image in it isn't a very good comment.

Posted by Emily | May 30, 2008 8:42 PM

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