Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Color Line @ Jack Shainman Gallery

This week I went to see The Color Line at the Jack Shainman Gallery. This show was curated by artist Odili Donald Odita around the theme of relationships to Africa, the diaspora, and well, color. It featured artists of African descent from the U.S., the Caribbean, and the African continent. Of the exhibit's theme Odita's statement offers the following:

In The Color Line, my main point of investigation is the relationship these selected artists have in their line of aesthetic inquiry with Africa and its Diaspora, as well as with intellectual notions of black, white and color as formats utilized to signify race and culture. Furthermore, I want to look into the psychological condition of black and white. This is not and exhibition about formalism in contemporary art, on the contrary, this is an exhibition about the specific, complex and rich ideas these artists are investigating within their individual practices that have a direct or remote relation to Africa. And in turn, I want to consider the complex conditions of African identity within a global context.

To me, as an viewer, that's already a lot to consider, but there's another five paragraphs discussing "BLACK & WHITE", "COLOR," and "METHOD." This likely of great contextual aid for participating artist, and is helpful to me as a researcher to have some context for the show. However, as a viewer it gave me rather a lot to consider as I surveyed the breadth of work Odita has presented.

Having said that, I do think that it is a wonderfully ambitious exhibit. Whether or not you end up feeling that the works in evidence did collectively create a coherent engagement with Odili's theme(s), it is undeniably a timely conversation. I'm not sure if a consistent feeling of coherence would be possible, there are so many perspectives on display, from different geographical, historical, generational, and ethnic/racial backgrounds. Also, though this was a highly conceptual show, it is a gallery setting. So the mounting layout is set up for commerce; viewers have to circulate through the space with the exhibition sheet listing of artists names, date(s) of art work, artistic medium, prices and thumbnail images to match the spare descriptions with the works. I'm pleased that the artists have a high profile opportunity to sell their work (a stand-alone piece from Nick Cave's Sound Suit project sold for $30,000; pictured left). Concurrently, I would have wished for artist statements to accompany the work, some of which had been completed a number of years in advance of the show and some, notably Nigerian expatriate artist, curator, poet, and art historian Olu Oguibe's take on colonial power, spectacle, and gender, Game, were created this year according to the artist listing (note: an interview with Oguibe in BOMB Magazine lists the date of the work as 2003). (pictured right, partial view of Game)

My favorite pieces were probably the two videos by Argentinian artist Miguel Angel Rios, Return and Love. In the first a silent field of wooden spinning tops, trompos, painted a matte-finish black, begins to reanimate, slowly spinning to full speed away from and around each other. In Love, two spinning tops painted white on one side and black on the other spin towards each other alternating repelling and attracting each other, sometimes black-to-white sometimes white-to-white, sometimes black-to-black, but can never sustain either stance, finally falling still against each other. Angel Rios, who started out as a painter but has changed mediums recently, makes use of the ambient sounds of the spinning tops themselves, but also creates an evocative digitally processed soundscape for his metaphorical narratives. (above right, an image from Angel Rios' three channel projection A Morir from the Hirshhorn Museum)

I was also struck by the image from exiled Cuban photographer Maria Magdalena
Campos-Pons, When I Am Not Here of a woman wearing the white and red colors of Santa Barbara as narrow painted lines the length of her face and as beading in her hair, with her own skin and hair as the third color of the Saint, black. I do wish this image was better.

One reason I attended was the opportunity to see more of Carl Pope's work. He employs the neighborhood placards that many in African American urban communities take for granted as lo-tech marketing tools of the past. Pope utilizes that familiarity and turns it on its head creating something like a philosophical trickster marketing campaign in the process. The one I resonated with turned out to be a quote by Australian artist Tracey Moffatt (thanks to S.D. for that info:

The other quote is a favorite of my friend Q, but I don't know to whom it is originally attributed:

Some other images from the show: a watercolor by Senam Okudzeto:

Fred Holland's 10 Elements (yams, gold, accupuncture needles)

(detail from 10 Elements)

(detail from 10 Elements)

In the background U.S. artist Rashid Johnson's Stay Black and Die, in the foreground Surinamean artist Remy Jungerman's Nobody Is Protected.

Johnson's Signed Amiri Baraka Civil Rights All-Star Throwback Dashiki

's Communication Tree

Detail from Kerry James Marshall's RYTHM MASTR


At 9:04 AM, Anonymous Olu Oguibe said...

Thanks for a deep and frank review of the Color Line show. You are quite right about the production date of "Game". It was created for the 2nd Biennial of Ceramics in Contemporary Art in Italy in 2002-2003 and has been exhibited twice since. Not quite sure how or where the gallery got the 2007 date and, well, efforts to get them to correct it didn't work. One lives with it.

At 8:33 PM, Blogger audiologo said...

Olu Oguibe, thank you for your comments and for clarifying the date for Game. I look forward to seeing more of your curatorial efforts in the future.

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