The New Yorker
In one of the most buzzed-about débuts of the fall season, Casteel shows large figurative canvases that combine the candid immediacy of the digital snapshots on which they’re based with the restraint and humanity of an Alice Neel portrait. The young Colorado-born phenom worked almost entirely from pictures she took in Harlem of men, at night. Casteel’s subjects, like the artist herself, are black, and her work tackles the representation of race in general, while revelling, as painters will, in the specific details. In “Q,” a man sits on a stoop next to a sketched-in green railing, earnestly consulting his iPhone, and wearing a sweatshirt with an image of Biggie Smalls in wraparound shades, a gold chain, and a Coogi sweater. In “MegaStarBrand’s Louie and A-Thug,” two well-turned-out young men sprawl with authority in folding chairs on the sidewalk, gazing skeptically out of frame. One wears a shirt that says “REASON,” the other is in a T-shirt that reads “T.H.U.G.: THE HATE YOU GAVE US.” In her exhilarating, if uneven, show, Casteel gives nothing but love.
Jordan Casteel Featured in Barneys New York Fall Catalogue
When Jordan Casteel decided to go to art school, she and her mother sat down at a computer and googled “Best MFA in America.” Columbia, Yale, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago came up. With no formal training, Casteel, who grew up in Denver and studied at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia, applied to all three. “I put those long shots out into the universe and got a response back inviting me for an interview at Yale,” she says.
Even then, her expectations were minimal. “I went in with the intention of being a learner—just to ask a lot of questions, so I was pretty relaxed,” she says. It was only when she was waiting for her turn to interview, Casteel recalled, that “a girl came out before me, and she looked petrified, like literally crying. And I thought: ‘Oh. Huh. I might actually be over my head.’
She wasn’t, though, and after being accepted to and enrolling in Yale, Casteel hit on a project that she’s continued ever since: painting deeply empathetic, searingly intimate yet reverential portraits of black men. Casteel’s subjects stare frankly at the viewer. Young and old, nude and clothed, smiling or somewhat standoffish—each portrait is intensely, urgently personal.
She started out painting students at the Yale School of Drama. Today, her subjects range from friends and family members to people in her Harlem neighborhood who happen to catch her eye. “I was thinking about how I can represent them as people who I love and know intimately,” she says. “How can people begin to see them as I see them?”
The impetus for the work was George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the shooting and killing of Trayvon Martin. “I was just so distraught,” she continued. “I thought, now it’s time to merge social justice and art together, and build a meaningful dialogue.” The socially charged series was almost instantaneously a success. After graduating from Yale, Casteel had her first solo show in New York at the gallery Sargent’s Daughters, and then was invited to be an artist in residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem. This fall, she’ll have a show at the Casey Kaplan gallery in New York, and in the winter of 2019, the Denver Art Museum will open a solo exhibition of her work. “It’s not that I’ve had low expectations for myself,” Casteel says. “But I have a lot of gratitude, because I never thought I’d be here.”
The Art Newspaper: Private View: Jordan Casteel, Leon Polk Smith And Jack Whitten
The 28-year-old Casteel has her debut at Kaplan following a packed dance card of group shows over the past two years, from the Studio Museum in Harlem to MassMOCA. The 2014 Yale MFA grad (raised on a diet of Romare Bearden and Jacob Lawrence by her grandmother, a collector) makes empathic, large-scale portraits of black men and recently began painting from portraits she takes of men she observes on the street in Harlem at night. In one, Casteel locks eyes with Harold, seated just beyond the fluoro glow of a Laundromat; in another, a man identified as Tito interrupts his own story to describe it with a gesture. Casteel allows the visual cacophony of settings to envelop but never swallow her subjects. The artist inserts herself invisibly into the frame, bearing witness through achingly specific details—a trait shared by another painter of Harlem denizens, Alice Neel.
GEOFFREY FARMER: THE CARE WITH WHICH THE RAIN IS WRONG AT SCHINKEL PAVILLON, BERLIN
SEPTEMBER 17 – NOVEMBER 12
Schinkel Pavillon is pleased to announce the opening of Geoffrey Farmer’s (b. 1967, Vancouver) The Care With Which The Rain is Wrong, the artist’s first solo exhibition in Berlin. On the occasion of Berlin Art Week, Farmer will present two large-scale, site-specific installations – in the Pavillon’s rotundas in the souterrain and in the glass pavilion on the first floor.
Farmer’s work reflects a fascination with the cultural and art historical archives of humankind. By meticulously collecting images, objects and sounds of various subjects over long periods of time, Farmer develops detailed installations that often remain in a continuous state of transformation.
An example of such can be seen in Boneyard, which will take up almost the entire souterrrain octagon of the Schinkel Klause. An auditorium will be created consisting of over 1,200 miniature paper cut-outs of paintings, sculptures, and characters from different eras, contexts and materials. Arranged as a circle at the center of the rotunda, the grouping will come together to form an art historical cabinet or collegium. For this installation, the artist will make additions to the already existing paper cut-outs and will redevelop the text as an integral part of the work. Free-standing or on pedestals, facing and at the same time turned away from each other, the narratives of the presented individual bodies and characters intertwine, revealing harmony or opposition between their makers, contemporary witnesses, and world views.
On the first floor the artist will present Look in my face; my name is Might-have-been; I am also called No-more, Too-late, Farewell, a digital, computer-generated projection compiled of an archive of over 15,000 snapshots, which he continuously modifies and expands. The vast range of imagery is gathered from politics, ethnographic studies, anonymous portraits, lifestyle and business, agriculture and other industries. This collection of images and sounds is combined into a synchronized hypnotic installation, inducing a seemingly overwhelming richness of impressions and offering endless associations and interconnections. A computer algorithm reshuffles each sequence, creating an entirely new projection and taking on a different shape for each visitor. For the presentation, Geoffrey Farmer will add a significant volume of images to the archive that will specifically relate to the historically charged location of the Schinkel Pavillon and the city of Berlin itself.
ARTNEWS: 9 Art Events to Attend in New York City This Week
For her first exhibition at Casey Kaplan, New York–based artist Jordan Casteel will present a series of large-scale oil paintings of men she photographed while wandering the streets of Harlem. Like most of Casteel’s work, her new paintings—introspective and given largely to subjects seated in their natural environments—address relationships between individuals and the spaces they live in, often touching on issues related to class and race in the process.
ARTSY: The 15 New York Shows You Need to See This September
Esteemed for the engrossing portraits that came out of her 2015 residency at The Studio Museum in Harlem, Casteel creates honest, intimate paintings of members of her community, from family members to men she’s met along 125th Street. The new, large-scale portraits in “Nights in Harlem” at Casey Kaplan advance Casteel’s depictions of black men, the works now based on photographs she’s taken of strangers in the neighborhood. Painting her subjects in cool blues, backlit by the warm glow of streetlights, Casteel conveys individuals’ personal stories, while subtly tackling broader sociopolitical concerns.
ARTNEWS: Matthew Ronay Is Now Represented by Casey Kaplan
Casey Kaplan gallery in New York now represents Matthew Ronay, the Brooklyn-based artist whose sculptures brings together a mix of fancifully colored elements that resemble the cogs of machinery or dripping liquids. Ronay previously showed at New York’s Andrea Rosen Gallery, which announced in February that it would close its regularly operating public space and cease representing living artists.
Ronay’s works can recall the ceramics of Ken Price and Ron Nagle, both of whom frequently rely on bright hues and combinations of unlike forms in their sculptures. For Ronay, this format becomes a way to evoke the nonsensicality of all the useless objects you can buy, as well as the way organic and inorganic elements are so often combined these days.
Ronay’s work was most recently on view in Los Angeles, where the artist had a solo show at Marc Foxx gallery, which also represents him. He has also had one-person shows of late at the Blaffer Art Museum in Houston (in 2016), the Pérez Art Museum Miami (2016), and Kunstverein Lingen in Germany (2014). He will have his first one-person exhibition at Casey Kaplan in 2019.
Jordan Casteel for Interview Magazine
Jordan Casteel applied to Yale’s MFA program on a dare from her mother. “She and I were googling ‘best art schools,’” says the 28-year-old Colorado native. “Yale popped up first. I applied with no expectations.” The university responded favorably to the young artist’s leap of faith, and three years after graduating, Casteel still considers the experience a formative one. “I was lucky enough to grow up with work by Romare Bearden, Faith Ringgold, and Jacob Lawrence,” she says. “But it wasn’t until I got to school that I found artists like Kerry James Marshall and Henry Taylor. They helped me formulate my own voice, my own style.”
Like Marshall and Taylor, Casteel focuses on representations of the black body. Where she differs is in perspective: her canvases are informed by the female gaze, and as a result, she tends to focus on men. Pushing against the preposterous yet pervasive generalizations of black men as aggressors, the artist infuses her subjects with tender contradictions, such as Miles and Jojo, a 2015 painting of a father and son with a toothy stuffed monster propped in the son’s arms. The intimacy of the work can be traced to her painting process, which begins with photography. “I take hundreds of images,” Casteel says. “Very rarely does a singular shot determine the whole composition.” Casteel’s muses have varied from actors to friends, often posed in cramped domestic interiors in various states of undress.
Recently, she’s begun approaching strangers she encounters on the street during her commute from her apartment in Harlem to her studio in Brooklyn. “So often in New York we just walk by each other,” Casteel says. “I wanted to find a way to engage.” To her surprise, most have been open to posing for her camera. “When I ask someone if I can take their picture, I have to step outside my comfort zone,” says the self-proclaimed introvert. “I think if that discomfort went away, I would find something else to paint. For me, it’s about this kind of two-sided generosity.”
For her solo show at New York’s Casey Kaplan gallery in September, Casteel plans to unveil a new series inspired by Harlem nights. Such scenes include a painting of a man with dreadlocks walking two small dogs down the sidewalk and an elderly man, illuminated by an open door, lounging in a plastic lawn chair. As with all her shows, Casteel will invite her subjects to the opening. “A huge part of my work comes from the desire to create community,” she says. “The paintings have the lifespan of an object, but the relationships have a history, a life, of their own.” –Kat Herriman
Photography: Sebastian Kim; Styling: Michelle Cameron
The New Yorker: Goings on About Town
With his invention of the Dramastics, a fictional punk band, the Texas-born, Brooklyn-based artist introduces figuration to his abstract lexicon, crossing the biomorphism of Miró and Calder with a confetti-colored cartoon realm. The band stars in Carter’s short film “The Dramastics Are Loud.” But the action, while undeniably charming, pales in comparison with the meticulous detail and handcrafted beauty of the paper-and-wire figures and the dioramalike sets, which were used to create the stop-motion animation. This bright, appealing world, which might have been built by a team of sophisticated bowerbirds, is displayed in the gallery, where we see the young women rehearsing, performing in dives, and touring the world (with a noteworthy stop in Paris). Airy sculptures and colorful drawings—Carter collectively titles these abstractions “The Fascinators”—fill out the installation, but it’s the Dramastics who steal the show.
The New York Times: What to See in New York Art Galleries This Week
The Dramastics are an all-girl punk band that invaded the imagination of the sculptor Nathan Carter in 2014. He hadn’t made figurative work before, but the band’s members came suddenly to life in his studio as paper dolls with exaggerated, slender proportions, naïvely drawn faces, and a perfect pop color scheme of Parisian bleu, blanc and rouge. He also constructed friends, rivals and venues, all on display in his latest show, in a busy, eager-to-please installation; wrote and recorded songs; and made an entertainingly silly animated concert video, which screened at the installation’s opening.
But the stars of this gallery show, as such, are six wall-mounted sculptures more in line with Mr. Carter’s earlier work. (Their connection to the band is that they are notionally “fascinators,” or decorative hats for the characters.) Made from found aluminum painted in an old-school but eye-catching palette of pastel and primary colors with latex enamel, these explosive swoops and swooshes balance the fun-for-fun’s-sake cheer of the Dramastics project with enough formal rigor to make the immediate hit of optical pleasure more lasting. In “Fascinator for Abby Abstract,” a spiral of thin lines is ornamented with half-moons of magenta and blue; in “Fascinator for Hyped-up Harriet,” a small yellow circle perches atop a lavender bow like a diffident moon.
Nathan Carter Film Screening and Live Performance
Liam Gillick in Conversation: We Need to Talk About Community
Artist Liam Gillick, designer Peter Saville and curator Matthew Higgs discuss New Order + Liam Gillick: So it goes.. and True Faith, two MIF17 projects exploring the ongoing legacy of New Order and Joy Division, and will analyse the mercurial chemistry that unites artistic communities.
We Need to Talk About Community is part of Interdependence: We Need to Talk, six themed sessions of provocative conversation and new ideas staged every Saturday during MIF17.
FOR SALE: NATHAN CARTER “THE DRAMASTICS FOR REAL” TOTE
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* President John Kennedy once said to former Vice President Richard Nixon, “It really is true that foreign affairs is the only important issue for a President to handle, isn’t it? I mean – who gives a shit if the minimum wage is $1.15 or $1.25 in comparison to something like this?” Nixon couldn’t agree more. But Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th President of the United States, who inherited the office at 12:30 p.m. on Nov 22nd of 1963 wasn’t so comfortable with the idea. While he succeeded in making Congress work like no one before or after and achieved the most forward domestic reforms since Roosevelt, the rest of the world would be his undoing. Especially a distant corner of the planet known as South East Asia.
How one makes decisions says a lot about how one governs. Many of the events of the 1950s and 60s can be understood by tracing the different decision making templates of the different administrations. L.B.J. preferred close intimates upon whom he could insist on loyalty and control. The glacier of information concerning Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia would be condensed over and over again until it reached a private room of 4-6 men referred to as the “Tuesday Lunch Group.” The group of intimates would meet weekly in the Whitehouse Dinning room to decide matters ranging from general policy to bombing targets. What was to be America’s longest war* was an around the clock concern, but many of the most important decisions were faced over the Sheraton dining table aside Truman’s china set. – M.E.B., 2017
Jordan Casteel featured by Art21
Frustrated by her twin brother’s experiences with racial profiling, Casteel began painting portraits of her those in her community—friends, family members, boyfriends, and eventually strangers on the streets of her adopted neighborhood of Harlem.
The ARTNEWS Accord: Kevin Beasley and Kellie Jones in Conversation
Kevin Beasley is an artist in his early 30s whose work with sculpture and sound has drawn on his upbringing in rural Virginia and, from his current home in New York, his communion with markers of African-American history, among other sources. Disused housedresses suggestive of empowered domesticity and abstract samples from the music of deceased ’90s-era hip-hop stars are just two aspects of his work’s evolving internal language. Kellie Jones is an art historian who grew up in the ’60s and the ’70s in New York with epochal parents—the writers LeRoi Jones (a.k.a. Amiri Baraka) and Hettie Jones—and whose work as a curator and scholar has focused in part on hidden histories of African-American art.
Over dinner at Red Rooster in Harlem, Beasley and Jones joined ARTnews to discuss Jones’s new book, South of Pico: African American Artists in Los Angeles in the 1960s and 1970s (Duke University Press), and Beasley’s recent project at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, an installation inspired by a historic image of black activist Huey P. Newton and an altarpiece by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in Rome. For Jones, dinner included Helga’s Meatballs, a dish created in tribute to Ethiopian-born, Swedish-raised chef Marcus Samuelsson’s grandmother, and iced coffee. For Beasley, the Fried Yardbird and a Harlem Mule (scotch, ginger beer, lime, and basil).
Kevin Beasley: I just spent five weeks in California and, when I left L.A. for the Bay Area, I got your book: the energy, the vibe—everything about it is amazing.
Kellie Jones: Thank you! You went to [collector] Pamela Joyner’s spot? I remember you mentioned that when we saw each other at her book launch. Did it turn out to be everything you thought?
Beasley: It’s a small compound she has in Sonoma County with her husband [Fred Giuffrida, with whom she helms the Joyner/Giuffrida collection of African-diasporan art]. It’s a house that you can work in, and there’s a garage you can use as a studio, with tools and anything you need. It’s like a vacation from the diligence of being in the studio. You can relax and have the means to make work. I produced a lot more ideas because I wasn’t tied to the regularity of my studio. It was out of my routine, so it has been rejuvenating to come back, rethink, move things around.
ARTnews: Before we get to the specifics of California, let’s wind back to the beginning: What are your earliest memories of art—when were your interests kindled?
Jones: Let the artist go first.
Beasley: I was always drawing, but when I was about 9 or 10, my mom intervened. At the public school I was in, there were no art classes I could take. If you were on an academic track that was advanced for whatever reason, there was always a conflict with anything considered extracurricular. So my mom was like, “You’re going to take private lessons,” and she would drive me every Saturday to a little shopping center where this woman and her husband taught classes. It was a framing and art supply store. They would show me techniques of shading, drawing cartoons and video-game figures and all sorts of things. Then I remember an acceleration of materials. They would start everyone with graphite and move you into colored pencils, pastels, watercolors, and then slowly graduate you to oil. By the time I was 13, that was all I was doing: oil paint, turpentine, killing brain cells.
Jones: You had to become an artist after that. [Laughs]
Beasley: I was cultivated by my parents: there was always support from my mom and dad, and that was pivotal for me.
ARTnews: Kellie, how about your early years?
Jones: I was born into a family of artists. I grew up in downtown New York, so I was always around artists and musicians like Al Loving, Jack Whitten—I used to babysit Jack’s daughter. I was around the people who made SoHo. Elizabeth Murray was my elementary school art teacher. In my book EyeMinded: Living and Writing Contemporary Art (Duke, 2011), I describe a painting by Bob Thompson called LeRoi Jones and His Family, from 1964. It was unfinished, and I actually signed the painting: you can see “KELLIE.” Joseph Hirshhorn bought it before it was finished and, to every director of the Hirshhorn Museum, I say, “I signed that, so you can give me the painting.” It doesn’t really work. [Laughs] That’s one of my earliest memories—my earliest memories are all about artists.
When I went to college I was shocked that people thought artists meant dead artists, because all the ones I knew were alive. That was a gift. I never wanted to become an artist because I didn’t want to be broke, but I realized it was a great privilege to have grown up with artists. Both of my parents were poets—who has that opportunity?
ARTnews: When did you start traveling to California?
Jones: I started going to L.A. in the ’80s. One of the first places I went was Charles White Park in Altadena. I was amazed by a park named after an artist; I like that. The genesis of the South of Pico project in particular came from my work with David Hammons as a curator. In an interview with him from 1986, he told me about all these artists I’d never heard of, particularly Noah Purifoy. I wanted to know where David came from. David became well-known in the ’90s as a genius, but he actually comes from a community, and I wanted to know more. He talked about it very reverently. He always gives credit to that California scene for nurturing who he is. So the seed was planted, and then, working with Maren Hassinger, Senga Nengudi, and Melvin Edwards, I heard more about artists I’d never known. People always say New York is the center of the art world, and that we started talking about ideas of multiculturalism and diversity in the art world in the ’80s and ’90s. But for me, it begins with these people coming from L.A.
ARTnews: Kevin, how much or little did artists in South of Pico figure into your early education?
Beasley: I grew up in a small town, and it wasn’t until I moved to Detroit that I had access to shows in person. The first working artist I met was a local artist I apprenticed with. He wasn’t featured in Artforum or ARTnews. Going to Detroit introduced me to artists like Hammons. It’s hard for me to know how they influenced my work, but I know that it hasn’t been conscious—in part because these artists weren’t getting big features like Richard Serra or other white artists who were having major shows and retrospectives. Martin Puryear’s retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in 2007—that, to me, felt like the first time I’d seen a major retrospective of a black artist in person.
ARTnews: You grew up exposed to that history from birth. Were you aware that other people were not steeped in the same knowledge?
Jones: I had no idea. I got to college and I was shocked. I also went to an arts high school: some of my peers were Hilton Als, Whitfield Lovell, Fred Wilson. Three of us from that high school are MacArthur geniuses, from a public high school. It was a diverse place, and we would look at books and nobody looked like the people in our school. We would think, “Hmm, this is weird.” Later, when I got to college, I realized none of the books had the people I knew, so I had to search them out. When you’re a child, you think the whole world is like your world. Growing up in New York, you think everyone knows the world as a varied place—but sometimes they don’t.
Beasley: When I think about the exclusion of people like Hammons from books, it’s systemic in the way it functions and operates to exclude people from the conversation. There’s energy to remedy that with what institutions are doing now, but it’s like, Jacob Lawrence’s “Migration” series on view at MoMA—really, that just happened, after such a long time? It’s good but also frustrating.
ARTnews: When you went to Detroit for school, it took a little while before you moved fully into art. What was your trajectory there?
Beasley: My initial interest was in automotive design. I felt I had an artistic ability but didn’t want to be broke, and I had an interest in car culture. My dad was really into it, and my first car was a 1970 Dodge Dart Swinger—bought it for $900 and fixed it up. My first teacher was actually on the design team for that car. In Detroit you had access to designers who worked directly in the industry, but there were all these ethical issues—like what the auto industry stands for—that were severely problematic. Detroit is a brown city, and it’s struggling intensely on all levels. There’s racism and segregation; people are leaving. I realized I didn’t want to put my creative energy for the rest of my life into that industry. I felt like what was most important to me was taking my creative energy and addressing things that were important to me.
ARTnews: We’ve talked some in the past about your aversion to the design concept of “planned obsolescence.” How did that figure in?
Beasley: Money and technology don’t necessarily mix, because technology affords us something else: possibility. The idea of making income and revenue always controls business decisions. In order to continue gaining revenue, you’ll design a product that will last only a year or two. You design it that way intentionally, knowing it’s going to be obsolete. For me, it was overwhelming to think about that, so I was like, “Fuck this, I’m going into painting.” I just walked over to fine arts and said, “OK, I’m going to put my energies to this and have more control over the kinds of questions I want to ask. And if I bring something up in a conversation or critique, the room would consider it rather than suppress it.”
ARTnews: One theme running through South of Pico is how these artists related to the materials they used in an attempt to transfigure objects that had been neglected or disused—and how radical such a choice was at the time.
Jones: What’s radical is to see the years of intense assemblage practice. Part of that is tied to urban renewal and tearing down buildings, many of them in black or mixed neighborhoods. The essence of the work was basically built on the destruction of neighborhoods of color. That’s assemblage in one aspect, for artists like Edward Kienholz or Bruce Conner, who were going into these neighborhoods and thinking about this stuff. Kienholz’s installation Roxys (1960–61) is made from buildings on the Central Avenue strip in Watts, which was a thriving black center until it was labeled “blighted” and torn up. That’s where he got his stuff, from a nightclub that was torn down. The destruction of a black space becomes the fire for making art.
For African-American artists, one of the key events was the Watts Rebellion of 1965. People like Purifoy decided that, since they have already been getting into assemblage, they’re going to take from the destruction and do a show, which became “66 Signs of Neon” [a collective work and exhibition]. That started this thought of consciously taking aspects of black rebellion and refiguring them into art. It’s different from urban renewal—something instead about rebellion and the efficacy of rebellion as the basis for art. Through this black agency, or black power, artists said, “This is what happened, and we’re going to make something live from it.” It was an interesting turn, and you see John Outterbridge, Purifoy, Betye Saar, and John T. Riddle Jr. really move into it. Hammons is there at the time and approaches it in a slightly different way. These are his mentors.
ARTnews: It’s interesting to think about work by those artists in contrast to the “finish fetish” art then gaining favor elsewhere in L.A.
Jones: Finish fetish is an L.A. version of Minimalism, taking things and shining them up, taking the dusty edge off. It turns on materials from the aerospace industry, which is big there, versus the kind of industrial East Coast aesthetic of Carl Andre, Donald Judd, Robert Morris. It’s all about car-customizing and surf boards—very California. And then you have “funk” in the Bay Area, which is a kind of more aestheticized assemblage.
ARTnews: Kevin, when you began thinking of your project for the Hammer Museum, how did you conceive of working there, in a different place?
Beasley: It was the first major thing I’ve done in L.A., and it all started with the chair [from an iconic photograph of Huey P. Newton, co-founder of the Black Panther Party]. That image burns into your retina—it has stayed in my life for a very long time. The Bernini altarpiece I saw when I did an exchange program in eighth grade and went to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. I was awestruck. But it all really came when I started loosely searching for that chair on eBay and Craigslist, not really knowing what I’d do with it but wanting to have it. It took me three years to find—people throw them out because they fall apart and are not worth selling. That decor—no one really wants it.
When I found the chair, I brought it into the studio. I looked at it and was thinking about it next to sculptures of mine of housedresses that referenced configuration and bodies or the lack of bodies. The conversations for those were around Renaissance sculptures, so I went directly to Bernini at St. Peter’s. I was apprehensive because they’re both iconic, and putting them together means having to answer a lot of questions. But that’s what made me pursue it: putting two powerful representations from very different places in one context and then thinking, “What is my relation to it? How can a conversation take place?” We’re talking about the Black Panther Party and Catholicism and how, for artists, sculptures are meant to represent the ultimate, most powerful presence in the world. I have no connection to St. Peter’s beyond going and being amazed. As an artist I was interested, but I didn’t see myself in it. Whereas this image of Huey Newton—I could immediately see myself in that.
ARTnews: How is the space at the Hammer significant for you?
Beasley: I learned the space in the Hammer was actually specifically constructed for Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Leicester—that’s why it has an arched ceiling, to provide an ethereal experience when you were looking at this da Vinci that the Hammer actually sold. Bill Gates bought it, and it funds their programming. So that means, in some weird loop, the sale of a da Vinci allowed me to have a production budget. It’s a long stretch, but it’s also not that far. All throughout, I tried to interject references, like guinea fowl feathers instead of a dove—the guinea fowl is native to Africa, a bird of protection and defense—or putting Zulu and Maasai warrior shields in a space with housedresses that come from a shop in Harlem. I was able to take my experience and things I was thinking about and put them in that space.
ARTnews: Kellie, in South of Pico you write powerfully about a sense of place in relation to Los Angeles. What was most distinctive about L.A. during the period your book covers?
Jones: What we know about African-American culture in the 20th century doesn’t really take into account how things were changed by a massive migration of people all over the country. L.A. was kind of the end point of that migration. Communities are more separate there than in New York, but people created communities where they could go. Because there was no real place for black people to show, they had to create their own. For me, it parallels the way, if a black person got hired in a shipyard or in the aerospace industry, they would have these informal schools in people’s garages and teach each other the necessary skills. Have you seen Hidden Figures [the 2016 film about African-American women working at NASA], when Octavia Spencer gets a book about IBM from the white section of the library and teaches a whole group of women how to program computers? That’s real—that’s what happened.
Beasley: That was one of the remarkable things I found in the book: how, for so many of the artists, their connection to the community was synonymous with their practice—it was just something they would do. There is a collectivity in that. Even if the work is different and you get into arguments about how to arrive at a certain idea, the fact is that you’re still in all of it together. I think about Purifoy, how he didn’t really consider himself an artist, but then the space that he created was so generous to artists and the kinds of conversations and things they were making. It was so much about creating a particular kind of energy that would cultivate a free-thinking but also challenging space. That’s what I want, but it’s really difficult.
ARTnews: What do you think are the prospects for that kind of collective energy now? Are you optimistic or pessimistic?
Beasley: L.A. seems more viable for that. Look at the Underground Museum and Noah Davis—what he embarked on, his vision, what he wanted to do, and, before his untimely death, what that involvement was like. The institution is doing a lot of amazing work now too. In New York, honestly, it doesn’t seem viable unless you have lots of funding, which is what it ultimately comes down to. In L.A., it still feels like you don’t need the kinds of money you need in New York. I have a really pessimistic view of New York being able to cultivate.
ARTnews: How about the notion of political art in the present? Kellie, how do you feel about the prospect of art meaning what it did in L.A. in the ’60s and ’70s?
Jones: Art always responds to its time. There are so many creative posters at all these marches, pussy hats—there’s always a response. When I worked on the exhibition “Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties” [at the Brooklyn Museum in 2014], people were shocked to find that artists like Frank Stella and Jim Dine had done work that was political, that sold in galleries to support racial equality. The Stella we had was called Malcolm’s Bouquet, which was painted in 1965 after Malcolm X died. At that time, the idea of political art for canonical artists wasn’t really talked about because it might change their sales. But, also, art historians were not as interested. I didn’t even know about these works until I started doing research.
Someone like Norman Rockwell—I’d tell people he was an artist of the civil rights movement and people were like, “What?!” His works that are most radically about the diversity of our country he couldn’t do for the Saturday Evening Post, so he left after decades and went to Look magazine, because they allowed him to do works where people are seen as equal, not in a hierarchy of white subject over black subject. And then think of Philip Guston, when he starts doing those Ku Klux Klan pictures, going from abstraction to figuration in conversation with people like Norman Lewis, Sam Gilliam, Betye Saar. People haven’t really thought about conversations that American artists were having at the time about changing the world and changing our country. Those conversations were happening, and they will happen again. They are happening.
Beasley: I can’t go into the studio without thinking that there’s some kind of politics to what I’m doing. For me, I’m trying to understand the kind of works I’m making. Where are they going? What are they for? For some of these things you don’t have as much control as you think, but for a lot you do—to make a decision, to put something out, to invite someone into your space, to have a conversation. I feel like artists have potential in political movements by the simple fact that we’re here. Artists have always been a part of political movements, as human beings willing to voice opposition or support. There will always be responders, and I think it has an impact because it affects people’s way of reading and understanding the world with a different perspective than you would get from political talking heads. There are other forms to the way people receive information and experience the world, and artists are part of that.
ARTnews: Where do you see it most prominently?
Beasley: On a local level, streetwise, come to Harlem and just walk around. When I was at the Studio Museum [as an artist-in-residence in 2013–14], I used to love walking down the street, because I knew that every day I would see an image of civil rights leaders without having to search for them. Just walk down the block and they’re there. That reminded me: that’s what artists can do.
ARTnews: There is a resonant quote in South of Pico from John Outterbridge: “When I use the term art,” he says, “I always think of it as whatever I need it to be. You’re lucky when you can do selfish things that have relevancy to someone else. Who needs a little box that I build out of my anguish? Maybe I do for the moment.”
Jones: I think art and creativity are an intervention. Artists like Purifoy and Outterbridge were all about creativity, and without creativity we can’t change. That’s what artists bring into the world. For Outterbridge, that was a privilege, and it also came from histories of black people creating vernacular installations and yard shows that were about beautification and protection—things you would put on your property, like scarecrows to protect your crops but also to protect the land from confidence men and the like. Outterbridge drew on that, having grown up in the South and seeing how people marked the land in ways that gave them power. It could be some throwaway thing recycled, but it is actually an object invested with great power of possession in a space that is inequitable.
Beasley: Did you read about how Nina Simone’s house has been bought by Rashid Johnson, Adam Pendleton, Ellen Gallagher, and Julie Mehretu? They pooled their money and bought the house she grew up in, in North Carolina. To take over a historical space—to have it, keep it, maintain it—as artists, that’s something we can do.
Jones: That’s part of what’s interesting to me about your work: you being from the South. Many artists in the book are from the South or part of that generation that came out of the South. Charles White, who was born in Chicago, his family was from Mississippi. Every black person in modern and contemporary times is touched by that. My family was from South Carolina, and reading Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration , I saw some of the same stories, almost word-for-word, in the book. It’s amazing how much the world is touched by that movement, that migration of people, which still resonates. I see it in your work, in the kind of burden in your work recently and the confluence of urban and Southern space remade through your housedresses and other things.
ARTnews: Do you go back to the South? Have you gone back since the presidential election?
Beasley: I did the Rauschenberg Foundation residency in Captiva Island, Florida, last December. Captiva Island is in the Gulf of Mexico. My gallery said I should come over to Miami for Art Basel Miami Beach, but as I was turning it around in my head I was like, “I’m in Florida: I’m not going to get in a car and drive three hours across the state—that’s like a death sentence.” It was the first time I thought maybe I shouldn’t. I didn’t need to go, and I could just avoid something maybe happening. I didn’t need to go find a problem, find an issue. But that was already there before the election, which was just the most public declaration of how deep-seated racism is. No one can deny it, not a single person, so that emboldens people and made me think, “Do I have to go home to Virginia for the holidays?” Instead I invited my parents here, and we drove around Harlem and went and saw family in Brooklyn.
Jones: That’s also a parallel with people like Outterbridge, who couldn’t go to school near his home [he was born in Greenville, North Carolina] so he had to go farther away, to Chicago and then California. He knew he couldn’t go back there, and Hammons and Purifoy knew they couldn’t go back. I think it’s the same idea: something is still home, but there’s that space in between—between appreciation and reality.
A version of this story originally appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of ARTnews on page 24 under the title “Kevin Beasley & Kellie Jones.”
Kevin Beasley Review in Frieze
By IAN BOURLAND
Beasley, a graduate of Yale’s sculpture program, is an unquestionably rising star, set to join the ranks of other mixed-media artists who deal with signifiers of urban blackness, like Theaster Gates, Rashid Johnson and Hank Willis Thomas. But ‘Sport/Utility’ more clearly calls to mind a cultural moment from over three decades ago. In the early 1980s, Jeff Koons consciously updated Marcel Duchamp’s proposition that an artist is a ‘chooser’ who gives once-useful objects new meanings (and later, a new commodity status) by placing them in a fine art context. Many wondered, though, whether Koons’s recontextualized Hoovers or basketballs served as a canny critique of the art world, or merely as a self-enriching joke. At roughly the same time, David Hammons’s Higher Goals (1986) merged urban detritus with the lofty possibilities associated with basketball during the era of Michael Jordan. That work was a cautionary tale, suggesting athletics was a narrow, even illusory, path. But the collaborative, public installation also suggested a ‘higher’ goal of collectivity and community. Hammons also resisted the commodification of his work, famously sculpting with dung, or selling melting snowballs. Beasley seems to have both precedents in mind: the text that accompanies the show points to his desire to ‘re-establish the meaning of a symbol or image’ in the gallery, but he also has large-scale acoustic reflectors on display as part of inHarlem, the Studio Museum’s initiative in a public park.
In ‘Sport/Utility’, the most powerful works are precisely the unspectacular ones. Untitled (Petrified) conjoins two colliding NFL helmets in a spongy, putrefied mass, evoking the gladiatorial quality of professional football and the brain trauma it often causes. Billy’s Clubs nods to the police billy club, but highlights the disturbing name of an actual brand of golf driver, here pooling in inky liquid. It is concise and visceral, a perfect index fossil of an era of police violence and a governing class that takes its meetings at golf resorts that were long served by black caddies.
Still, one leaves ‘Sport/Utility’ unsettled not necessarily by the work itself, but by its context. Beasley’s play of sublimation and desublimation is technically skilful, but it still works mainly to shift potent symbols of black poverty and consumerism into a different register of consumption altogether – another déjà vu moment. Those who participated in the debates of the 1990s will likely remember David Samuels’s 1991 New Republic article that demonstrated that gangster rap’s core audience was composed primarily of titillated white suburbanites; and by 1999, Kobena Mercer warned that the price of a ‘multicultural’ art world might be that diaspora artists were expected to traffic in signifiers of ‘hyperblackness’ while meaningful equity remained elusive.
Beasley’s work confirms that these are still meaningful provocations, and it is difficult to see ‘Sport/Utility’ without wondering whether, in another context, the artist’s work would court racial fetishism or subvert it. This risk is, arguably, why Kara Walker paired her own spectacular 2014 installation at Brooklyn’s Domino Sugar factory with a retrospective video titled An Audience, reflecting on the commodification – either in money or in social media capital – of black suffering. Perhaps, then, this show is something of a Trojan Horse for Beasley, an augur of more conceptually-subtle work to follow.
Group Show “little lower layer” at MCA Chicago Including Simon Starling
What lies below, within, or beyond a surface? The thirteen international artists included in little lower layer—an exhibition drawn largely from the MCA collection and spanning the 1970s to the present—scrape, scramble, puncture, or otherwise interrogate surfaces. Breaking down the walls, blockages, and fixed assumptions that their materials present, these artists engage a political imagination that is particularly urgent now: moving from what is to what could be.
Not coincidentally, techniques like digging through layers and rearranging patterns result in works that take a critical approach to their subject matter, whether buried histories, stubborn borders, or entrenched narratives of power and control. Jack Whitten scrapes away paint to reveal repressed symbols, Paul Chan reorders constellations as monuments to imperiled civil liberties, Simon Starling exposes photography’s connection to ecological exploitation, and Kate Gilmore dons stilettos to punch and kick her way through solid matter.
The title comes from Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, in which Captain Ahab is transfixed by his quest to hunt down the white whale. Yearning to grasp the mystery at the center of his obsession, he is certain that some “little lower layer” of meaning exists below the veneer of appearances that masks the truth. “If man will strike, strike through the mask!” he declares. “How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall?” With an eye toward withheld images and untold stories, the artists in this exhibition challenge us to look deeply, think critically, and confront a politics of what we can—and cannot—see, discuss, and access.
The exhibition is organized by Nina Wexelblatt, Marjorie Susman Curatorial Fellow. It is presented in the McCormick Tribune Orientation Gallery on the museum’s second floor.
Sarah Crowner Wall (Hot Blue Terra Cotta) at MASS MoCA
Sarah Crowner’s 10 × 20 foot tile mural Wall (Hot Blue Terra Cotta)— fabricated for her recent MASS MoCA exhibition — now guides visitors in and out of the museum’s new gallery spaces. Known for her bold and graphic work in a variety of mediums spanning the fine and applied arts, Crowner finds the forms and patterns of abstraction in the everyday. Her monumental structure transforms painting into architecture (and vice versa), with the imperfections and eccentricities of the hand-glazed tiles functioning like a painter’s gestures.
Kevin Beasley in conversation with Francesco Tenaglia for Mousse Magazine
Silence is not neutral: Kevin Beasley
Sport/Utility is Kevin Beasley’s second solo show at Casey Kaplan in New York. Beasley uses sports, cars, headgear, and more to produce complex and allusive stories that speak to black histories and realities in the United States. Here he discusses recent works and latest concerns, from Cadillacs to du-rags to Detroit to activated air conditioners.
Francesco Tenaglia: A couple of years ago I left work late, hungry, and went to a pizzeria near my house in Milan. There, the TV was showing—with the volume turned off—a game of a minor foreign soccer league. I sat there, eating alone while watching the game, and started to think about how sports are the major entertainment industry on the planet, but if you just watch the basics and don’t have any cultural or social involvement, you can see it as a very formalized, non-narrative, hyper-regulated spectacle in which little unexpected is likely to happen. For me your Casey Kaplan show is interesting because it operates the other way around: by taking the side of exuberant cultural references and taming them, making them formal. Are you interested in sports yourself? And how do you use sports in the pieces in the show?
Kevin Beasley: I was an athlete until my final year of high school, but I never really thought deeply then about how sports operate in society. That was something that gradually came along within the development of my artistic practice, and it provides me with a way to ask deeper questions about sports’ political, social, and cultural relevance. I have discovered that I’m interested in bringing these issues back home—or, rather, recognizing them as existing on a daily basis. Not that the reality of certain conditions experienced on the field aren’t important, but I feel the need to connect to, as you have described, these encounters as we watch them in our homes. As an example, Colin Kaepernick’s protest against the US national anthem became a lightning rod for discussing police brutality, race, and nationalism, while also literally bringing the issue into every sports fan’s living room.
The exhibition is laid out like the interior and exterior of a home. As you walk into the gallery, you are outside and all objects pertain to being outdoors—the back of the air conditioning unit, the golf clubs with the police enforcement billy club and American football helmets—all revolving around an exterior bodily trauma. As you proceed, you enter the driveway/garage where the car is located, and the interior of the home is where the NBA jerseys are used as elements of sound control, the face of the AC unit projects an audio of blowing air, and the du-rags—intended to be worn inside and overnight—hang among other objects. So I’m using sports as an entry point to some complicated issues we’re all struggling with: race, police brutality, power.
FT: You’ve used du-rags in a consistent way in various shows. For readers who aren’t familiar with their history, can you explain them, and your interest in them?
KB: Alright, bear with me on this, because I’d like to give some context. The du-rag is a hair-care product – one of many that are not only used to style and condition black hair types, but are also at the center of both establishing empowerment and reconciling repression. The history of black hair and how society has made it its business to say what it should be and look like runs deep, so products like the du-rag, although they’ve been in use for centuries, are politicized in order to destabilize the individuality and strength of black culture. Many people favor straight hair over kinked and curly, so there has been an active effort to reverse that perception. From Marcus Garvey to Angela Davis, cornrows and afros didn’t just pop up as a trend over the past twenty-five years—they were strategically worn for several decades to give rise to an empowerment movement and keep folks alive. So images of black bodies have been under constant attack, down to the way we treat our hair. There are very recent instances where, under the law, the wearing of natural hairstyles is not protected from discrimination. For instance the case of Melba Tolliver, a television news anchor in the 1970s who was fired for wearing an afro while covering a high-profile wedding.
The history is vast and appalling, and I would be lying if I claimed to understand it in its entirety. In any case, these gestures of using the du-rag in my practice became an entry point for me and hopefully others to better understand the implications of the multiple behaviors, attitudes, reactions, and declarations surrounding a black aesthetic. The du-rag was banned by the National Football League and National Basketball Association in America in the late 1990s / early 2000s, and I am asking why. Because when you ask everyone why, there are a million different answers that either address respectability politics or refer to its relationship to criminality. As if the du-rag was a cause and perpetuator of violence. In the end, it’s worn to protect the hair and condition its texture. It’s similar to hair rollers, which are rarely worn outside, but black folks are creative like that and asked, why not? It became subversive, and the powers that be have been trying to shut it down ever since. And this is why, for the show, the du-rags are entangled with neckties because they represent opposite ends of the spectrum, yet both are used to present an image. The dichotomy is that oftentimes, black men are caught in between, which presents certain fragility and vulnerability in the male construction, which I think is very important to expose and confront.
FT: I love how there is a form of mineralization, of becoming detritus or an archaeological find, in some of the works in the show. Would you explain your interest in this, and your process of manipulating ordinary objects and materials for your sculptures?
KB: It’s a way for me to process and crystallize the way I am thinking about these objects culturally, socially, and politically. To form them, mold them, shape them, and recognize time. It is a way of making sculpture that allows me to pack what I’m thinking about into the work. This might happen literally, or it might be a matter of what I’m thinking about—imbuing a form with a sense of purpose just by allowing my concerns into the studio.
I made the billy clubs while at the Rauschenberg Residency in Captiva, Florida, so there are artifacts such as seashells and debris from his estate in that work. In some strange way I wanted the work to feel crystallized in its current state, as if it has been that way for ages. My hands literally rub and touch every surface, and that kind of contact is important to me in order to transfer something into the objects that maybe a more fabricated process cannot achieve. Dipping the objects in resin or pouring foam over them is an important part of the process—especially rubbing the material into the pockets and crevices—because there is a transfer of information.
FT: You studied as a car designer in Detroit. Is there an influence or a direct reference to that background in the work Sport/Utility (2017)?
KB: I studied automotive design for almost two years and decided it wasn’t where I wanted to put my creative energy for the rest of my life. But because I love Detroit and the people there, I’ve always been apprehensive of creating work that directly references my time there and/or the conditions of that city—really out of a profound respect for the complexity of its situations. But when this project came around, I was deeply thinking about Detroit and my relationship to that city. What brought me there? The racial tension that I felt there—what was that about? How do I process its economic and social class problems? All of that is not exclusive to Detroit but became a real experience for me during my time there and could be addressed through the automotive industry.
Cadillac became the most complex narrative for me to address because there are so many layers to unpack. The Cadillac brand is the most luxurious American automotive brand one can buy, which translated into it being one of the most desirable for the black community over the past century. It was quite frankly the most valuable purchase a black family could make, besides a home, which was largely prohibited for the black community. It was interesting to discover how Cadillac fostered discriminatory policies by literally not allowing dealers to sell to potential black owners. So this is a reflection of the institutional racism that not only prevents advancement and self-worth, but also creates traumas that extend from generation to generation. Of course I can own a Cadillac now, but the knowledge that my ancestors couldn’t at one point pervades my gesture with another layer of possibility and resistance.
I contemplated buying the Cadillac from Detroit, crushing it there, and having it trailered to New York for the show, but that didn’t feel right to me. I don’t think I was ready for that kind of gesture, even though conceptually it would make sense for me. I was so invested in living with the Escalade. I have a deep interest in automobiles, and there is also a profound criticism I carry in regard to energy, class distinctions, gender marketing, race, and so much more. It becomes an object that can hold a lot of discussion about these issues, and it becomes utilitarian in its abundance of stimulation.
FT: You have worked with sound as a sculptural material in your responsive installations and performances. In this exhibition sound is used in a subtle way, disguised behind an air conditioner shell. Can you speak some about this?
KB: This is a very important work, because it enabled me to exercise my interest in sound and its multilayered effect on a space and the people within it. It is a very subtle work, but also a relentless container for a lot of major problems society has been coping with. To get back to this idea of interior and exterior: the sound is a two-channel audio projected in two separate rooms. You hear it throughout the entire exhibition, but experience it differently in each space. I worked hard to create a three-dimensional sound, not because it would be fun, but because it needed to be that in order for the object to be perceived as an air conditioner, at least initially. I wasn’t trying to fill the space with sound but rather present the many faces of audio from the object.
There is a reveal within the work, spatially and content-wise, that is increasingly important to me. This is where all of the audio from political protests, riots, interviews with black victims’ parents, and so on becomes essential. All of this content that I had been seeing and collecting had a home within an object that could literally condition the room, and that conditioning demands visibility, recognition, justice, and equality for those who are consistently marginalized for unjust reasons. It is not a happy work, and it doesn’t quite produce comfort. This is a subversion I am interested in.
FT: Again with respect to Detroit and sound, you’ve used in one of your performances a track by Theo Parrish, an innovator and cult figure of the Detroit house scene, who lamented recently the genre’s practitioners’ lack of support for Black Lives Matter, given how this art form was birthed in struggle and rooted in reactions to racism. What, in your opinion, are the most effective roles and tactics for people operating in culture to address such complex political and social issues?
KB: Techno and house have evolved significantly in productive ways, but have also been used in very regressive ways, in my opinion. This won’t be an answer solely about music, but it’s an interesting lens to look at how social and political content is dealt with by artists because some folks choose to, or choose not to, engage with it, while others can’t avoid it. Political movements, resistance, and revolutions are typically formed and propelled by language, oratory, phrases, and words, so it makes sense that the kind of music that uses poetry and various kinds of verbal language becomes our most revered political music.
Looking at why techno music came into existence, one can conclude that it was almost solely based on a disadvantaged social and economic situation for black people in Detroit. Simply because the music is celebrated and digestible doesn’t mean it isn’t politically situated. For many marginalized groups of people who are oppressed, discouraged, and/or neglected, insisting on one’s existence or “a seat at the table” is a political statement.
That said, there isn’t a single brushstroke that can determine how every practitioner should address their relationship to political and social issues. Silence is not neutral, especially when you have the ability to speak. So I prefer that we focus on being ethically situated human beings first, so that the art can express and question the complications and nuances of those varying ethics. I encourage a holistic approach to living and making so that we are building relationships in real ways, not just through aesthetic signifiers and gestures.
FT: What are you working on these days?
KB: I am working on quite a few projects that have been in the works for years, and some that will take even more years to fully realize: installations, sound compositions, performances, many many sculptures. I have been visiting more of Europe this spring and summer, particularly Rome and Athens, so as a sculptor and materially sensitive person these places have been invigorating. How do I consider this energy within my own world, and vice versa? On another note, I feel like I’m on the cusp of an LP release, as many ideas keep surfacing that I need to work out through a recording. I’ll keep listening to this intuition, and we’ll see what happens.