Tuesday, May 24, 2011

EXHIBIT REVIEW: "Embodied: Black Identities" / NY Times / May 20, 2011

Show for Black Artists (Even Those Disliking Label)

  Note: Press release and catalogue purchase links were added to this blog on 05/25/11.
DEFINING HUE An exhibition of black artists' works includes “Piano-Forte,” top left, oil on linen by Felrath Hines from 1988.


Some of the knottiest issues in “Embodied: Black Identities in American Art From the Yale University Art Gallery” don’t reveal themselves at the entrance to the show. Instead, they appear later, like in the “Viewer’s Note” on the wall next to Adrian Piper’s photographs from the 1971 series “Food for the Spirit.”

Mounted next to three black-and-white photographs of the artist standing before a mirror, the short statement says that Ms. Piper’s “critique of identity politics and desire to distance herself from being categorized as a ‘black artist’ ” led her to refuse reproduction rights for the work to appear in the exhibition catalog. However, the work has been included in the exhibition anyway to “highlight the urgency” of issues around art and racial identity.

Artists are regularly included in exhibitions dedicated to aesthetic movements or curatorial conceits they don’t agree with. It’s just that “Embodied: Black Identities” deals with a category — race — that historically defined one’s status, not just as an artist, but as a human being in this country.

As it is, the exhibition is a small statement rather than a big one. Drawn from Yale’s collection and organized by graduate and undergraduate students from Yale and the University of Maryland, where the show appeared last fall, it comprises mostly modest works: lots of prints and a few photographs, bolstered by the paintings of Kerry James Marshall, Barkley L. Hendricks and others. It feels like a testing ground for young scholars trying on some ideas central to recent art, as well as the critical jargon. Works are grouped into three categories that look at the “performance of race through art and artifice”; the “absent or dematerialized body”; and “displacement” and its effect on “shared histories, cultural geography and national identity.”

Embodied: Black Identities in American Art from the Yale University Art Gallery
February 18–June 26, 2011

A collaboration among a team of students from Yale and the University of Maryland, College Park, Embodied: Black Identities in American Art from the Yale University Art Gallery features works that address, question, and complicate the paradigms that have mapped meanings onto African American bodies throughout history. The 54 works selected for the exhibition, representing the Gallery’s commitment during the past decade to growing this area of the collection, include paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, prints, drawings, and photographs. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue.

Exhibition and publication organized by Yale University and University of Maryland students, under the direction of Pamela Franks, Deputy Director for Collections and Education, Yale University Art Gallery, and Robert E. Steele, M.P.H. 1971, M.S. 1974, Ph.D. 1975, Executive Director, David C. Driskell Center, University of Maryland, College Park. Made possible by by Lois Chazen; Laura M. and James A. Duncan, B.A 1975; Mr. and Mrs. Elliott L. Schlang, B.A. 1956; Francis H. Williams; the Jane and Gerald Katcher Fund for Education; the Nolen-Bradley Family Fund; the Florence B. Selden Fund; and the John F. Wieland, Jr., B.A. 1988, Fund for Student Exhibitions.

Image: Kerry James Marshall, Untitled, 2009. Acrylic on PVC. Yale University Art Gallery, Purchased with the Janet and Simeon Braguin Fund and a gift from Jacqueline L. Bradley, B.A. 1979. © Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

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