Tag Archives: african american artists

Postcolonial Thoughts: Notes on Ellen Gallagher, Part 1

by Christopher Hutchinson

 

The American artist Ellen Gallagher is admired to the point of reverence on the other side of the Atlantic. Her distinctive combination of politics and prettiness has been catnip for collectors and critics alike these last 20 years. For the latter, there is always so much to talk about – her range of references from Moby Dick and Sol LeWitt to Black Power and Detroit techno, her trademark restyling of 50s ads and 60s sci-fi movies, her evident if excessively elusive intellectualism – all appealingly couched, to collectors, in the delicate aesthetic of her paintings and prints.

It is worth knowing about this high regard when visiting Gallagher’s retrospective at Tate Modern. It helps to explain the sheer scale of the event: almost 100 works, many of them multi-part, accompanied by a catalogue of eulogies by some of America’s finest art writers, and all kicked off by a gigantic blown-up reprise of Man Ray’s famous photograph of Matisse sketching an odalisque in harem pants on a couch with Gallagher’s own face pasted on to the model and Sigmund Freud in the role of Matisse.https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/may/05/ellen-gallagher-axme-tate-review

 

 

Note1-Painter & Videographer

This investigation comes about after an Atlanta,GA based non-profit Smoke School of Art’s weekly homework assignment and is primarily based on the “Brilliant Ideas” video and the well written review of her retrospective by Laura Cummings. Cummings does an excellent job of sifting through the multiple layers of sentiment and projections heaped unto this mediocre artist that validates Gallagher as the “most recognized African American painter since the nineties”. These notes take the well-articulated points by Cummings and the fodder present in Gallagher’s dialogue and points out the inadequacies that are consistent through Gallagher’s career.

Gallagher’s work makes one think fondly on the kitsch-laiden work of Romare Bearden. Once again this cut and paste mediocre practice of collage is proven to be the breeding ground of knick knack collectibles.

The gridded, collaged canvases of Gallagher’s ’90s works deal in eyes and lips borrowed from American minstrelsy, repeated as patterns across canvas http://waaaat.welovead.com/upload/rss_download/20130622/600_0/201306220003272123.jpg

 

The gridded collage above, Gallagher’s breakthrough piece, is an indicator of her true interest which has nothing to do with painting. No painter’s painter would be satisfied with this attempt at painting. Collage does not operate on the interest of painters who enjoy painting. So why does Gallagher retain “reverence” status as a painter? Cummings answers this question with nods to minimalist artists such as Agnes Martin’s still abstract grid paintings. It is a stretch of the imagination to include this comparison as valid because the success of Martin’s work is due to the primacy of paint. Martin would never cut and paste these transitions.

That distinction may not seem like much of a distinction but Martin never felt the need to move to the violent act of cutting a canvas to apply such a coarse transition as Gallagher. When an artist feels the need to abandon the primacy of a medium to plop down texture it is an indicator of lack of mastery. It is an indicator of an obvious inadequacy. This inadequacy then begs to be overlooked relying heavily on sentiment and the projection of others to overcome it. Without mentioning “minstrels” are these paintings good? No.

 

Minimalism

  1. A school of abstract painting and sculpture that emphasizes extreme simplification of form, as by the use of basic shapes and monochromatic palettes of primary colors, objectivity, and anonymity of style. Also called ABC art, minimal art, reductivism, rejective art.
  2. Use of the fewest and barest essentials or elements, as in the arts, literature, or design.
  3. Music A style of music marked by extreme simplification of rhythms, patterns, and harmonies, prolonged chordal or melodic repetitions, and often a trancelike effect. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Minimalist+art

Gallagher’s rough application is an aversion to minimalist practice, an aversion to Martin, Lewitt, and many others. Again, this comparison to these amount to nothing more than name dropping to force a conversation that is not there. Minimalist seeks to reduce and subtract mediums and ideas to its purest form. Gallagher’s laborious, often clumsy steps, amount to a contrived additive process where emphasis is placed on the quantity of labor not an interest in a stringent pursuit in her praxis.

Note 2.5-sentiment

Prior knowledge for this show. An entire gallery, for instance, is hung with numerous editions of what appear to be pretty much the same work: sheets of lined exercise paper glued to canvases, sometimes lacquered, sometimes painted fetching colours and sometimes featuring racial caricatures of big lips and bug-eyes. These mouths and eyes are always tiny and sometimes so faint as to be spectral, which carries its own meaning. Gallagher describes them as “the disembodied ephemera of minstrelsy”.https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/may/05/ellen-gallagher-axme-tate-review

Cumming’s articulates the above observation of Gallagher’s well. If Gallagher’s work requires prior knowledge of all sorts turns out to be a requisite to be received, then how can she be a great artist? A great resource maybe, like the Dewey decimal system–a way to access library books on several unrelated topics that have minute correlations to each other. Research should be a prominent part of every artist’s practice, but if it is a requirement for the viewer to do the same then that artist has not communicated properly, or it so generic and populous that everyone can create their own narrative. The sprinkling of buzzwords that are racially charged with advertising amounts those unimaginative juxtapositions of surrealists who exploited the indigenous primitive imagery to access their subconscious. This type of practice is just lazy.

 

This essay continues next month with “Postcolonial Thoughts: Notes on Ellen Gallagher, Part 2.”

 

Christopher Hutchinson is an accomplished Jamaican conceptual artist, professor and contributor to the art community as a writer, critic and founder of the nonprofit Smoke School of Art. He is a Professor of Art at Atlanta Metropolitan State College and has been featured as a lecturer including prestigious engagements at University of Alabama and the Auburn Avenue Research Library. For two decades, Chris has been a practicing artist. His works have been exhibited in internationally recognized institutions including City College New York (CUNY) and featured at the world’s leading international galleries such as Art Basel Miami. He has always had an innate passion for creating spaces where Africans and people of African descent contribute to an inclusive contemporary dialogue—ever evolving, not reflexive but pioneering. This requires challenging the rubric of the canon of art history, a systemic space of exclusion for the Other: women and non-Whites, and where necessary he rewrites it. He received his Master of Fine Arts Degree in Painting from Savannah College of Art & Design, Atlanta and his Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Alabama.

 

 

Postcolonial Thoughts: Romare Bearden & Kitsch

by Christopher Hutchinson

Romare Bearden is considered one of the most important American artists of the 20th century. He depicted aspects of black culture in a Cubist style….Born in North Carolina, he landed in New York City and studied with George Grosz. His early paintings were realistic with religous themes. Later, his works depict aspects of family culture in a semiabstract collage and Cubist style. He was also a songwriter and designed sets for the Alvin Ailey Company. http://www.biography.com/people/romare-bearden-40540#synopsis

 

Collage

col·lage noun 1. a piece of art made by sticking various different materials such as photographs and pieces of paper or fabric onto a backing. https://www.oxforddictionaries.com/

Romare Bearden has left a significant mark on the African American art community many years after he has gone. He is the most prolific semi-abstract collage artist to be recognized in the realm of art. His influence cannot be easily dismissed. This article will attempt to do just that.

Being the most prolific semi-abstract artist means absolutely nothing in the pursuit of art. Anyone can manufacture a ton of crap, but production is not the sum of what makes a great artist. If production alone were the criteria to be successful many artists would have met and exceed Bearden’s position in the “Black canon.” This article questions his status as the major influencer he is to the African American art community.

There is an argument that Bearden is in many ways the first abstract art introduced to the African American art community. That is simply not the case. Harlem Renaissance artists like Aaron Douglas’ s cubism preceded Bearden by decades and is certainly more an artist. The collage practice period is a gross attempt at creativity. To cut and paste imagery is an ugly mode of praxis.

Any artist who likes the foundation of the arts (drawing, painting, and 3-D works) could never appreciate such a practice void of artistry. Collage as a medium is an offense to these foundations. If this is an artist’s entry point these artists eventually will need to return to those foundations. Bearden’s accomplishment is the fact that he produced this collage farce for his entire career repeatedly with little to no change. The fact that he could dredge through this monotonous cutting and gluing speaks to a kind of attrition that has not to do with art, rather a kind of masochism.

 

Kitsch

Kitsch noun 1. art, objects, or design considered to be in poor taste because of excessive garishness or sentimentality, but sometimes appreciated in an ironic or knowing way: “the lava lamp is an example of sixties kitsch” adjective 1. considered to be in poor taste but appreciated in an ironic or knowing way: “the front room is stuffed with kitsch knickknacks, little glass and gilt ornaments”https://www.oxforddictionaries.com/

Kitsch is a more appropriate discussion for Bearden’s prolific production. Knickknacks of African American culture scrapbooked on a large rectangle for consumption. The Harlem renaissance was not Kitsch. They were interested in realism. They used analytic and synthetic cubism to access an abstract realism. Those artists used their art to literally build a vernacular of tangible African American history not to be scrapbooked, rather a present lived moment. Bearden’s work subverts and erases the very foundation the Harlem renaissance built and reduced it to a postcard.

 

Bearden is used as a model for many artists to aspire to, and many artists succumb to his success as the rubric of their own practice. Many “Black galleries” are saturated with this dated knickknack art that only succeeds as a poor copy of an original consumable. These artists that choose to pick up the mantle of Bearden waste their lives never developing work for themselves. Why do “Black galleries” and collectors support this obvious cliché as the pinnacle of African American contribution? Especially when Bearden himself credits European study as his major source of influence, not the “Black canon.”

 

Collections
By Maynard Eaton

Jerry Thomas Jr. and Alan Avery may have engineered Atlanta’s single most significant black art exhibition ever this past weekend. Their unprecedented collaboration produced an historic cultural event for dozens of the city’s Who’s Who art aristocrats to admire and purchase rare original works by Romare Bearden, America’s preeminent African American artist.

The Lamp, by Romare Bearden

The Lamp, by Romare Bearden

“We are the first two art dealers – regardless of color – that have collaborated,” says Alan Avery, owner of the Alan Avery Art Company in Buckhead. “It doesn’t happen in Atlanta. But, I think it is even more significant that we are from different races and that we come from different backgrounds, but that we are collaborating for the strength of Atlanta, the Atlanta art scene and the Atlanta collector base.”

“Bearden is one of the all-time great artists,” adds Jerry Thomas, the owner and highly regarded impresario of Jerry Thomas Arts. “He would not only enjoy the prices that his works are bringing but also the mixed audience of both blacks and whites. I think that would have been very important to him. What makes it ever more significant is the collaboration between me and Alan Avery. Hopefully this will not only be the beginning of such collaborations, but will set a new mold for the country in terms of blacks and whites working together to produce more shows.”

Bearden’s work now commands a hefty price tag, with the pieces on display at Alan Avery’s gallery ranging from $40,000 to $400,000. It was an uptown show for an upscale cross-section of Atlanta’s elite, and the metro area’s sophisticated art connoisseurs. They didn’t blink at the prices. Six of Bearden’s prize pieces were sold the first day, and the exhibition continues through January. http://saportareport.com/romare-bearden-exhibition-the-tipping-point-of-atlantas-black-arts-renaissance/

From a financial standpoint $400,000 is a great investment, but at what cost. To train the next generation to replicate this means of production is appalling. An artist in 2017 doing a copy of Bearden, believing it to be a true representation of the African American community is beyond delusional yet many Black artists are doing just that. The stagnation located in the African American art community can be placed squarely at the feet of these collectors and galleries that praise the romanticized kitsch element present in all of Bearden’s production. There are many artists within the “Black canon” which would be more suitable as an entry point for African American artists.

 

Christopher Hutchinson 2Christopher Hutchinson is an accomplished Jamaican conceptual artist, professor and contributor to the art community as a writer, critic and founder of the nonprofit Smoke School of Art. He is a Professor of Art at Atlanta Metropolitan State College and has been featured as a lecturer including prestigious engagements at University of Alabama and the Auburn Avenue Research Library. For two decades, Chris has been a practicing artist. His works have been exhibited in internationally recognized institutions including City College New York (CUNY) and featured at the world’s leading international galleries such as Art Basel Miami. He has always had an innate passion for creating spaces where Africans and people of African descent contribute to an inclusive contemporary dialogue—ever evolving, not reflexive but pioneering. This requires challenging the rubric of the canon of art history, a systemic space of exclusion for the Other: women and non-Whites, and where necessary he rewrites it. He received his Master of Fine Arts Degree in Painting from Savannah College of Art & Design, Atlanta and his Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Alabama.

 

 

Selections from “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See”

by Charles Williams

CONFRONTATION III - JULY 17, 2014 - 48"X48"- Oil on Panel

CONFRONTATION III – JULY 17, 2014 – 48″X48″- Oil on Panel

CHOKEHOLD - Harlem, July 1964 - 22"x30" - Oil on Watercolor Paper

CHOKEHOLD – Harlem, July 1964 – 22″x30″ – Oil on Watercolor Paper

NIGHTSTICK - Harlem, July 1964 - 22"x30" - Oil on Watercolor Paper

NIGHTSTICK – Harlem, July 1964 – 22″x30″ – Oil on Watercolor Paper

RIOTER - Watts, August 13, 1965 - 22"x30" - Oil on Watercolor Paper

RIOTER – Watts, August 13, 1965 – 22″x30″ – Oil on Watercolor Paper

KID WITH LUCY - Newark, July 1967 - 22"x30" - Oil on Watercolor Paper

KID WITH LUCY – Newark, July 1967 – 22″x30″ – Oil on Watercolor Paper

 

“Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See” is showing at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, SC from September 19-November 11, 2017. There is an artist talk and gallery walk-through Thursday, October 20 at 7:00. Info here.

More of his work can be seen in the exhibition “BLACK on BLACK,” which runs from October 7-27, 2017 at VAE Raleigh.

 

charles-williams-todd_turner_photography-5-2Charles Williams is a professional contemporary realist painter from Georgetown, South Carolina and a graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in Savannah, Georgia with a Bachelors Degree in Fine Art. From utilizing oils for the basis of landscapes, each painting captures his reflection of human emotions in response to and in sync with the natural environment. Recent achievements and awards include a Hudson River Landscape Fellowship, featured work in the Artists Magazines 28th Annual Art Competition, honorable mention from Southwest Art Magazines 21 Emerging Under 31 competition, 2012 Winner of the Fine Art Category from Creative Quarterly and featured cover artist of Composite and Professional Artist Magazine. Williams’ works has been shown in American Art Collector, Empty, Charleston Magazine, Grand Strand, Studio Visit, Bluecanvas and other national publications. He was recently interviewed and broadcast on ETV/ NPR station, entitled: Nature Through the Eyes of an Artist. His contemporary landscapes have been exhibited in group and solo exhibitions in galleries in New York, Vermont, California, Georgia, South Carolina and several other southeastern states.

Website: cewpaintings.com
Blog: cewpaintings.blogspot.com

 

 

Postcolonial Thoughts: Martin Puryear “Passing through the color line” Part III

by Christopher Hutchinson

The current exhibition at the Rubell Family Collection is made up of work by 31 African American artists. It shows more than 200 works of art, occupying the entire 45,000-square-foot exhibition space of the Rubell Family Collection. The show is called “30 Americans” and is a portrait of contemporary African-American art.

The artists presented are: Nina Chanel Abney, John Bankston, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Mark Bradford, Iona Rozeal Brown, Nick Cave, Robert Colescott, Noah Davis, Leonardo Drew, Ren?e Green, David Hammons, Barkley I. Hendricks, Rashid Johnson, Glenn Ligon, Kalup Linzy, Kerry James Marschall, Rodney McMillian, Wangechi Mutu, William Pope.L, Gary Simmons, Xaviera Simmons, Lorna Simpson, Shinique Smith, Jeff Sonhouse, Henry Taylor, Hank Willis Thomas, Mickalene Thomas, Kara Walker, Carrie Mae Weems, Kehinde Wiley, Purvis Young.
30 Americans. Rubell Family Collection, Miami. Impressions from the Private View on December 4, 2008

The Rubell Family collection “30 Americans” is a very impressive collection of  Black artists.  This exhibition creates a forceful statement by placing African-American artists side by side, precept upon precept, academic and folk as a collective and as individuals.  Names such as Purvis Young, William Pope.L, and Wengchi Mutu are usually separated by a selfish collective taste.  In this exhibition there is a new automatic and organic dialogue that occurs between the vast range of Blackness and its contribution to the Western canon with those typically outside of it.  This exhibition is a huge statement to the fact that Black contribution is not only relegated to Basquiat; rather, Black/African has participated and contributed to a necessary American modern art dialogue.

Many collections of Black/African art are so specific that these obvious relationships are not present and are often seen as opposing points.  The success of this exhibit lies with the over 200 pieces in one place dialoging with each other, even though some of these artists capitalize on the victimhood of Blackness.  The dialogue is more important.  This exhibition can and should be used as a jumping off point young artists/collectors/and critics.

Martin Puryear, Deadeye, detail, 2002, Pine, 58-¼ x 68-1/16 x 13-3/8”, Private collection, Image courtesy McKee Gallery, New York, Photo: Michael Korol, New York © 2007 Martin Puryear. http://arttattler.com/archivepuryear.html

Martin Puryear, Deadeye, detail, 2002, Pine, 58-¼ x 68-1/16 x 13-3/8”, Private collection, Image courtesy McKee Gallery, New York, Photo: Michael Korol, New York © 2007 Martin Puryear. http://arttattler.com/archivepuryear.html

 

This begs the question.  Why Martin Puryear was not included in this exhibition. Did Puryear’s successful transition into Western academic dialogue exclude him from this dialogue past and present of Blackness?  The Rubells would definitely know of the Yale graduate with numerous accolades.  The quote below by Rubell Family answers the previous questions.

We decided to call [the exhibition] “30 Americans.” “Americans,” rather than “African Americans” or “Black Americans” because nationality is a statement of fact, while racial identity is a question each artist answers in his or her own way, or not at all. And the number 30 because we acknowledge, even as it is happening, that this show does not include everyone who could be in it. The truth is, because we do collect right up to the last minute before a show, there are actually 31 artists in “30 Americans.”
—Rubell Family, November, 2008 – See more at: http://www2.corcoran.org/30americans/artists#sthash.g6ewfeOD.DXC4nVKi.dpuf

Collections

The RFC (Rubell Family Collection) signals a change where it is no longer acceptable to constantly reiterate and validate a collection by acquiring the mandatory Basquiat to be contemporary and acquire a Bearden as the crowning achievement of Black/African authenticity.  The RFC frees the tried and trodden “Black art” rubric to include artists present today.  Many African-American institutional collections are littered with board members that are stuck promoting antiquated notions of what encompasses the Black/African authenticity and forcing new artists to abide by developed Harlem renaissance, never truly surpassing Ernie Barnes’s “J.J” sugar shack.  That “J.J” rubric points to the main problem with those type of collections. They are mostly referential, never actually contemporary—rather, they are doomed to be dated, working backwards in a romanticized Black vocabulary.  At the time the sugar shack was created it was already dated.  The RFC proves this is unacceptable in 2016.

 

Globalism & the Universal

“The dominant propaganda systems have appropriated the term ‘globalization’ to refer to the specific version of international economic integration that they favor, which privileges the rights of investors and lenders, those of people being incidental.

In accord with this usage, those who favor a different form of international integration, which privileges the rights of human beings, become ‘anti-globalist.’

This is simply vulgar propaganda, like the term ‘anti-Soviet’ used by the most disgusting commissars to refer to dissidents. It is not only vulgar, but idiotic. Take the World Social Forum, called ‘anti-globalization’ in the propaganda system—which happens to include the media, the educated classes, etc., with rare exceptions.

The WSF is a paradigm example of globalization. It is a gathering of huge numbers of people from all over the world, from just about every corner of life one can think of, apart from the extremely narrow highly privileged elites who meet at the competing World Economic Forum, and are called ‘pro-globalization’ by the propaganda system.

An observer watching this farce from Mars would collapse in hysterical laughter at the antics of the educated classes.”—Noam Chomsky http://beforeitsnews.com/alternative/2016/04/wef-world-economic-forum-3340968.html

How the RFC differs from a typical globalist/universal exhibition is while globalism/universal exhibitions claim to present an inclusive art theory and methodology, they often do not, rather they accomplish the subjugation of indigenous peoples under the Western rubric of formal investigation.  If the formal rubric cannot be imposed then another artist is chosen that has indigenous qualities that can still qualify as new “discovery” under the formal elements. This “discovery” paints a “savior” view of the indigenous people in where the native is still dependent on the “discovery” of the West to be valid.

Global exhibitions are filled with artists like Martin Puryear where the indigenous aesthetic is suppressed to connect the visual language of the formal.  Globalism allows the stagnation of Western academia mastered in graduate school to spread to the globe under the pretense of advocating for the indigenous.  It is in this deceit that Puryear is muddled.

African-Americans should not edit their work to “Pass” into a Western vernacular that relies heavily on the African aesthetic.  The cost of “Passing” is too high, so high it too becomes just as dead as the West.  Do not entertain these calculated stipulations that Puryear subscribes to that has made him successful.  “Passing” constantly needs validation.

Christopher Hutchinson 2Christopher Hutchinson is an accomplished Jamaican conceptual artist, professor and contributor to the art community as a writer, critic and founder of the nonprofit Smoke School of Art. He is a Professor of Art at Atlanta Metropolitan State College and has been featured as a lecturer including prestigious engagements at University of Alabama and the Auburn Avenue Research Library. For two decades, Chris has been a practicing artist. His works have been exhibited in internationally recognized institutions including City College New York (CUNY) and featured at the world’s leading international galleries such as Art Basel Miami. He has always had an innate passion for creating spaces where Africans and people of African descent contribute to an inclusive contemporary dialogue—ever evolving, not reflexive but pioneering. This requires challenging the rubric of the canon of art history, a systemic space of exclusion for the Other: women and non-Whites, and where necessary he rewrites it. He received his Master of Fine Arts Degree in Painting from Savannah College of Art & Design, Atlanta and his Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Alabama.

 

Postcolonial Thoughts: Martin Puryear “Passing through the color line” Part 1

by Christopher Hutchinson

Puryear

PBSArt21

The Museum of Modern Art presents a major exhibition of the sculpture of the acclaimed American artist Martin Puryear (b. 1941). The retrospective will feature approximately forty-five sculptures, following the development of Puryear’s artistic career over the last thirty years, from his first solo museum show in 1977 to the present day. Puryear began his career in the 1970s alongside other members of the Post-Minimalist generation. Working primarily in wood, he has maintained an unwavering commitment to manual skill and traditional building methods. His sculptures are rich with psychological and intellectual references, examining issues of identity, culture, and history. The exhibition will be accompanied by a publication illustrating all works in the exhibition, with additional reference illustrations of the artist’s works and other comparative material. http://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/28?locale=en

Western Bloodline

Without question Martin Puryear has secured his space in Western art as a master sculptor. He has been regarded by many as being among elite sculptors of any nationality. He has successfully transcended “race” and his work is received as purely art. Not art with an asterisk. Puryear achieved this without the implementation of overt ethnicity, sympathy and propaganda.

Puryear has lead by example the proof of how to be successful as an African American artist within the Western art rubric. Puryear is fully accepted into the Western art vernacular as if there was and is no difference between Africa and the West at all. He is neatly included in the “Post-Minimalist generation”. This is the smoothest transition into the Western academia by an African American artist to date. This rarity of smooth transition deserves an inquiry.

Martin Puryear Bower

Martin Puryear. Bower. 1980. Sitka spruce and pine, 64″ x 7′ 10 3/4″ x 26 5/8″ (162.6 x 240.7 x 67.6 cm). Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.Chttp://www.moma.org/d/assets/W1siZiIsIjIwMTUvMTAvMTQvMm80ZjF2dHg0b18xMzU2MS5qcGciXSxbInAiLCJjb252ZXJ0IiwiLXJlc2l6ZSAyMDAweDIwMDBcdTAwM0UiXV0/13561.jpg?sha=aa0796293d9d8397

Passing as an Artist

Passing: African Americans and other minorities were historically discriminated against in the U.S., so the fair-skinned offspring of whites and people of color often pretended to be white to take advantage of the opportunities that would’ve otherwise been denied to them. This practice is known as passing or passing for white. It often required individuals to leave their hometowns and family members behind to ensure that they’d never come across anyone who knew their true racial origins. http://racerelations.about.com/od/understandingrac1/g/Definition-Of-Passing.htm

Many young minority artists wish for the anonymity of Whiteness when it comes to their work. These artists crave a world where the artwork comes first before skin tone. Many of these artists will inevitably hatch a plan to make a beautiful exhibition and hire a White person to pretend to be them during the exhibition to attempt to get an honest response to the artwork, not skin tone then response and then eventually assumptions.

Many of these artists that begin down this path end up with work that no longer reflects them. They end up ghosts that produce pretty objects, objects that are manufactured by IKEA. Only focused on commercial success. Wanting to “pass” is a dangerous proposition that could consume your entire artistic practice.

Puryear’s work begins at an authentic African place and has succeeded in “passing”-Why and how? YALE’s Master of Fine Art department along with an impeccable mastery of craftsmanship go a long way in that smooth transition into the Western credence. Puryear’s new canon’s first stipulation is to educate yourself. You must know where your work fits in the analogs of history. The second order is to make the work impeccable. These mandates immediately remove your artwork from the category of folk, primitive, street, naïve and outsider art-outside of Western academia.

Contemporary artist Martin Puryear carefully considered the site requirements before designing and fabricating That Profile , the large-scale sculpture commissioned for and installated on the Getty Center’s Tram Arrival Plaza. In this video, Puryear’s comments about the design process accompany footage of the sculpture being made, transported, and installed.

Avoidance of Africa

African Mende carved wooden Janus mask, Sierra Leone. Double sided figural visages. 17"H.http://antiquehelper.rfcsystems.com/Full/217/70217.jpg

African Mende carved wooden Janus mask, Sierra Leone. Double sided figural visages. 17″H.http://antiquehelper.rfcsystems.com/Full/217/70217.jpg

Mr. Puryear’s experience with wood, his signature material, has a long history. His father was an amateur carpenter, and he made guitars while in college. As a member of the Peace Corps, he learned “old world joinery” from local woodworkers in Sierra Leone. While attending the Swedish Royal Academy, Mr. Puryear spent three weeks in the studio of furniture maker James Krenov https://mnaves.wordpress.com/tag/contemporary-sculpture/

Stipulation number three, avoid directly addressing Africa, race, ritual, and identity. To do so would pull the work back into the realm of folk. This avoidance is crucial to the commercial longevity of an artist that has “passed”. The need to distance oneself from Africa preserves the Western rubric. This reasoning leads to this acceptance of Puryear’s work as Minimalism and Formalism first primarily. These mandates allow his clearly African practice to be in a visual limbo.

This visual limbo presents itself as the “universal” or “global” aesthetic where any quasi-indigenous people could possibly make it. In this global/universal dialogue the work can and could be applied and credited to many different art movements, all of which use Africa as a springboard to become Avant guard or relevant again while Africa remains primitive. It is easy to see how could be linked to post-minimalism.

Often associated with both Minimalism and Formalist sculpture, Puryear rejects that his work is ever non-referential or objective. The pure and direct imagistic forms born from his use of traditional craft are allusive and poetic, as well as deeply personal. Visually, they encounter the history of objects and the history of their making, suggesting public and private narratives including those of the artist, race, ritual, and identity. http://www.ebay.com/itm/Martin-Puryear-Catalog-from-show-Art-Institute-of-Chicago-Neal-Benezra-/252222144694

This inquiry leads us to this topic. If Puryear is only using Africa as a point of appropriation and inspiration, then how is he any different than Picasso? And if he is acting like Picasso, operating from a colonial view of Africa then he should also be held accountable for that as he continues subjugation of Africa to exalt the West. Herein lays a major problem with attending any institution. If during the process of receiving your desired degree one actually reinforces the Western canon.

Some may say Puryear is not actually avoiding anything; rather he is very subtly and subversively handling such divisive topics as race, identity, and ritual. Those who entertain this thought should be reminded of Puryear’s other stipulation…every opportunity one has to speak about his/her work, make as many references to iconic Western art history. He is not subtle about the West.

 

Christopher HutchinsonChristopher Hutchinson is an accomplished Jamaican conceptual artist, professor and contributor to the art community as a writer, critic and founder of the nonprofit Smoke School of Art. He is a Professor of Art at Atlanta Metropolitan State College and has been featured as a lecturer including prestigious engagements at University of Alabama and the Auburn Avenue Research Library. For two decades, Chris has been a practicing artist. His works have been exhibited in internationally recognized institutions including City College New York (CUNY) and featured at the world’s leading international galleries such as Art Basel Miami. He has always had an innate passion for creating spaces where Africans and people of African descent contribute to an inclusive contemporary dialogue—ever evolving, not reflexive but pioneering. This requires challenging the rubric of the canon of art history, a systemic space of exclusion for the Other: women and non-Whites, and where necessary he rewrites it. He received his Master of Fine Arts Degree in Painting from Savannah College of Art & Design, Atlanta and his Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Alabama.

%d bloggers like this: