Tag Archives: christopher hutchinson

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.

Postcolonial Thoughts: Wendy Red Star’s Native Spectacle & Satire

by Christopher Hutchinson

Satire

There is a persistent problem that emerges amongst marginalized artists. The attempt to use satire as a clever way to expose the inadequacies of systematic colonialism often only succeeds in proving the accuracy of the colonial structure. The Harlem Renaissance artists and thinkers were accused of assimilating and practicing the traits of the same colonial regime they tried to separate themselves from. This problem is present in the work of Wendy Red Star. The satire she employs simply does not exceed the status quo native propaganda proposed by the Western depictions.

Wendy Red Star’s socially critical installation draws inspiration and employs imagery from growing up on the Crow Indian Reservation in south-central Montana. Historic photographs and regalia are juxtaposed with tapestries, text, and objects she has constructed to re-humanize a past tribal leader whose image has been appropriated for commercial use. Photographs of Chief Medicine Crow (c. 1848-1920) were taken in Washington, D.C., when he and four other tribal leaders were coerced into signing a treaty ceding a portion of tribal lands to the United States Government. His image has frequently been used to represent a stereotypical, nameless, Indian “brave.” Red Star’s newest installation is an extension of her earlier work, which employed gender-focused, political self-imagery, not unlike the art of Cindy Sherman, Ana Mendieta, and Frida Kahlo, to draw attention to the marginalization of Native Americans.-http://portlandartmuseum.org/exhibitions/apex-wendy-red-star/

“In APEX, by replicating a historical museum diorama, she names and honors Medicine Crow, and revises the white man’s historical paradigm.” http://portlandartmuseum.org/exhibitions/apex-wendy-red-star/

Red Star’s naming of chief Medicine Crow is a lateral move from artifact to artifact. She wants to reclaim the image but has reprinted the image, which has notes in red scribbled all over the image. This is the same complaint with which she convicts Whites–the use and over use of the image of Medicine Crow. Red Star’s use of this image, while she intends it to be different, is no different than the sea of generalized depictions of Natives.

This points to another major factor that affects marginalized artists, the process of academia. Natives that attend art programs without peers in their nationality often feel the need for their counterparts to understand and communicate in Western language while receiving no feedback within their own language. That process often produces a native artist which has successfully communicated in a colonial way with very little of their own language present in the work. Academia should clarify one’s own language, not assimilate to the norm. Red Star is a self-proclaimed research artist and ends up with the same conclusions anyone else would from any google search about Crow Native. Nothing is added here except for the fact that she is a Native Crow. Her work is generic.

Spectacle

Wendy Red Star’s satire of White Squaw is a reinforcement of Native iconography as spectacle rather than a critique of the colonial. Many artists who deal with identity art only succeed at a reinforcement, not a critique. Red Star fulfills the directive of the original White Squaw novel narrative. Squaw being the half White and half Native that infiltrated and coerced Natives to acquiesce to the Whites.

Once again the clever trick in role playing here is not successful in surpassing the original intent of Western propaganda. The original novel has a White woman pretending to be an authentic Native. Red Star is an authentic Native assuming the role. That is a problem because it gives validation to the original novel, not an investigation to actual relations between Whites and Natives. Marginalized artists must be careful not to have so much of the colonial in their dialogue that it overshadows the dialogue of the indigenous.

Authority to name primitive

August 29, 2009–January 10, 2010

The objects featured in this exhibit, ones seen publicly for the first time, are drawn from a private collection developed over the past 30 years by an adventuresome couple from Ten­nes­see. What started as a simple memento of the Southwest—a pair of small kachina dolls purchased in Santa Fe, New Mexico—eventually led to a remarkably rich and diverse collection of items produced by Indian peoples throughout all culture areas of Native North America. http://mcclungmuseum.utk.edu/exhibits/american-indian-art/

As well-intentioned as the McClung museum in Tennessee may be, the mere fact that contemporary Native exhibitions still are attempting to “discover” the Natives is a problem. This leads to the most disturbing aspect of Red Star, the documentary at the McClung museum is actually more thorough than Red Star’s own accounts.

The West has long held the power to name a culture as primitive. This is the problem of the “Other.” How can “Others,” including Native Americans, name and control their own dialogue? –Not with Satire & Spectacle.

 

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.

Postcolonial Thoughts: Arnika Dawkins Gallery Panel Discussion “On Being Black” at Spelman

 

Arnika Dawkins Gallery is honored to present On Being Black, a provocative and groundbreaking invitational photography exhibition. On Being Black features work by 23 nationally renowned, mid-career and emerging fine art photographers. The show explores issues of race, colorism and racial identity. The exhibition and the accomplished artists who are in participation endeavor to continue the conversation about race as well as attempt to make sense of the daily news; exploring the questions of how does one identify them self, who defines race and what does it mean to be black in the new millennium. On Being Black provides an intelligent point of view with distinct and observant voices on this topic…On display Fri Oct 16 to Jan 22 2016 A visual dialogue about race in America created by some of the most highly sought after artist [sic] of our time utilizing the medium of photography http://www.adawkinsgallery.com/black.html

 

Renee Cox Liberation of Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben http://artinfo-images-350.s3.amazonaws.com/asi2-85688/233.jpg

Renee Cox Liberation of Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben
http://artinfo-images-350.s3.amazonaws.com/asi2-85688/233.jpg

 

Obstacles to pursuing an artistic practice while being Black

Please join the Arnika Dawkins Gallery, Atlanta Celebrates Photography, and the Museum for a panel discussion featuring artists Sheila Pree BrightAlbert ChongAllen CooleyRenée CoxDelphine FawunduJohn Pinderhughes, and Deborah Willis, Ph.D.  The panel discussion will be moderated by Kirsten Pai Buick, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Art History at The University of New Mexico.

This program is organized in conjunction with the exhibition On Being Black, on view at the Arnika Dawkins Gallery from October 16, 2015 to January 22, 2016.  This provocative and groundbreaking exhibition will feature work by 23 nationally renowned, mid-career and emerging fine art photographers and explores issues of race, colorism, and racial identity. http://museum.spelman.edu/programs/on-being-black-a-panel-discussion/

 

This article is not a critique of the photography displayed in the exhibition. It is a reflection on the discussion by a number of artists that participated in the Anika Gallery exhibition at Spelman Museum on October 17, 2015 11a.m. The discussion began as most discussions do, going down the line waiting for individual responses with a moderator fielding the questions. These were general questions that were meant to engage the artist practice and issues that each artist may have come across and might have to endure over their career, to which each artist readily and candidly replied.

The timbre of the discussion began to change once Renee Cox sparked the notion that she does not believe in such issues or obstacles. Moreover these “issues” are choices made by artists that blocked their own development. Cox went further to share a story of her father, a British citizen before Jamaica received its independence in 1964, who came to Florida in 1940. He immediately went to the Fontainebleau, at that time segregated. At which point he walked through the front door and argued with the Hotel owner for thirty minutes after which stayed in a room there for two nights. The point Cox made was that sometimes you need to be ignorant of boundaries and demand your space. One can choose to accept these obstacles or ignore them and pursue an individual pursuit. Sure there are situations that can affect the outcome, but if that stops someone’s progress then that individual should choose another profession.

 

 

Albert Chong, also a Jamaican artist, seconded Cox’s position and shared his arrival in America, when he was introduced to its specialized racism. Chong also acknowledge the wish for a Caucasian avatar to present his work and navigate the art world. Then Chong added another brick to the fire by explaining the difference as to the misconception of Jamaican pride. He went on to clarify the point by saying that this pride may be perceived as arrogance, but it is not…It is self-love. Self-love is a requirement to overcoming obstacles and pursuing one’s own career.

 

African American leisure as a form of resistance

Sheila Pree Bright untitled #34 suburbia series http://www.artsatl.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Bright.jpg

Sheila Pree Bright untitled #34 suburbia series
http://www.artsatl.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Bright.jpg

 

John Pinder Hughes and Sheila Pree Bright both offered another requirement as a form of resistance leisure. Pree Bright discussed the pushback on her suburbia series by White board members that did not believe her photographs of Black homes. One of her critics was bold enough to say “I’ve never heard of this Black suburbia”. Pree Bright went on to identify the problem from a White perspective is that the images did not have enough Black identifiers in it-no watermelons, Martin Luther King, references that made the suburbia African American. In this case suburbia becomes more militant than the overt images of Blackness.

Hughes discussed his work that captured African American leisure in the Hamptons over decades and how that is important to the overall make-up of the Black image. The Black image is not this monolithic icon always struggling. Hughes’s leisure is resistance of limitations placed on Blackness.

 

John Pinder Hughes Pretty for a Black Girl, 1998 http://www.adawkinsgallery.com/black/0006.html

John Pinder Hughes
Pretty for a Black Girl, 1998
http://www.adawkinsgallery.com/black/0006.html

 

Global Blackness

Delphine Fawundu What Do They Call Me? My Name is Aunt Sarah, 2010 http://www.adawkinsgallery.com/black/0002.html

Delphine Fawundu
What Do They Call Me? My Name is Aunt Sarah, 2010
http://www.adawkinsgallery.com/black/0002.html

 

Dlephine Fawundu rounded out the discussion from a Brooklyn, Mali, Sierra Leone, Ghana perspective. She discussed how when people from Brooklyn see the images of Ghanaians and vice versa, there is a familiarity of exchange, a recognition of blood. This resounded with another sentiment presented by Albert Chong.

Chong said he was the youngest of nine children to Jamaican/Chinese parents and most of his time was spent learning who the extended family was. He said most of his learning and understanding of his history came from photo albums. Those photo albums gave him a foothold as to his place in in his family as well as the world. Chong alluded to a loss of memory due to the fact that we do not have an intact photo album. Fawundu’s work certainly are building blocks for a restoration of memory.

The crowd kept asking questions until finally they had to be stopped. The discussion ended up being a small global panel as to how artists can pursue their career with fearlessness, leisure, documentation and self-love. Definitely need more discussions on this.

 

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.

Postcolonial Thoughts: Frida Kahlo’s Interrogation of Self, Part2

 

Self-Portraits

noun

1.a portrait of oneself done by oneself.

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/self-portrait

Self-portrait has just as long a history as painting itself, but often with little note. It is often considered a “stand in” when there is no model available. It’s a way painters keep their skills sharp by using themselves in place of a model. Due to the aforementioned, self-portraits are not really considered worthy of proper analysis and quickly moved aside to focus on the artist’s primary work.

The obvious decision by Kahlo to place the practice of self-portraiture as the primary methodology of her work is very interesting. That she then goes on to have so much revisionary success should also be discussed. For a proper analysis of Kahlo’s work the primary focus should consider her main point of interest. This focus can easily be identified in the relentless interrogation of herself, which is then put on display for everyone to see, in her self-portraits. It is in this simple choice Kahlo reveals a supreme understanding of reality, not fiction. Kahlo’s is unmatched in her unbiased representation of self that is completely honest.

No artist has left a loftier or more penetrating personal testament than Rembrandt van Rijn. In more than 90 portraits of himself that date from the outset of his career in the 1620s to the year of his death in 1669, he created an autobiography in art that is the equal of the finest ever produced in literature even of the intimately analytical Confessions of St. Augustine http://www.rembrandtpainting.net/rembrandt_self_portraits.htm

Rembrandt Self-Portrait 1658 133.67 cm x 10.32 cm. Frick Collection, New York http://c300221.r21.cf1.rackcdn.com/rembrandt-self-portrait-1658-1341032609_b.jpg

Rembrandt
Self-Portrait
1658
133.67 cm x 10.32 cm.
Frick Collection, New York
http://c300221.r21.cf1.rackcdn.com/rembrandt-self-portrait-1658-1341032609_b.jpg

 

It is very difficult to produce more than one self-portrait without becoming super conscious of one’s own vanity. It is then easy for that vanity to be forced onto the viewer as a vulgar statement of the artist’s ego. Vanity suggests to the artist, “you should make yourself look like a king” and it keeps suggesting until it completely takes over. It is not an easy thing to deny vanity for the purpose of internal investigation. Vanity is interested in the external.

Yes, Rembrandt is known as being one of the most prolific self –portrait artists but his self –portraits are vulgar displays of vanity. Rembrandt’s self-portraits are boring in comparison Kahlo’s. They fail to surpass the painted surface and communicate anything other than mastery of skill. Sure his paintings are filled with the bold dramatic lighting which the baroque period praised, but Rembrandt used himself as a study for developing his own technical skill.

This reveals the genius of Kahlo. She only uses the study of oneself as the primary drive behind her work. Her sketches surpass the intent and technique of Rembrandt by focusing on the on the same form and interrogating it, not for lighting or technical expertise.

Van Gogh Self-portrait with Bandaged Ear, Easel and Japanese Print, January 1889 Oil on canvas, 60 × 49 cm

Van Gogh Self-portrait with Bandaged Ear, Easel and Japanese Print, January 1889 Oil on canvas, 60 × 49 cm https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portraits_of_Vincent_van_Gogh#/media/File:VanGogh-self-portrait-with_bandaged_ear.jpg

 

Van Gogh is also another prolific self- portrait artist. His self -portraits also do not surpass the utilitarian use of the self-portrait. They are mere studies of brush work and color, investigating technique. It is well documented that he was deeply disturbed but these paintings aren’t. They are controlled illustrations of a man in turmoil. This is an artist that is too self-conscious of self to actually communicate a direct visceral response.

Chuck Close in 1968 with his ‘Big Self-Portrait’ (1967-1968). https://beckchris.wordpress.com/people/best-contemporary-visual-artists-the-critics-picks/

Chuck Close in 1968 with his ‘Big Self-Portrait’ (1967-1968).
https://beckchris.wordpress.com/people/best-contemporary-visual-artists-the-critics-picks/

 

Chuck Close has followed the tradition of vulgar displays of ego on an immense scale. Close has dedicated the majority of his artistic career to the portrait and self-portrait. He made a name for himself with these oversized super technical self-portraits. He has used the “study” as the primary focus but only succeeds at communicating technique.

Artist:Frida Kahlo Start Date: 1940 Completion Date:1943 Style:Naïve Art (Primitivism) Genre:self-portrait Technique:oil Material: masonite Dimensions: 76 x 61 cm http://uploads7.wikiart.org/images/magdalena-carmen-frieda-kahlo-y-calder%C3%B3n-de-rivera/self-portrait-as-a-tehuana-1943.jpg

Artist:Frida Kahlo
Start Date: 1940
Completion Date:1943
Style:Naïve Art (Primitivism)
Genre:self-portrait
Technique:oil
Material: masonite
Dimensions: 76 x 61 cm
http://uploads7.wikiart.org/images/magdalena-carmen-frieda-kahlo-y-calder%C3%B3n-de-rivera/self-portrait-as-a-tehuana-1943.jpg

 

Art schools teach artists to look outside themselves for inspiration. They point artists to follow the success of artists that came before, located in the Western canon. Then, once the students have learned the Western canon, they can now think about self. Kahlo used a primary investigation of self as the driving force. There are thousands of portrait paintings made of Frida Kahlo by her adoring fans that do not succeed in more than technique. Kahlo would not want you to spend your time interrogating your own practice. She would want you to spend time interrogating yourself.

 

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.

 

Postcolonial Thoughts: Frida Kahlo and Surrealism, part 1

by Christopher Hutchinson

 

Frida Kahlo was a Mexican Surrealist painter who has achieved international popularity. She typically painted self-portraits using vibrant colours in a style that was influenced by cultures of Mexico as well as influences from European Surrealism. Her self-portraits were often an expression of her life and her pain.

http://www.arthistoryarchive.com/arthistory/surrealism/Frida-Kahlo.html

 

Surrealisms’s love of the exotic

Id, ego, and super-ego are the three parts of the psychic apparatus defined in Sigmund Freud’s structural model of the psyche; they are the three theoretical constructs in terms of whose activity and interaction our mental life is described. According to this model of the psyche, the id is the set of uncoordinated instinctual trends; the super-ego plays the critical and moralizing role; and the ego is the organized, realistic part that mediates between the desires of the id and the super-ego.[1] The super-ego can stop one from doing certain things that one’s id may want to do.[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Id,_ego_and_super-egos

 

Surrealism’s interest in the exotic begins initially with surrealism’s art mission to be the artifacts of Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theories. The exoticism presented in Freud’s Id became surrealist illustrations of the “primitive” from a Western perspective. Initially, accessing the “primitive” was merely a jumping off point, to access the inner psyche that was not so heavily governed by the stifling rules of Western painting. This use of the “primitive” is the second overtly appropriation of Africa from the West within a 20 year span from Picasso’s Cubism/African art. The “primitive” of surrealism is slightly different than the direct appropriation of Picasso. It is cloaked in the entitlement of Freud’s writings. Freud gives the surrealists permission to investigate the “primitive” that lies dormant within all humanity. We just have to access it.

This principle of Freud brings about terrible surrealist works that play on this Id/primitive concept “juxtaposed” its binary, the “norm”. Carefully composed compositions that have a jarring effect simply because object and images are not unified in a linear way. Jamming two things together that doesn’t relate to each other in any way is not an exploration. It is not a development of an aesthetic. It is at best a one-liner never to be thought of again, at its worst the work just gets swallowed up in the litany of icons like the yin and yang, tragedy and comedy symbols, and it leads ultimately boring work. It is amazing that this juxtaposition method still exists.

This photograph of Kiki de Montparnasse’s head next to an African ceremonial mask bears a title that references both the black and white process of photography as well as skin color. It was created at a time when African art and culture was much in vogue. The oval faces of the two almost look identical in their serene expressions, but he contrasts her soft pale face with the shiny black mask. He simplifies the conflict of society into a problem of lighting and imagery in aesthetics – one oval next to another oval; one laying on its side contrasted with another that is erect; one lit from above and the other from the side http://www.wikiart.org/en/man-ray/black-and-white

 

Is Frida Khalo’s exotic inclusion to surrealism valid?

Exotic:

Adjective 1. of foreign origin or character; not native; introduced from abroad, but not fully naturalized or acclimatized: exotic foods; exotic plants. 2. strikingly unusual or strange in effect or appearance: an exotic hairstyle. 3. of a uniquely new or experimental nature: The flower show included several tropical exotics with showy blooms. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/exotic

The surrealist intentionally tried to be as exotic as possible as an indicator of their Id/primitive quality. Is Frida Kahlo purposefully attempting to be exotic? Is her every day dress a costume? Is she exotic to herself? Of course not. What has occurred here is not unique by any means to Western history. Kahlo is forcefully adopted into a vernacular that is not her own, yet she still paints honestly.   Kahlo is not just jamming things together and hoping they create something new.

 

As with all Western discoveries, the indigenous contribution is eliminated, leaving just a whisper of a name in reference to its origins.   This forceful adoption into surrealism negates Kahlo’s actual contribution to painting. It negates her conscious choices as an artist. It negates Mexico’s ability to produce such an artist of equal standing responding to her time. It not only negates; it also validates the West’s investigation into the primitive.

Kahlo becomes proof that this Western surrealist investigation into the Id/primitive is an unbiased valid pursuit by the West. The desperate stretch to include her in such a dialogue is obvious when one considers Salvador Dali as one of the premier surrealists. Kahlo is Not Dali. Mexicans are not Spaniards. If the goal were truly to unleash the Id/primitive why wouldn’t surrealists look to African art and artists? Dali tried everything outlandish to connect with that Id/primitive by dressing and consuming the exotic. When Dali dresses up, it is a costume. Most of the surrealist artists do not succeed in more than an illustration of the Id/primitive, which in fact is ego, not Id, and sometimes especially in Dali’s work, super-ego. They do not achieve an actual connection to Id. Dali did his best to calculate and present the Id/primitive from a super-ego viewpoint.

 

Kahlo’s paintings are a reflection of an honest narrative. She has a direct relationship with every image and object in her pieces. These objects are not juxtaposed to have psychoanalytical discussions; often times these objects are images that are needed at the moment. Including Kahlo into the canon of surrealism suggests her imagery and objects are random thoughts, playing out a clever Freudian dreamlike state.

 

 

The stretch to tie Kahlo’s work to surrealism has more to do with using the indigenous to validate Western academia. It is a continuation of a foundation laid in romanticism’s Death of general wolfe. Benjamin West’s general has an indigenous native placed to witness and give credence to West’s good nature. The native sits beneath in a solemn respect his place not equal to the general slightly lower and of little concern.

When Kahlo is forcefully adopted into a surrealist dialogue, she actually becomes the exotic native in The death of general wolfe. Kahlo placed at the feet of surrealism only to prove its good nature, slightly lower. Once she is placed in the context of surrealism, it prevents a real analysis of her work. Kahlo’s work is honest; surrealists don’t care about honesty.

 

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.

 

Postcolonial Thoughts: Richard Prince’s Instagram Paintings

by Christopher Hutchinson

This essay is not about questioning the validity of whether or not Richard Prince is an artist; it rather examines Prince’s methodology in order to question to his “genius.” Prince has been a controversial figure since the re-photography in his most famous cowboy series. “In the mid-1970s, Prince was an aspiring painter who earned a living by clipping articles from magazines for staff writers at Time-Life Inc. What remained at the end of the day were the advertisements, featuring gleaming luxury goods and impossibly perfect models; both fascinated and repulsed by these ubiquitous images, the artist began rephotographing them, using a repertoire of strategies (such as blurring, cropping, and enlarging) to intensify their original artifice. In so doing, Prince undermined the seeming naturalness and inevitability of the images, revealing them as hallucinatory fictions of society’s desires.”- http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/2000.272

Process

Prince finds an image he likes, comments on it, makes a screen-grab with his iPhone, and sends the file — via email — to an assistant. From here, the file is cropped, printed as is, stretched, and presto: It’s art. Or stuff that’s driving others crazy for a variety of reasons.-Jerry Saltz http://www.vulture.com/2014/09/richard-prince-instagram-pervert-troll-genius.html

Price’s process has been validated for decades now through mandatory art school reading such as Roland Barthes’s The Death of the Author and Walter Benjamin’s Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. The issue here is the fact that the process itself is dated and offers no new insight responsible to this moment, except for the deliberate commercial use of iPhones and Instagram. What Prince’s process reveals is the nihilistic limits of Western art practice. Its constant reduction limited by rules provided previously. How is this new work more significant than the work he did in the 70’s? It’s sad really. Here we have an artist that is so tied his methodology that he relies on technology to give it relevancy. Adding technology alone, to any medium, will not magically make the artwork good.

Medium

Prince’s work has successfully affirmed the old belief that photography and the camera is a tool that cannot create art; it can only do its job- to reproduce. As a failed painter he has executed the tenet held so dear to painters in relation to photography. The debasing of photography is more important to Prince than copyright infringement and authenticity.

Prince calls his enlarged “screen-grabs” paintings and Jerry Saltz affirms this by comparing the out of focus enlarged photo to Lichtenstein’s intention with his Ben-day dots.   The problem with this is Prince’s intention. Lichtenstein’s work used that style to conjure a nostalgia that his artwork required. Prince’s use of the canvas, with ink-jet ink, is transforming the ephemeral life of Instagram posts to permanent nostalgic objects. The argument that Prince is using new technology is void when placed in a gallery on a canvas. It is no longer Instagram; it is tradition.

Whaam-Lichtenstein

Whaam! (1963, Tate Modern, London[33]) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roy_Lichtenstein

Artifacts

Prince’s work at best is a tableau attempting to be a simulacra/simulation of real life representing a scene from history. The Instagram pieces are a simulation of art. Prince’s simulation only succeeds as an artifact-evidence of internet culture. What would be the point of critiquing artifacts?-They are merely tools.

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.

Postcolonial Thoughts: Alain Locke’s essay “Art or Propaganda?”

by Christopher Hutchinson

Alain Locke

Alain LeRoy Locke is heralded as the “Father of the Harlem Renaissance” for his publication in 1925 of The New Negro—an anthology of poetry, essays, plays, music and portraiture by white and black artists. Locke is best known as a theorist, critic, and interpreter of African-American literature and art. He was also a creative and systematic philosopher who developed theories of value, pluralism and cultural relativism that informed and were reinforced by his work on aesthetics. Locke saw black aesthetics quite differently than some of the leading Negro intellectuals of his day; most notably W. E. B. Du Bois, with whom he disagreed about the appropriate social function of Negro artistic pursuits. Du Bois thought it was a role and responsibility of the Negro artist to offer a representation of the Negro and black experience which might help in the quest for social uplift. Locke criticized this as “propaganda”-By Jacoby Adeshei Carter http://alainlocke.com/?p=166

ART or Propaganda?

 

If there was a start here button on Black Aesthetics, an essay that should be a mandatory read for all artists of colour, it would be this. Alain Locke writes this simple five paragraph essay that is clear and easy to understand. This article is an attempt to unpack and apply the critique Alain Locke posed 87 years ago. Art or Propaganda? Alain Locke first posed this question in 1928 juxtaposing art and propaganda as binary opposites.   He positions his argument as a statement to where the question becomes rhetorical. Locke’s makes a statement in this essay as to the virtue of art as opposed to the vice of propaganda. The problem with propaganda is “It is too extroverted for balance or poise or inner dignity and self-respect. Art in the best sense is rooted in self-expression and whether naive or sophisticated is self-contained”. Yelling on your soap box is not art.

 

Dred Scott performance I am not a man 2009; duration 1 hour. Performance still 22 x 30 inches, pigment print. http://felicityfenton.com/today/kxh3pxia6rpwnf3uqsjkn6gio0mkic

Dred Scott performance I am not a man
2009; duration 1 hour. Performance still 22 x 30 inches, pigment print.
http://felicityfenton.com/today/kxh3pxia6rpwnf3uqsjkn6gio0mkic

 

My chief objection to propaganda, apart from its besetting sin of monotony and disproportion, is that it perpetuates the position of group inferiority even in crying out against it. For it leaves and speaks under the shadow of a dominant majority whom it harangues, cajoles, threatens or supplicates. It is too extroverted for balance or poise or inner dignity and self-respect. Art in the best sense is rooted in self-expression and whether naive or sophisticated is self-contained. In our spiritual growth genius and talent must more and more choose the role of group expression, or even at times the role of free individualistic expression, in a word must choose art and put aside propaganda.–Alain Locke http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/pds/maai3/protest/text10/lockeartorpropaganda.pdf

How many times are we going to allow the same images to be so-called repurposed, and reinterpreted to the same “perpetuation of group inferiority even when crying out against it”? It seemed that Locke had his fill of this “monotony” in 1928 and yet this method is still a tried and true way to get a response as a Black artist-STOP IT! Even in cities where Black is the majority this practice is most sought after, it is most commodified.

Shift of Psychology

There is more strength in a confident camp than in a threatened enemy. The sense of inferiority must be innerly compensated, self-conviction must supplant self-justification and in the dignity of this attitude a convinced minority must confront a condescending majority. Art cannot completely accomplish this, but I believe it can lead the way.–Alain Locke http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/pds/maai3/protest/text10/lockeartorpropaganda.pdf

The only negative to this essay is the overtly biblical context that assumes that everyone has this knowledge. Within this religious context Locke articulates “Art or Propaganda?,” more clearly into two camps, David or Goliath. David being Art and Goliath being the propaganda. This illustration points to the populous and plentitude of number that the camp of propaganda holds as well as the strength of one individual with carefully chosen “five smooth pebbles fearlessly”. Locke urges that the practice of David should lead us. Alone we should be willing to choose carefully five pebbles and stand without propaganda against any number army. Terry Adkins is such an artist, one of the David’s Locke foresaw.

 

“Recital” comprises a selection of work spanning the last three decades by artist/musician Terry Adkins. Born in 1953 in Washington, DC, Adkins grew up deeply invested in visual art, music, and language. His approach to art making is similar to that of a composer, and the exhibition is conceived as a theatrical score that punctuates and demarcates space, creating interplay among pieces in different media and from diverse bodies of work. Together they act as facets of a crystalline whole, reflecting and illuminating each other in ways that amplify their intensity.

Locke would be disappointed in the overgeneralization and lumping of the Harlem renaissance artists into a Black propaganda machine and Black art today largely falls into the camp of the Philistines. He credits propaganda as a necessary step in our development, as it is necessary for an infant to cry for milk. Art, on the other hand, requires much more than cry’s for necessities, it demands an honest dialogue that allows one to specify nuances of imagery,language, time, and music ones individual aesthetic within a populous culture. …the primary responsibility and function of the artist is to express his own individuality, and in doing that to communicate something of universal human appeal.-By Jacoby Adeshei Carter http://alainlocke.com/?p=166

 

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.

 

Postcolonial Thoughts: Material & Spirit–Maren Hassinger at Spelman Museum

by Christopher Hutchinson

For more than four decades Maren Hassinger, a sculptor, performance artist, and the Director of the Rinehart School of Sculpture at the Maryland Institute and College of Art, has created work that examines the tenuous relationship between nature and industrialism. The Museum will organize and present the original exhibition Maren Hassinger . . . Dreaming. Throughout her distinguished career Hassinger has received awards from prestigious foundations including the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, Anonymous Was a Woman, and the Joan Mitchell Foundation. Her work has recently been featured in several important nationally touring exhibitions including Now Dig This!: Art of Black Los Angeles 1960 –1980 (2011), Material Girls: Contemporary Black Women Artists (2011), and Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art (2012). Maren Hassinger . . . Dreaming will include installations made of newspapers, plastic bags, leaves, and other unconventional materials. This solo exhibition, curated by Andrea Barnwell Brownlee, Ph.D., Director, and Anne Collins Smith, the Curator of Collections, is a timely examination of her life and work. It brings a substantial body of Hassinger’s work to the southeast for the first time. http://museum.spelman.edu/current-exhibition/

“Wrenching News,” 2010. Shredded, twisted, and wrapped newspapers (New York Times). Wall: 7′ x 7′ x 1′. Floor: 6′ x 6′ x 1′. http://museum.spelman.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/LIVES20_0.jpg

“Wrenching News,” 2010.
Shredded, twisted, and wrapped newspapers (New York Times).
Wall: 7′ x 7′ x 1′. Floor: 6′ x 6′ x 1′.
http://museum.spelman.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/LIVES20_0.jpg

The Spelman College Museum of Fine Art has consistently produced great exhibitions and this exhibition succeeds at exceeding those. This exhibition will be on view until May 16, 2015.  Being Black History Month, one would expect to see a group exhibition that caters to the cathartic outcry of propaganda work in group exhibitions of African-American artists that now reference iconic images of black males with hands up in submission or the new trope hoodies.  Spelman, under Dr. Brownlee’s guidance, does not fall into this practice of mongering. Spelman offers a true repute to base race icons by exhibiting artists that make great work–that have a dialogue that is more substantive than just mindless reactionary responses. Maren Hassinger’s work is an excellent rubric.

Hank Willis Thomas, “Raise Up”(2014) / Goodman Gallery at Art Basel Miami Beach http://images.complex.com/complex/image/upload/t_featured_image/v1bydymhbe1wt0jnv5jj.jpg

Hank Willis Thomas, “Raise Up”(2014) / Goodman Gallery at Art Basel Miami Beach
http://images.complex.com/complex/image/upload/t_featured_image/v1bydymhbe1wt0jnv5jj.jpg

Material & Spirit

Hassinger is not absent of the spirit or cathartic experience; it is a more deliberate choice of praxis.  When one first enters her Spelman exhibition, he/she is greeted by Hassinger’s Wrenching News 2010.  The first impulse is to walk around the sphere on floor, not quite noticing the newspaper material circling the installation, building a narrative not yet revealed.  Then you recognize the material newspaper, but it’s too voluminous and strong to be plain newspaper. That becomes irrelevant to the mirrored 6ft sphere on the wall that has now transcended physically and spiritually to a call and response dialogue between two installations, floor and wall, with one/collective unifying dialogue.  

Collective Fiber

Whirling. 1978. Wire and wire rope. Ten units. 1'5" x 7'8" x 9'5". http://marenhassinger.com/drupal/work/whirling

Whirling. 1978.
Wire and wire rope. Ten units. 1’5″ x 7’8″ x 9’5″.
http://marenhassinger.com/drupal/work/whirling

At times her work is dense and impenetrable while other times the work is stripped to its most vulnerable breaking point.  Hassinger’s Consolation 1996 is one of those vulnerable pieces, where the material itself is unraveling.  The strong wire rope here is as wispy and ephemeral as a field of wheat where each stem and seed may be examined. Each stem is a part of a larger collective fiber.  These intimate nuances come from a mastery of material from a complex fiber perspective of the collective and the individual.  Hassinger’s work moves beyond typical notions and stereotypes of fiber art.  Her work investigates the absolute binary spectrum of a material, and through these inquiries she discovers the spirit.

Consolation. 1996. Wire rope. 10' x 10'. Each unit 18" high. Installed at Trans Hudson Gallery, Jersey City, NJ. http://marenhassinger.com/drupal/work/consolation

Consolation. 1996.
Wire rope. 10′ x 10′. Each unit 18″ high. Installed at Trans Hudson Gallery, Jersey City, NJ.
http://marenhassinger.com/drupal/work/consolation

 

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.

Postcolonial Thoughts: Lyle Ashton Harris Lecture at the HIGH: Indecisive moments

by Christopher Hutchinson

For more than two decades Lyle Ashton Harris has cultivated a diverse artistic practice ranging from photographic media, collage, installation and performance. His work explores intersections between the personal and the political, examining the impact of ethnicity, gender and desire on the contemporary social and cultural dynamic. Known for his self-portraits and use of pop culture icons (such as Billie Holiday and Michael Jackson), Harris teases the viewers’ perceptions and expectations, resignifying cultural cursors and recalibrating the familiar with the extraordinary. His work has been exhibited internationally, including at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the 52nd Venice Biennale. His work has been acquired by major international museums, most recently by the Museum of Modern Art in New York. His commissioned work has been featured in a wide range of publications, including The New York Times Magazine and the New Yorker. In 2014 Harris joined the board of trustees at the American Academy in Rome and was named the 10th recipient of the David C. Driskell Prize by the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. Born in New York City, Harris spent his formative years in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. He received his Bachelor of Arts with Honors from Wesleyan University in 1988 and a Masters in Fine Arts from the California Institute of the Arts in 1990. He currently lives and works in New York City and is an Associate Professor at New York University. http://www.lyleashtonharris.com/about/

Lyle Ashton Harris is considered to be a pioneer in Postcolonial art, in which his collaboration with Renee Cox has a very important dialogue about blackness with the residue of Colonialism.  One of the goals of Postcolonialism is to be aware of the far reaching effects of Colonialism and then ultimately to rewrite that history.  To this end Lyle Ashton Harris has an important place in the legacy of art history.  It was with this knowledge and hope that attendance to the HIGH museum lecture in Atlanta on January 15, 2015 became mandatory.

For the exhibition Mirage: Enigmas of Race, Difference and Desire (1995), Lyle Ashton Harris in collaboration with Renee Valerie Cox created the photograph, “Venus Hottentot 2000.” In this futuristic reinterpretation of the Hottentot Venus, Renee Valerie Cox directly inserts her own body into the historical matrix of Western representations that configured black female sexuality. In the photograph Cox’s body is transformed, recalling the Hottentot Venus, with the addition of protruding metallic breasts and an accompanying metal butt extension. The white strings that delicately hold these metallic body parts in place with bow, seem to emphasize the artists’ complex and ambivalent relationships to representations of black female sexuality. Cox wears the metallic appendages like a costume or disguise, but her own nude body is simultaneously revealed to the viewer. She stands in profile emphasizing her bodily dimensions, hands akimbo, and stares directly at the viewer.“Hottentot 2000″ is one photograph in a series by Harris called The Good Life, 1994. https://scholarblogs.emory.edu/postcolonialstudies/2014/06/21/postcolonial-performance-and-installation-art/

Harris then proceeded to deliver one of the most disappointing and disturbing lectures, a litany of name-dropping and external references to other famous artists and philosophers that was far from Postcolonial thoughts except for the engagement of the “Other”–the “Other” is not the only point of Postcolonialism.  He bounced from topic to topic in flurry of art speak that was intended to connect conflicting concepts that did not really apply to his own praxis.  Harris discussed his overall career as a photographer moving through collage, portraiture, and performance art.  The audience suffered through an amateurish performance about Michael Jackson and the homeless that was poorly executed.  The lecture ended with a slideshow of all his notable acquaintances over an amped up Grace Jones track with his voice competing with it.  After suffering though, it became clear the one consistent in Harris’ methodology is appropriation of established Western thought.  Postcolonialism is not interested in appropriating the West. Appropriating the West can only result in the promotion of the residual effects of colonialism, not ending them.

What exactly is special to Harris’ art practice to be so well received?

Lyle Ashton Harris plays Michael Jackson in Performing MJ. (Photo by Ray Llanos) - See more at: http://www.artsatl.com/2014/02/news-lyle-ashton-harris-wins-high-museums-10th-annual-david-c-driskell-prize/#sthash.JP8Q7vBm.dpuf

Lyle Ashton Harris plays Michael Jackson in Performing MJ. (Photo by Ray Llanos) – See more at: http://www.artsatl.com/2014/02/news-lyle-ashton-harris-wins-high-museums-10th-annual-david-c-driskell-prize/#sthash.JP8Q7vBm.dpuf

Rephotographed Collages

Prince began appropriating photographs in 1975. His image, Untitled (Cowboy), a “rephotograph” of a photograph taken originally by Sam Abell and appropriated from a cigarette advertisement, was the first “rephotograph” to raise more than $1 million at auction when it was sold at Christie’sNew York in 2005. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Prince

Harris’s collages aren’t technically collages at all; a rebus picture puzzle would be more accurate. These “collages” don’t overlap, are relatively the same-sized images, with almost the exact same space around each image. All point to a lack of mastery of medium/process. It is a visual dumbing down of two-dimensional space while referencing Picasso and Duchamp. So what if the images were rephotographed. How does that knowledge add to the importance of the concept? During the lecture Harris went into great detail when it came to the medium and rambled when it came to the work, overcompensating with name-dropping and large scale. The lecture had all the earmarks of the student who has not taken the time to write out his artist statement.

Harris discussed his collage Blow Up IV and how the main image relates to Manet’s Olympia and how the drips in the middle are semen. Once again an external reference used to lend importance to a sloppily executed artwork.

Untitled (Mobile #4), 2005  for The New York Times Magazine, 1 Jan. 2006 http://www.lyleashtonharris.com/selected-commissions/

Untitled (Mobile #4), 2005
for The New York Times Magazine, 1 Jan. 2006
http://www.lyleashtonharris.com/selected-commissions/

Harris described this NY Times commission on which he was charged to go to Africa and document Africans with some form of technology to which the above image and others were taken. This is no different than Manet’s Olympia with the spectacle of Blackness. Something that was intended to prove Africans modernity actually promotes Otherness.

The Decisive Moment

Henri Cartier-Bresson is considered to be the father of modern photojournalism. His style of “street photography,” using small format cameras, still influences modern photojournalists to this day.

In the documentary above, Henri Cartier-Bresson describes the elusive decisive moment, which cannot be staged or faked.  Once it’s happened, that’s it.  Bresson allows for this moment to occur while paying attention to composition.  His composition affirms the narrative of the decisive moment.  Lyle Ashton Harris relies only upon shock and icon to force the viewer into a narrative that he has constructed. It’s a burden that shock and icon cannot satisfy.

 

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.

 

Postcolonial Thoughts: Art or fart? Review of Andre 3000’s 47 jumpsuits

by Christopher Hutchinson

While attending Art Basel Miami 2014, the buzz was about the Andre 3000 exhibition of his 47 jumpsuits, “I feel ya.” This review is about the unwarranted buzz surrounding this exhibition due to an incomplete concept and a focus on quantity.

“Outkast is art, and it’s as simple as that. Even when Big Boi and Andre 3000 aren’t on the mic, they are creating and expressing themselves. On Tuesday evening (Dec.2), Art Basel Miami Beach opened up the talked about exhibit with 47 jumpsuits previously worn by Three Stacks. Simply titled “i feel ya: SCAD + André 3000 Benjamin,” the installation is happening now at The Savannah College of Art and Design Museum’s pop-up at Mana Miami. To go along with Andre’s jumpsuit display, filmaker Greg Brunkalla created a short movie with 3000’s quotes as subtitles. The “i feel ya” exhibition will run until Dec. 7.” http://sandrarose.com/2014/12/andre-3000s-custom-jumpsuits-on-display-at-art-basel/

47 Jumpsuits VS Body of work

“Often listed as a contender for greatest living rapper, Andre made his legacy alongside Big Boi as one half of the southern hip hop duo OutKast“Hey Ya” is decidedly their most popular and recognizable track, but check out verse 4 on the title track of their highly acclaimed 1998 album Aquemini. This is a small sample of Andre’s poetic style and unparalleled rhyming abilities”. http://genius.com/artists/Andre-3000

As great a lyricist as Andre 3000 is, the fact is that this project of 47 jumpsuits is not art. It is so remedial that it asks the ubiquitous introduction to art appreciation class question— what is art? The 47 jumpsuits fits all the categories that identify what art is not. The first point to be addressed is the need for 47 different jumpsuits. This is a rookie mistake that all artists encounter, the belief that the amount produced adds to the artworks significance. It does not. There is a big difference between quantity and art. The arbitrary “47” jumpsuits are a means to an end. Not an actual interest in text, documentation, material, performance, sculptures and designs. It’s a poor idea with money backing it. Andre’s notoriety has certainly contributed to the obvious lack of artistic choices made purely and simply because we are fans of his. When “ I feel Ya” is examined without those rose colored glasses, it fails.

Text & Documentation

Adrian Piper’s calling card 1986 is a perfect example of a text-based work that does not need anything else to be powerful. Couldn’t text alone satisfy the task of the “I feel ya” project? Students often feel the need to add and add without taking the proper time to evaluate what each medium has to offer. Professor K. Jill Johnson asked me in undergrad, “You’re always adding, have you ever considered subtracting?” Artists that fulfill the urge to make, and make, and make–continually adding–often end up with a bunch of clichéd references that lead away from his or her concept, not clarifying it. Andre 3000 is known as a lyricist, a storyteller, yet “I feel ya” is saturated with clichéd quotes and anecdotes. It is a betrayal of his own work. “I feel ya” is so cliché that it’s about being a collectible product rather than documentation.

Material & Performance

Nick Cave’s sound suits work as static objects as well as kinetic performance pieces. Cave has explored material and its integral part of his praxis. Material should be married to concept for a cohesive honest dialogue. Does “ I feel ya” explore material and performance enough to be separate from a t-shirt? Do we need to pay attention to Andre 3000’s specificity of jump suits or is it a gimmick that amounts to nothing more than Macaulay Culkin T-Shirt Inception or the “ I can’t breathe” campaign.

SCAD + Andre 3000

The most impressive achievement is how well this concept is received and supported. To be featured by the Savannah College of Art & Design space at MANA during Art Basel 2014 is a great honor, an honor it doesn’t deserve and frankly brings into question the artistic integrity of SCAD.

 

Christopher HutchinsonChristopher Hutchinson is an Assistant Professor of Art at Atlanta Metropolitan State College, Archetype Art Gallery Owner in Atlanta, Ga, and Smoke School of Art Founder. 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. He lived in Alabama for 10 years before moving to Atlanta in 2008.

Learn more about Christopher and his work at Black Flight 144.

 

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