Opening: 18 February 2016, 7 p.m.
From 19 February to 15 May 2016, GAMeC – Galleria d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Bergamo is pleased to present Reasons, Rashid Johnson’s first solo museum exhibition in Italy.
Born in Chicago in 1977, Johnson lives and works in New York and is an African-American artist considered central in the debate revolving around the issues of identity, integration and memory.
Having studied fine art photography, Johnson embarked on an extraordinary career in 2001, where at the age of twenty-one he was the youngest artist to participate in the ground-breaking “Freestyle” exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem, curated by Thelma Golden. His development as an artist can be traced through major solo museum shows, which include Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago (2012), Miami Art Museum (2012), South London Gallery (2012), Ballroom Marfa in Texas (2013), the Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver (2014), Kunsthalle Winterthur (2014) and most recently, The Drawing Center in New York (2015).
Curated by Stefano Raimondi, the exhibition staged by GAMeC showcases a series of historical works to offer an intimate yet broad introduction to Johnson’s artistic practice, with an aim to enter into a fascinating network of formal and narrative stratifications, suggestions, and personal or historical experiences that shape his work.
For the exhibition title, Reasons, Johnson was inspired by the eponymous song by American band Earth, Wind & Fire, as the lyrics are closely linked with the meaning of the works on display. In each of his works, the artist encompasses the reasons that were the source of inspiration for their genesis: reasons inspired by the attempt to investigate personal questions as well as universal issues that Johnson strives to explore through his work.
The media presented in the exhibition are diverse – black soap, wax, ceramic tile, spray enamel, books, vinyl records, oyster shells, shea butter, live plants with grow lights – but are all familiar from the artist's multivalent practice, and through their repeated use many have become Johnson's signature materials, offering a gateway to the artist’s world: sculpture, painting, installation and video.
Some elements are bearers of a cultural phenomenon: wax, soap and shea butter were widely used during the African diaspora and were later associated with the cultural ideology of Afrocentrism in the United States in the late twentieth century; vinyl records and books refer to a more intimate story which alludes to the albums that the artist listened to as a boy. His father’s electrical instruments and texts the artist took from his mother’s library form part of what is defined as the memorialization of the process of appropriation and re-transposition of the domestic space.
All the materials carry these memories, but in the artist’s hands they become the objects of a broader narration. Taken out of their original context, they have been chosen for their ability to interact; they lose their biographical or knowledge-related connotation and are used as instruments that can create signs and graphic traces, becoming lines and thus references to minimal art, as elements to distribute information and subtexts. For Johnson “the artist functions as a time traveller” and his work is “a means or portal to effectively rewrite history, not as a revision but as a work of fiction”.
To create a fast-paced and continuous dialogue among the various works, experiences, techniques and materials, everything is positioned within a single exhibition space and immediately visible as a unique display.
The centre of the room is occupied by the imposing work Fatherhood (2015). This pyramidal totemic sculpture is a form of delocalized psyche and its exoskeleton – composed of steel cubes of various sizes stacked to create a three-dimensional grid – evokes the geometric compositions of Sol LeWitt and the modular works of Carl Andre.
This empty structure is filled with a series of objects that have defined the artist’s language: familiar objects with a powerful personal and social significance, dozens of houseplants, grow lights and a series of books, including copies of Bill Cosby’s best-seller Fatherhood, which examines the theme of being a father but is also now linked with the recent controversies of the actor.
The sculpture interacts and makes dialogue with the works along the perimeter of the Spazio Zero, the works creating a constellation of readings.
Amongst these works, Between Heaven and Hell (2012) is central to understanding the transformation of meanings in objectual forms. The work is configured like a bookshelf or, to use the artist’s reference to Lawrence Weiner’s book, “Something To Put Something On”. The act of finding a space to set down one’s story is tied to the need to conserve but also to manifest often-contradictory stimuli that contribute to creating identity. Alongside vinyl records and books, the sculpture includes a bust roughly carved in shea butter. This material, which is derived from a tree common to West Africa, became very popular during the Afrocentric movement that influenced Johnson’s childhood.
Goodbye Derrick (2012) is an exceptional abstract painting made with red oak flooring, the surface of which has been repeatedly branded with ambiguous symbols. These symbols include targets reminiscent of the logo of hiphop group Public Enemy, which reveal both an aggressive stance and geometry; palm trees and the signs of Sigma Pi Phi, the first African-American professional and cultural association whose name is signified with Greek letters.
The exhibition also includes the works Them (2014), Untitled Anxious Men (2014) and Positions (2015), executed using three different types of tile: mirror, white and coloured. A mixture of black soap and wax is dripped onto these surfaces, shifting and circumnavigating the works to create a two-dimensional grid (which, in the case of Position, is extended to the third dimension through the use of colour).
Untitled Anxious Men seems to evoke Dubuffet’s Art Informel due to the exceptional power with which the form of the head emerges – the doodle of a figure, completely out of scale and proportion – takes over the entire surface of the painting, as only works of Art Brut can do. The contrast between the neutrality of the white ceramic tile and the magnetism of the anonymous, restless face incised in black soap and wax creates irrepressible emotional density. Here as well, is an autobiographical element, for anxiety, neurosis and psychotherapy are frequent themes in Johnson’s work.
The exhibition is part of a series in honour of Arturo Toffetti.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue published by GAMeC Books.
The volume, available at the museum bookshop starting in March, will include views of the layout designed for GAMeC’s Spazio Zero; it will be presented to the public on 13 May 2016 during an event that is part of ARTDATE.
We are grateful to GAMeC Club for its generous contribution to the publication of the catalogue.
The exhibition is staged with the support of Hauser & Wirth.
Thanks to Massimo De Carlo, Milano/Londra/Hong Kong.
Rashid Johnson was born in Chicago in 1977. He was awarded a BA in photography from Columbia College, Chicago, in 2000, and then went to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago for an MFA. His work can be found in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Guggenheim Museum; the Whitney Museum of American Art; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Art Institute of Chicago; the High Museum, Atlanta; and the Miami Art Museum, among many others. Johnson's work was the subject of a ten-year survey exhibition entitled 'Message to Our Folks', organized in 2012 by the MCA Chicago, which travelled to the Miami Art Museum; the High Museum, Atlanta and the Kemper Art Museum, St. Louis. In 2012, he participated the a solo museum exhibition 'Shelter' at the South London Gallery, and in spring 2013 Ballroom Marfa held a solo show of his work, entitled ‘New Growth’, which travelled to the MCA Denver in 2014. In 2014, Johnson participated in solo shows at Kunsthalle Winterthur, Switzerland and George Economou Collection, Athens, Greece and in 2015 at The Drawing Center, New York. In the last few years, the artist's work has been featured in many group exhibitions, including the Venice Biennale, the Shanghai Biennale and shows at MAMBo Bologna, the MIT List Visual Arts Center, the Nasher Museum at Duke University, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. and the Schirn Kunsthalle, in Frankfurt. In 2016, after the exhibition at GAMeC, Johnson will present a solo show at the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow.
19 FEBRUARY – 15 MAY 2016
Rashid Johnson - Reasons
Tuesday-Sunday: 10 am – 7 pm / Thursday: 10 am – 10 pm / Monday closed
Tickets (valid for all the exhibitions on show)
Full: € 6,00 / Reduced: € 4,00
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