“Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power”
American abstractionist Jack Whitten, who died in early 2018, is justly celebrated for working magic with acrylic paint—combing it, carving it, and casting tiles, membranes, and objects out of it to use in tessellated or collaged compositions—but he’s less well known as a sculptor. This show of his sculptures, organized by the Met Breuer, New York, and the Baltimore Museum of Art, brings together some forty works. Made on summer trips to Greece starting in the 1970s and inspired by African, Cycladic, and African American vernacular art, they incorporate bones, nails, drawer pulls, circuit boards, fishing line, and carved wood and marble. The pieces evince the same engagement with process as Whitten’s two-dimensional works, a kinship underscored by the inclusion of eighteen of his paintings.
This survey provides a comprehensive view of B. Wurtz’s photos, paintings, drawings, and sculptures, which monumentalize humble, everyday materials like food containers, bits of clothing, and scraps of wood and metal. The show includes some of Wurtz’s early hybrid pieces from the 1980s that pair a dramatic photo of a given object with the item itself. Many of his playful, delicately constructed tableaux made up of elements such as plastic and mesh bags, aluminum pans, ribbons, and socks are also featured in the show.
Part political art and part political action, Cuban artist Tania Bruguera’s work has taken myriad forms, among them a 2014 public performance in which she invited everyday Cubans to step up to a podium in Havana’s Revolution Square and speak their minds (the event was canceled by Cuban authorities, who also arrested several would-be participants) as well as a storefront community center in New York City offering services to recent immigrants. In 2008, Bruguera had policemen on horseback storm Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall and corral surprised visitors into the center of the gallery—transforming audience members into state-controlled citizens, according to the artist. This season, Bruguera returns to Tate Modern with a new commissioned piece, involving a heat-sensitive floor, expanding on her concept of Arte Útil (art as a social tool).
Dorothea Lange’s celebrated photographs of rural life during the Great Depression, commissioned by the Farm Security Administration, are animated by her concern for the impoverished farmers she depicts. Conveying a similar empathy are the rarely seen pictures she took of Japanese-American “evacuees” at the Manzanar internment camp during World War II. Featured in this retrospective, the series serves as a timely reminder of the US government’s history of aiming harsh policies at perceived foreigners. The exhibition—which was organized by the Oakland Museum of California, where it premiered—encompasses over 240 vintage prints and archival materials, such as a letter to Lange from John Steinbeck.
Photographer Dawoud Bey on two shows in New York [published 08/09/2018]
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