“Arthur Jafa: A Series of Utterly Improbable, Yet Extraordinary Renditions” through Sept. 10
Serpentine Sackler Gallery
“A Still Life by Chardin” through Aug. 26
“Alice Neel: Uptown” through Sept. 16
Victoria Miro Gallery, Venice
The provocative Belgian/American artist, who lives in London, made a big splash this summer at Art Basel with Amos’s World: Episode 1, a video installation about a fictional architect. Here, she talks about three exhibitions up now in London.
This summer I noticed a welcome shift in the audiences that art establishments want to talk to and the people being invited to speak to them. The exhibitions on view were likely programmed before Brexit, before the outcomes of various elections and hopefully these are steps towards a longer commitment to diverse programming.
I liked that a lot of the shows weren’t “message” shows. In the Arthur Jafa exhibition at Serpentine, for example, it was clear that you weren’t there to have something explained for you and there was no default about who “you” are. An artist, filmmaker, and cinematographer, Jafa is a big collector of images of the black experience, both still and moving, and the show at Serpentine was an assembly of vital still and moving images, including still and moving images made by other people, like Ming Smith and Khalil Joseph.
How does an artist give a voice to something without taking that voice away? How do you leave space for it? I was blown away by how Jafa creates that space in this exhibition, and also his breaking down of the “I.” In the catalogue essay for “Alice Neel: Uptown,” at Victoria Miro, Hilton Als talks about the “I” and how a lot of artists, he feels, are really married to this “I,” as if their whole world would crumble without it. He talks about how inclusive Neel’s work is, and how she understood that this “I” would only be an obstruction to making the portrait, which is really a sharing of energy. Neel painted the people around her, from her artist community and those in the area where she lived. Als calls on this diversity as part of her “brilliance”- which struck me. Brilliance isn’t something that can be temporarily acquired, it’s something that is inhabited.
“A Still Life by Chardin,” at Lisson, which was curated by the New York gallerist Maxwell Graham, touches on this idea of expansiveness as well, in the sense that an image of something or a portrait of someone can still have room for the unknown. I’m thinking specifically of a work in the show by Pati Hill—an IBM photocopier print of a paper grocery bag—circa 1977–79. You can have—or at least I have—a very emotional response to this simple copy, what it reveals or doesn’t reveal. You’re suddenly aware of what you don’t know.
In one of the rooms in the Jafa show there are YouTube videos playing, and the playlist includes a clip of Alice Smith covering Nina Simone’s cover of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins love ballad “I Put a Spell on You.” For me it underlined the idea that the copy—and the emotion of the copy, the performance of the copy— has an ability to move through different bodies, each time as its own entity but still linked to the others. You are aware of what you do know and that there’s something that you don’t- Smith’s cover made me cry.
Cécile B. Evans will have a solo show at Castello di Rivoli in November this year.
Installation view of the exhibition “Arthur Jafa: A Series of Utterly Improbable, Yet Extraordinary Renditions,” Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London. Foreground: Arthur Jafa, Jonathan, 2017, wallpaper, copyright Jim Kean/Marin Independent Journal; background: Arthur Jafa, Mix 1 – 3_constantly evolving, 2017, video installation, three screens.
Alice Neel, Uptown, by Hilton Als. Foreword by Jeremy Lewison. David Zwirner Books / Victoria Miro, 2017.
Pati Hill, Untitled (paper bag), c. 1977–1979, black-and-white photocopier print, 11 x 8 1/2 inches.