March 16, 2012 — July 15, 2012
Masterpieces of Contemporary African-American Art
From Robert Colescott and Jean-Michel Basquiat to Kehinde Wiley and Nina Chanel Abney, 30 Americans surveys the most significant artistic contributions of the past three decades. Drawn from the Rubell Family Collection in Miami, this exhibition brings together 75 works by African-American artists who work within a variety of mediums. While some works probe the notion of racial and social difference in a gritty, direct manner, others evoke universal concepts and emotions using a sophisticated blend of visual beauty, humor, and irony.
30 Americans is unique in that it allows several generations of artists to intermix in interesting ways. While some artists, (such as Carrie Mae Weems, Robert Colescott, Purvis Young, Nick Cave, William Pope L., Kerry James Marshall and Barkley Hendricks) grew up admist the Civil Rights and Black Power movements of the 1960s and ’70s, others continue to live within its aftermath. David Hammons, Lorna Simpson, Kara Walker, Carrie Mae Weems and Glenn Ligon opened up new dialogues in conjunction with the multiculturalism and identity politics discourse of the ’90s.
More recently, Wangechi Mutu, Iona Rozeal Brown, Mickalene Thomas, Shinique Smith, Rashid Johnson and Kalup Linzy have gained notoriety in the contemporary art scene for their demonstration of a wide range of visual and conceptual strategies. Nick Cave’s lyrically elaborate sound suits combine a variety of disparate materials in unique and beautiful ways. Their departure from our everyday environment suggests a time and place where race and gender doesn’t really matter–where people are just people. Iona Rozeal Brown’s transnational paintings blend African-American and Asian cultural attributes and reference the appropriation of hip-hop style among Japanese youth. Known as the ganguro, or literally, “black face,” these teenagers dress in funky clothes, dye and weave their hair into cornrows and darken their skin at tanning salons or with makeup. Brown traveled to Japan in the late 1990s and her fascination with this style inspired this particular body of work.
Several of the artists rework and manipulate history in interesting and thought-provoking ways. Glenn Ligon’s work pushes the boundaries of Conceptualism into a socio-political realm. Ligon’s paintings incorporate phrases and text from diverse sources from famous 19th-century abolitionist Sojourner Truth to the stand-up comedian, Richard Pryor. In his photographs, 34-year old artist Rashid Johnson mines the past in search of his own self-identity, portraying himself as abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Barkley Hendricks’ powerful portrayals of African-American subjects merge the long-standing tradition of portraiture with a striking sense of urban realism. The self-assured, confident stance, as well as the dignity and beauty of his subjects are carried over into Mickalene Thomas’s glitzy and alluring paintings of contemporary women. At once seductive and empowered, Mickalene’s portraits speak to a woman’s roles in our post-feminist world. In the words of Art Historian Darby English, some of the 30 Americans artists seem to question, “what becomes of black art when black artists stop making it?”