Art Reflected Beyond Gallery Walls at Gagosian

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There’s a chilly breeze blowing through Gagosian’s West 24th Street galleries this summer in the form of the group exhibition “Social Affairs” organized by Antwaun Sargent, curator, critic and author of The New Black Vanguard: Photography Between Art and Fashion. His first project as a Gagosian director.

It spans 12 artist generations and official disciplines. And in the study here, they examine some of the broader social landscape that Black encompasses as an identity during the past year, many of which have been grappling with the epidemic. Part of the land lies in textbook history. The “bitter trade” in Titus Kaphar’s painting in this title is European colonialism and slavery. Allana Clarke’s turbulent textured wall relief, made of rubber and hair-sticking glue and titled “We’ve Got Nothing”, brings to mind a silhouette of continental Africa. Four large abstract collage paintings by Rick Lowe, renowned architect and social organizer of Project Row Houses, depict the 1921 destruction of “Black Wall Street” in Tulsa, Okla, and evoke aerial maps of wartime bombings.

The show also brings the definition of the Black social zone into the proactive present. Leading efforts to revitalize Chicago’s South Side, Theaster Gates reinvigorates local pop god DJ Frankie Knuckles (1955-2014) in an altar-like installation of 5,000 record albums that once belonged to this Chicago house music pioneer. . In a series of big box sculptures, Lauren Halsey quotes commercial signage from South Central Los Angeles to give a sense of the changing daily life in the gentrifying neighborhood where she grew up. “Yes we are welcome and yes we have Black,” a piece reads. “Sons of Watts Community Patrol” reads something else. The largest piece, the “Black History Wall of Respect (II)” needs no text: the portraits of the guardian spirits of the place, from Malcolm X to Nina Simone, speak for themselves.

There’s also a practical, street-level extension of Halsey’s investment in her neighborhood. There, he helped establish a food bank called Summaeverythang that brought fresh, free organic produce to the South Los Angeles “food desert” community. It has a strong example in the work of influential art historian and gallerist Linda Goode Bryant, who created the urban agriculture initiative in New York in 2009. Project EATS, a full-scale demonstration model is on Gagosian.

In the 1970s and ’80s, Bryant changed the city’s cultural landscape by introducing contemporary Black artists to the wider art audience with his gallery Just Above Midtown. In this, young names like Kaphar are following his lead. A few years ago from the founders NXTHVNis a dynamic mentoring workshop in New Haven, Conn., where she lives. Five artists who have emerged from it – Clarke, Zalika Azim, Kenturah Davis, Christie Neptune and Alexandria Smith – are in Sargent’s exhibition.

In short, the exhibition usefully mixes commercially available definitions of “black art” (there is hardly any figure painting) and positions the art of “social practice” both inside and outside the traditional art world of galleries and museums. Gagosian, of course, is deep in that world and very traditional in every way. In fact, the most surprising thing about “Social Services” is to find it there. So it will be interesting to see if Black artists will remain as occasional visitors or full-time settlers at this particular market site. And it will be interesting to see how far the gallery will allow a clever new director to expand the space.

Social Services: Curated by Antwaun SargentUntil September 11, Gagosian Gallery, 555 West 24th Street, Manhattan, (212)-741-1111, gagosian.com.

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