The Studio Museum in Harlem has long played a critical role in fostering the careers of contemporary artists of African descent. Since 1968 the museum has been the leading place to explore the diverse set of concerns that informs art by African-American artists. The five 2016 spring exhibitions that opened last week—Rodney McMillian's Views of Main Street, Rashaad Newsome's This Is What I Want To See, Ebony G. Patterson's …when they grow up... and two collection shows, Palatable: Food and Contemporary Art and Surface Area: Selections from the Permanent Collection—continue the museum's mission to offer both a look at the legacy and future of black contemporary art.

The three solo shows activate the Studio Museum in distinctive ways. Rashaad Newsome's exhibition of video and works on paper continues his exploration of both Vogue culture and European heraldry. The video ICON (2014) blends the influences of the black LGBTQ communities with abstracted and contemporary ideas of heraldry to reveal figures voguing to a ballroom bass-heavy beat through architectural structures comprised of Cuban link chains and other diamond encrusted bling. The collages L.S.S (Kevin JZ Prodigy) (2014) and Ballroom Floor (2014) continue his use of abstraction to explore the relationships that arise among power, status, and the black body.

Rodney McMillian uses the first floor galleries to stage an exploration of wealth and poverty through sculpture and painting. In Views of Main Street, the artist's use of tattered furniture—Couch (2012), Chair (2003), and Untitled (2011), an oddly shaped maroon carpet, presented on a wall as a cross between painting and sculpture— illustrates most forcibly the artist's fifteen-year fascination with the effects of inequality. The crumpled painting Untitled (The Supreme Court Painting), created over two years in the mid-aughts, lies on the floor of the main gallery of the museum. The work is a cutout of the façade of America's highest court. McMillian's representation evokes the ways in which government institutions historically, often now inadvertently, perpetuate class disparity.

Ebony G. Patterson's …when they grow up… turns a basement gallery at the Studio Museum into an immersive environment that centers around the concept of ephebiphobia. This phobia is characterized by a fear of youth that is shaped by an inaccurate negative perception of adolescent behavior. In the installation Patterson evokes a child's playroom, filling the bright pink gallery with toys, flowers, bedazzled embellished surfaces, and backpacks to question the cultural perception that often renders black children adults. The exhibit also features portraits of black children that emphasizes their humanity and recalls the deaths of 11-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland and slain children in the artist's native home of Kingston, Jamaica. The site-specific installation is a colorful shrine to lost black childhood.

The two group shows are comprised of artworks from the museum's permanent collection, which includes more than 2,000 holdings of painting, sculpture, photography, and mixed media art. Palatable: Food and Contemporary Art features sixteen artists investigating the influence and cultural implications of culinary taste. The exhibition includes Carrie Adams's 2013 Untitled (Dinners) and David Hammons's Koolaid Drawing (2004), an abstract expressionistic work painted using real Kool-AID. Along a wall on the second floor is Surface Area: Selections from the Permanent Collection, which includes works by artists Jennifer Packer and Howardena Pindell, and explores the ways artists have expanded the possibilities of the flat two-dimensional canvas.

-Antwaun Sargent

 

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