Ciarán Finlayson

  • Mickalene Thomas, Resist #2, 2021, acrylic, oil stick, rhinestones, and glitter on canvas mounted on panel, 84 × 108".


    IN 1968, thirteen Black security officers and gallery attendants at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art hosted a Black Culture Festival on museum grounds. As a successful piece of community outreach, the event, which coincided with the exhibition “The Sculpture of Black Africa,” was celebrated, earning lead organizer Sergeant William Knight and head of security Sidney Slade commendations from the Los Angeles County board of supervisors. In art historian Bridget R. Cooks’s telling, this cultural intervention led directly to the museum’s hiring David Driskell to guest-curate the major exhibition

  • Cameron Rowland, 7.5', 2015, exit height strip, 36 × 1". Installation view, 2021. The height strip allows for identification. Typically it is used at the door of gas stations and convenience stores. Photo: Dario Lasagni.

    “Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America”

    Conceived by Okwui Enwezor; realized by curatorial advisers Naomi Beckwith, Massimiliano Gioni, Glenn Ligon, and Mark Nash

    THE EXHORTATIONS BURN/ITD/OWN, KI/LL, and FUCK 12 greeted visitors to “Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America,” the late curator Okwui Enwezor’s exhibition at the New Museum. Conceived by Enwezor in 2018 and realized after his death the following year by artist Glenn Ligon and curators Naomi Beckwith, Massimiliano Gioni, and Mark Nash, the show was initially intended as a commentary on the Trump administration and was projected to open in the run-up to the 2020

  • Jamal Cyrus, Liberation Rotation (Ollie Towards a Metamorphosis), 2020, digital collage, dimensions variable.


    When I was twenty in 2014, Jamal Cyrus invited me to join him as a mentee of sorts on a trip to the Houston Metropolitan Research Center. The subject of his inquiry was the 1967 police riot at Texas Southern University, where he teaches. Historical reports in local newspapers of the precipitating causes, events, and outcomes were predictably conflicting, even as the student demonstrations themselves were irreproachable. I found it difficult to reconcile the fact that some of the most principled, militant calls for community self-defense had been issued, it now seems likely, by agents provocateurs.

  • Dawoud Bey, Untitled #14 (Site of John Brown’s Tannery), 2017, gelatin silver print, 44 × 55". From the series “Night Coming Tenderly, Black,” 2017.


    SET BACK ON THE FAR SIDE OF A FIELD, in an overgrown backyard, a modest farmhouse is bisected by the silhouette of a tree. Just out of reach of its branches, billowing clouds overtake a pocket of sunshine. This pastoral scene appears in a contemporary black-and-white image that depicts John Brown’s tannery in Hudson, Ohio, from the imagined vantage of fugitive slaves who might have sheltered with the abolitionist while he lived there from 1824 to 1826. John Brown Jr. recalls being five years of age when the house was visited by the first black people he had ever met—“dark panting refugees who

  • Pope.L, Package Received but Never Opened # 21, 2017, Maisie’s Savory snack mix, The Popcorn Factory caramel popcorn, Emilie Roux Pretzel snacks, Walker’s Belgian chocolate cookies, Ghirardelli dark chocolate blueberry squares, ceramic bowl, clear plastic, silk ribbon. Installation view, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2019. Photo: Chandra Glick. © Pope.L.


    AMONG THE VIDEOS ON DISPLAY in “member: Pope.L, 1978–2001,” at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, many of which are grainy documents of Pope.L’s experimental theater works, is Egg Eating Contest (Basement version), 1990, a piece first performed in East Orange, New Jersey, in which the artist appears as a sort of emasculated black nationalist strutting around a cellar in a tattered black tunic. Tacked on the wall is a sheet of beige paper; on the paper is a painting of a hairy scrotum. Pope.L, after dramatically producing a marker from the folds of the tunic, attempts to draw the shaft. But he

  • Central Americans try to avoid teargas deployed by US border police agents during an attempt to cross the border between Mexico and the US during the first minutes of January 1, 2019, in Tijuana, Mexico. Photo: Josebeth Terriquez/EFE/Alamy Live News.
    slant July 17, 2019

    The Tear Gas Biennial

    WARREN B. KANDERS DIDN’T EARN HIS PLACE as vice chair of the board at the Whitney Museum of American Art through his good taste alone. He has also used some of his estimated $700 million fortune to make tax-deductible donations to support exhibitions at the museum. What successful enterprise has made this generosity possible? Thanks to the collective, years-long effort of activists, students, and reporters to bring everyday brutality to light, we could tell you quite a lot about Kanders’s company Safariland, which does a brisk trade supplying batons, handcuffs, holsters, and body armor to police

  • View of “Lessons of the Hour - Frederick Douglass,” 2019. Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester. Photo: Andy Olenick / Fotowerks.
    slant May 06, 2019

    Subject Lessons

    IN MARCH, Isaac Julien’s show “Lessons of the Hour – Frederick Douglass” premiered at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, a week before it opened at Metro Pictures in New York during Armory Week. I caught a flight upstate for a weekend of events surrounding the debut and was toured around sites important both to Douglass’s life and to Julien’s process, including the George Eastman Museum, the graves of Anna Murray Douglass and Douglass, and Highland Park—the location of a 120-year-old bronze statue of Douglass, the first public monument in the country to memorialize a black American. Julien’s


    Curated by Isabelle Cahn and Philippe Peltier

    Felix Fénéon became a critic, gallerist, and Communist after being fired from the civil service for his alleged (and probable) bombing of a restaurant directly opposite the French senate. A lifelong anti-imperialist, he also called for the Louvre to give space to “art from distant lands,” which at that time was relegated to provincial museums of ethnology. Featuring Fénéon’s personal collection of artworks from Africa, Oceania, and the French avant-garde, this exhibition will examine his attempt to suspend such separations. Like last year’s revelatory


    IT’S A STRUCTURING CONTRADICTION of American politics that the opening “we” of the preamble to the US Constitution effectively dissimulates the manifest contempt for even the concept of “the people” expressed at the 1787 convention that led to its drafting. Behind locked doors, Alexander Hamilton sought to give the rich a “distinct, permanent share in the government” and James Madison to enshrine them as a protected minority. Political economist J. Allen Smith argued as early as 1907 that those seeking to grapple with


    IN 2006, a year after Ed Ruscha’s series “Course of Empire” debuted at the Fifty-First Venice Biennale, Noam Chomsky called America a failed state. Ruscha tends toward wry jokes over declamation, but his own assessment was similarly damning. In the US pavilion, his series “Blue Collar,”1992, comprising five black-and-white paintings of Los Angeles buildings connected to working-class life (e.g., a trade school), was shown with five new works in color depicting the progress or deterioration of each site. These deadpan before-and-after records of changes in the urban landscape registered the


    WHEN MBU, 2017, PREMIERED LAST SPRING at Tate Modern, it was difficult to actually see Paul Maheke dancing. His body was obscured and occasionally illuminated by video projections and layers of hanging scrims. Past the initial frustration, these impediments to spectatorship, it became clear, were as much part of the piece as any of Maheke’s choreography. Viewers were unable to hold him in sight for long. The effect was to make the dance feel ambient rather than spectacular, something best enjoyed with the same etiquette as that of the dance floor: by casting the occasional obliquely held glance.