Critics’ Picks

American Artist, I'm Blue, 1, 2019, school desk, hardware, ballistic shield, navy blue fabric, books, 66 x 24 x 35".

American Artist, I'm Blue, 1, 2019, school desk, hardware, ballistic shield, navy blue fabric, books, 66 x 24 x 35".

New York

American Artist

Koenig & Clinton
1329 Willoughby Avenue Unit 131
March 1–April 13, 2019

Millennial viewers will recognize the title of American Artist’s solo exhibition “I’m Blue (If I Was █████ I Would Die)” as a permutation of a nonsense line from Eiffel 65’s 1998 Europop earworm, “Blue (Da Ba Dee).” The word green (which some people seem to mishear in the lyric) is covered up by a censor bar—the bar itself is a symbol for blackness. American Artist underscores the incompatibility of black and brown lives with law enforcement, or, rather, “blue lives.”

The exhibition revolves around Blue Life Seminar (all works 2019), an animated video monologue presenting a figure based on two people: Dr. Manhattan, a fictional character from the comic saga Watchmen (1986–87), and former Los Angeles policeman Christopher Dorner. Like Dr. Manhattan—a nuclear physicist who turned into an unwilling operative for the US after suffering a disfiguring accident—he sports blue skin, glowing white orbs for eyes, and a target-like emblem for hydrogen on his forehead. His facial features recall those of Dorner, who died in 2013 following a shooting spree against LAPD officers. (Dorner had been fired from the department five years earlier, after accusing his partner of excessive force.) American Artist draws from Dorner’s eleven-thousand-word manifesto, which details the racism he experienced as a black military member and police employee. Dr. Manhattan’s frustration with the American government is also mixed into the script. Sometimes, their narratives are indistinguishable: “I was a strong arm of the state to flaunt their power and instigate fear in their opponents.”

Facing the video monitor are six school desks that have been outfitted with fabric-covered ballistic shields. Books about police psychology have been placed atop and beneath the desks. Volumes including The Proverbs 31 Police Wife (2018),  Behind the Badge: 365 Daily Devotions for Law Enforcement (2018), and the inflammatory Black Lies Matter: Why Lies Matter to the Race Grievance Industry (2016), by the self-declared black “race realist” Taleeb Starkes, are from a small library curated by the artist. Starkes’s position as a mouthpiece of the alt-right represents the flip side of the blue-skinned polemicist/lecturer—though they are both equally scarred by racial trauma.