Critics’ Picks

Elliott Jerome Brown Jr., He gave and he gave / but he wouldn’t have given at all if I didn’t let him in / if I didn’t cover my body in soap three times / swish oil between my teeth 47 minutes ahead of the time / that I expected him. / (Wounded), 2018, archival inkjet prints on aluminum, wood, and brass wire, 31 x 31".

Elliott Jerome Brown Jr., He gave and he gave / but he wouldn’t have given at all if I didn’t let him in / if I didn’t cover my body in soap three times / swish oil between my teeth 47 minutes ahead of the time / that I expected him. / (Wounded), 2018, archival inkjet prints on aluminum, wood, and brass wire, 31 x 31".

New York

Elliott Jerome Brown Jr.

Baxter St at the Camera Club of New York
126 and 128 Baxter St
January 9–March 2, 2019

Elliott Jerome Brown Jr.’s He gave and he gave / but he wouldn’t have given at all if I didn’t let him in / if I didn’t cover my body in soap three times / swish oil between my teeth 47 minutes ahead of the time / that I expected him. / (Wounded) (all works cited, 2018) features several images that sit behind a timeworn, family-style “collage” picture frame, decorated with gold accents. The frame strategically occludes much of what we see—through the apertures we take in a shirtless and barefoot man facing away from us; a boy lounging in a tank top and athletic shorts, his face hidden; and socked feet hanging in the foreground, unattached to any visible body. Other works here show people relaxing on couches, braiding hair, or eating together.

These informal, intimate scenes of black life—often tender—dominate Brown’s first solo exhibition, “a simple song,” the title of which is based on I Wrote a Simple Song, soul artist Billy Preston’s 1972 record that talks about the disappointment of making deeply private music for public consumption. Brown addresses this quandary, too, with his partially obstructed photographs. Another work from 2018 captures a full-length oval mirror, a figurine, a dog statuette, and a strip of wallet-size studio portraits trapped beneath a sheet of glass on top of a table, or maybe a dresser. The top half of the mirror is partially obscured by a dark rectangle. When the piece is observed from another vantage point, the rectangle reveals a woman resting her head on her hand while glancing downward. She is an added jolt of melancholy—a kind of phantom who presides over this sullen tableau.

The show’s centerpiece is Ssssummmmmwhhhhhhhhhhere, a sizable light-box piece depicting a young man lifting a couch. His face is blocked out, but his strained legs are visible. In front of the light box are bars, made from painted aluminum and willow. This odd addition puts some distance between the viewer and the work. Brown allows us to get close, but never too close.