Critics’ Picks

View of “Frederick Weston: Happening,” 2019.

View of “Frederick Weston: Happening,” 2019.

New York

Frederick Weston

Gordon Robichaux
41 Union Square West, #925 & #907 (Enter at 22 East 17th Street)
April 28–June 16, 2019

Frederick Weston used New York City as his public gallery. For the series “Blue Bathroom Blues,” 1994–, he has plastered homoerotic collages in the titular hue onto the plywood walls of construction sites. One day he was caught by a security guard: “Oh, you’re the artist!,” he said. Rather than apprehending Weston, however, he let him finish the job and sign the work. For the artist, this was an affirmation of his talents.

“Happening,” Weston’s first solo exhibition in New York, gathers a selection of collage works from the past two decades that reference his identity as a black, queer artist living with AIDS. The collages—composed of a variety of materials, such as magazine clippings, plastic bags, and fabric swatches—are attentive to the vagaries of mass media and suffused with a distinctly personal touch, one that also considers the thorny politics of representation. Take Body Map I, 2015, which consists of a nearly life-size paper figure overlaid with the faces of celebrities, among them George Foreman and Barack Obama. The largest image is that of Tom Morgan, a black journalist who lived for twenty years as an openly gay and HIV-positive man. In Sambo Schema I and II, both 2006, photographs of minstrel-show actors in blackface abut smiley-face pins and cutouts of dolls and cartoons. Titled after Helen Bannerman’s children’s book The Story of Little Black Sambo (1899), they underline how racist, dehumanizing tropes were popularized as juvenile entertainment.

Weston’s collages reflect his training as a fashion designer and exemplify his tactile impulse for collecting. This drive is further enhanced by an installation of binders stuffed with clippings, their spines referencing a swath of themes, like “POLICE” and “FEELINGS.” Yellowed paper pokes out from their worn plastic covers. Dating to 1995, the binders comprise only a fraction of the archives housed within Weston’s apartment and studio. They are repositories of inspiration, yes—but perhaps more poignantly, they are a testament to Weston’s refusal to forget and be forgotten as an artist.