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“A Constellation”

The Studio Museum in Harlem
144 West 125th Street
November 12, 2015–March 6, 2016

Talwst, Por qué, 2014, mixed media,
3 x 2 x 2 1/2".

As its title, “A Constellation,” suggests, this show draws together a range of seemingly disparate practices by black artists and invites the viewer to connect the dots. This is a loose curatorial rubric, but its strength is in pairing now-canonical artists with their emerging peers, initiating a cross-generational conversation about materiality, gesture, and political ambition.

It is worth seeing this exhibition for the opportunity to immerse oneself in the glow of work from a firmament that the Studio Museum itself fostered in the 1970s. Jack Whitten’s Psychic Intersection, 1979-80, evokes the modernist black square and grid with a nod to the interstellar, while Al Loving’s incandescent Variations on a Six Sided Object, 1967, leaves one wondering why it is not he, rather than Frank Stella, who is remembered as the post-painterly heavyweight of the modernist era. Across the gallery, one delights in poring over the dense materiality and sly wit of work by Betye Saar, Faith Ringgold, and Adrian Piper.

But, as the show makes clear, the mantle of these greats has been taken on in knowing ways by a younger generation. Cameron Rowland plays on post-Minimalist form and the vernacular spaces of the inner city with his mordant plastic cube, Pass-Thru, 2014. Canadian artist Talwst creates subtle juxtapositions of the precious and the pressing with Por qué, 2014, a miniature depiction of the Eric Garner killing. And Baltimore-born Kandis Williams contributes the quietly show-stealing multimedia painting paralysis II, 2014—a grainy play of abstraction and photographic reproduction. If these are the Studio Museum’s new stars, the future looks bright indeed.

Ian Bourland