Critics’ Picks

View of “LaKela Brown,” 2018.

View of “LaKela Brown,” 2018.


LaKela Brown

Gallery Lars Friedrich
Kantstrasse 154a
January 11–February 17, 2018

The jewelry and body parts that make up LaKela Brown’s exhibition resemble, on first glance, the kind of historical artifacts that one might find in a prestigious museum. However, upon closer inspection, these plaster reliefs present a meditation on how such objects are historicized, represented, and abstracted in a museological context. Embedded in the eleven individual works are different casts of objects commonly associated with hip-hop culture in the 1990s, when the artist was growing up, including bamboo earrings, gold-capped teeth, rope necklace chains, and chicken heads taken from a Brooklyn restaurant that the artist worked in. Such decapitated remnants are also the namesake of a slang term quoted in several songs and popularized in a Redman skit, a visual punning reminiscent of David Hammons’s work.

The works’ titles are plainly descriptive or otherwise straightforward, as in Heart Bamboo Earrings Arrangement Relief and Twelve, while others resemble more critical statements: Some of the Things We Wanted and Didn’t Want (all works 2018). The latter features a set of the cast-plaster chicken heads crowded in a circle, where they appear to be on the verge of being consumed by several sets of teeth, in a tableau surrounded by jewelry. Additions of gold acrylic paint adorn random teeth, as if to point out what they could be: valuable, and a symbol of social standing. Round Bamboo Earrings with Gold Lines Relief even feature painted gold lines, recalling the gridded abstractions of Agnes Martin.

Balancing cool Conceptualism and an amused sensibility, the show asks how, and whose, history becomes solidified by representation. Similar to how Martin was designated a Minimalist yet considered herself to be an Abstract Expressionist, whose point of view is invited into the canon?