Critics’ Picks

Charles White, Black Pope (Sandwich Board Man), 1973, oil wash on board, 60 x 44".

Charles White, Black Pope (Sandwich Board Man), 1973, oil wash on board, 60 x 44".

New York

“Charles White—Leonardo da Vinci.”

MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd Street
October 7, 2017–January 3, 2018

What if all exhibitions were like this one—shrewd, focused, and rounded out by Vedic natal charts? For the “Artist’s Choice” genus here, David Hammons has paired Black Pope (Sandwich Board Man), 1973, a monumental work from the museum’s collection made with oil wash on board by his great Los Angeles–based teacher Charles White, with a powerful, complete sketch by Leonardo da Vinci: a small brush-and-ink study on paper, The drapery of a kneeling figure, ca. 1491–94, on loan from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Though they were made some 450 years apart, the coupling inspires chills, like a poignant song with a two-part harmony.

According to the detailed charts (by the astrologer Chakrapani Ullal), White was born with Virgo rising, and da Vinci with Sagittarius rising—both in the first half of April. Leave it to Hammons to notice the equivalence of their star sign, Aries, in addition to the ample formal resonances here—for instance, sfumato, a blurring effect like smoke or a cloud drifting over and dimming a surface, runs across both works. It produces a spellbinding result in Black Pope, a complex chorus of shapes in shades of brown and burnt umber that finds at its center a man in a heavy coat and scarf bearing a signboard overlaid with the word NOW. No better time. But who is this holy man? More will be revealed soon through context and history: White’s first major retrospective in several decades will tour the Art Institute of Chicago and MoMA next year, and will finally land at LACMA in March 2019.