Critics’ Picks

Radcliffe Bailey, Lost and Found, 2013, steel, vintage photo album, Georgia red clay, falcon sculpture, jar of cicada shells, metal hand, lantern slide, 41 x 40 1/4 x 17''.

Charleston

Radcliffe Bailey

Gibbes Museum of Art
135 Meeting St
April 27 - September 16

Atlanta-based artist Radcliffe Bailey’s exhibition “Pensive” luxuriates in a fading feeling: the distinct mixture of comfort and loss that only a physical family photo album can summon. This is palpable in Ebo’s Landing, 2013, for which the artist framed an old-fashioned lantern, a sack of cotton, and an aged family photograph—an African mask is drawn over the sitter’s face—in steel and glass. A steel spine and a lifted glass pane recall a page midturn. The assemblage, hung on the wall, refers to the origins of Bailey’s enslaved Senegalese ancestors and their journey to freedom through the Underground Railroad.

Similarly, in Lost and Found, 2013, a collection of mementos—including a jar of cicada shells and a photo album half dipped in Georgia red clay, so that the portraits inside are obscured—float in a double-frame structure. The piece holds these disparate, sometimes unrecognizable objects together by lending them a shared context. How many times have you leafed through an old family album and come across people you didn’t recognize? Bailey captures that same searching impulse, in which the viewer is compelled by sheer assemblage to believe that fragments have something to do with one another.

Also worth noting is the site-specific Storm at Sea, 2007, a metaphoric Middle Passage formed out of a mountain of discarded piano keys. Torn from their “home,” these thin and brittle matchsticks are piled into a cresting arc. At its peak, an African totem overlooks the wreckage, a model slave ship coasting along its surface. As an evocation of the displacement of African American people, the installation is also an homage to jazz and other musical traditions born from the kaleidoscope of personal and collective memories that Bailey’s work references.