Critics’ Picks

View of “Shelter,” 2012.


Rashid Johnson

South London Gallery
65 - 67 Peckham Road
September 28 - November 25

Like elaborate stage sets, Rashid Johnson’s installations are typically encompassing, drawing viewers into dioramas populated by artifacts that stand in for cultural icons (for instance, Don King and Sun Ra have made appearances in previous exhibitions). At the South London Gallery, Johnson has shifted the protagonist role from such figures to the topic of psychoanalytic therapy—a form of treatment defined by intensive and carefully regulated work with individuals.

This exhibition, “Shelter,” is based on a fictional society in which psychotherapy is free and available to all as a drop-in service, as evidenced by a series of bulky, chaise longues with zebra-print upholstery in the series “Untitled (daybed 1-4)” (all works cited, 2012). Most of these pieces are in a state of disarray—turned on their sides—and are placed atop large Persian rugs, which are intermittently marked with thickly smeared black paint that suggests a frenzied retracing of memories and dreams.

Similarly dense applications of black soap and wax, characteristic materials in Johnson’s work, are found among the more traditional paintings on the surrounding four walls. Cosmic Slop “Independence”, for example, bears multiple coats of ink-black soap and wax with blunt indentations and sharp grooves throughout. Alongside, furniture is again repurposed within the exhibition context in House Arrest, made from large parquet oak floor slabs hung on the gallery wall, over which drippings and smudges of soap and wax overlie a branded pattern of circles with crossed lines in the middle, resembling brushstrokes and symbols conceivably produced during an intensive therapeutic drawing session. Overall, Johnson’s vision of a “universal” mental heath service is a well-intentioned and inviting proposition, but the members of the hypothetical community united by this treatment also run the risk of confusion, or worse, when a necessarily singular practice is converted to a collective experience.