Critics’ Picks

Tyler Mitchell, Group Hang, 2021, archival pigment print, 39 11/16 x 50".

Tyler Mitchell, Group Hang, 2021, archival pigment print, 39 11/16 x 50".

New York

Tyler Mitchell

Jack Shainman Gallery
524 West 24th Street
September 9–October 30, 2021

Jack Shainman Gallery
513 West 20th Street
September 9–October 30, 2021

Appearing in Tyler Mitchell’s solo exhibitions “Dreaming in Real Time” and “I Can Make You Feel Good,” which unfold across both of this gallery’s Chelsea spaces, is the photograph Riverside Scene (all works 2021), which brings to mind George Seurat’s 1884–86 painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, that art-canonical classic of dillydallying. Only instead of portraying bourgeois whites afternooning by the Seine, Mitchell’s piece presents Black ladies and gentlemen who happily lounge on vinyl-tube lawn chairs and red-and-white checkered blankets, or sketch at an easel on a grassy hill overlooking a muddy body of water in Georgia.

In Group Hang, we see silhouettes of young Black people crouching in a coppice, while Nap features a close-up of intertwined feet in saddle shoes. In Impact, a trio of bathers dunk themselves into the murky Chattahoochee River—an update to Thomas Eakins’s faded sepia photo studies for his canvas Arcadia, ca. 1883. The photos capture youths frolicking in the Pennsylvania woods during a cholera outbreak. Mitchell’s images reclaim leisure as a vital Black activity that, crucially, occurs far away from the surveilling white gaze. Sheets drying on a line, shirtless tanning men, Hula-Hoopers—these works offer up moments of play and bucolic calm amid all the troubling depictions of racist “Americana” that flood newsfeeds the world over.

Famously, Seurat’s painting relies on a very specific kind of optical effect, where tiny dots seen up close cohere into discernible images when viewed from a distance. But it doesn’t matter where you stand in relation to Mitchell’s generous works—joy is clear and everywhere.