PRINT September 2014

Focus Preview

Chris Ofili

Chris Ofili, Triple Beam Dreamer, 2001–2002, acrylic, oil, leaves, glitter, polyester resin, map pins, and elephant dung on linen, 72 × 120".

CHRIS OFILI’S RECEPTION in New York has unfolded in near-mythological terms: From the infamous censorship and defacement of his work during the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition “Sensation” (1999) to the enthusiasm for his showstopping “Afro Muses” (2005) at the Studio Museum in Harlem, the local response has embodied all the necessary repulsion, romance, and awe one might expect from a contemporary epic.

“Night and Day” is a follow-up to the artist’s 2010 retrospective at Tate Britain, and his first major survey in the US. It presents two decades of work, made up of one hundred–plus works on paper, half a dozen sculptures, and more than thirty paintings, accompanied by a catalogue with entries from artist-writers Glenn Ligon and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye and a host of other original contributions. These pieces and perspectives narrate several Ofilis: the colorist who works in restricted palettes, at times Garveyite red, black, and green, at others blue monochromes or Fauvist ochers, purples, and greens; the scatologist who uses shit as a sculptural base and pictorial ground, handling paint both to build up and denude his painting’s surfaces; and the mime of machismo and voyeurism who draws on imagery from blaxploitation, Marvel comics, porn, and postcolonial African photography. Premiering the complete suite of “Ovid–Metamorphosis” paintings, 2011–12, made at the invitation of the National Gallery of London in response to their show of a group of Titian paintings, the exhibition also features the first unification of the works in his “Blue Paintings” series, 2006–14. These nearly illegible tableaux will be housed in a bespoke environment designed by the artist, an extension of his previous construction of chapel-like structures for his paintings.

Born in Manchester, trained in London, and based in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, since 2005, Ofili began his career making self-portraits and observational paintings, developing an interest in exploring his place within the everyday that continues to shape him. Fittingly, this show will take place where a range of his artistic influences—Jean-Michel Basquiat, David Hammons, Sigmar Polke, Bob Thompson—have made their work. On a very different Bowery, Ofili’s exhibition promises new lore for a neighborhood in need of a reset.

Thomas J. Lax