new-york

View of “Sanford Biggers: Cosmic Voodoo Circus,” 2011. Foreground: Constellation 6.0, 2011. Background, from left: Cheshire (On Tilt), 2010–11; A Jóia Do Orixá (To the Jewel of the Orixa), 2011.

Sanford Biggers

Brooklyn Museum/ScuptureCenter

View of “Sanford Biggers: Cosmic Voodoo Circus,” 2011. Foreground: Constellation 6.0, 2011. Background, from left: Cheshire (On Tilt), 2010–11; A Jóia Do Orixá (To the Jewel of the Orixa), 2011.

Sanford Biggers’s art fixates on recurring symbols—trees, carnival, musicians, and a bodiless smile that is part minstrel, part Cheshire cat, and part logo for a conglomerate whose name might be “history.” Two concurrent exhibitions with works spanning 2002 to the present explored these emblems vis-à-vis legacies of violence that constrain the powers and desires of black men. At times, Biggers’s ruminations sit uneasily inside a glamorized stagecraft. At best, grim knowledge makes his magic potent.

Biggers framed his Brooklyn Museum show not quite as a retrospective—it is titled “Sweet Funk: An Introspective”—and the survey unfolds like a mind map for a time-traveling shaman-clown. In Cheshire, 2007, the era is the present and the protagonists are urban everymen. The video begins with a snatch of “Strange Fruit”—Billie Holiday’s signature song, performed by

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