Los Angeles

Jasper Marsalis, Event 3, 2020, oil on canvas, 60 × 80".

Jasper Marsalis, Event 3, 2020, oil on canvas, 60 × 80".

Jasper Marsalis

Jasper Marsalis’s “♫ A Star Like Any Other—” at Kristina Kite Gallery drew on a similar show he presented at Midway Contemporary Art in Minneapolis this past fall. This exhibition included one more of his large paintings titled Event, and variously numbered from 1 to 4, that depict performative spaces—clubs and arenas, dark spaces. Disco balls, microphones, and beams of colored light fill the large canvases. In Event 1, 2019, silhouetted figures perform behind these components, abstracted into shapes. Event 3, 2020, presents a close-up of an open mouth in front of two microphones; beads of sweat (or perhaps saliva or tears) project across the composition. In Event 4, 2020, two Philip Guston-esque viewers observe a disco ball radiating brown and blue light from an indistinct foreground. Initially, the principal subject of these works appeared to be light: Dark rays cut across each frame. But these painted spotlights obscure—rather than reveal—the elements they encounter on the canvas, casting an erasure over everything. This optical effect was mirrored by the works’ installation: The surfaces of the canvases, occasionally reflective, even seemingly wet, cast back the gallery light intended to illuminate them.

Marsalis hails from a lineage of talented jazz performers (his grandfather, Ellis; his father, Wynton), and while he separates his musical project, Slauson Malone, from his family’s name and his artmaking practice, both endeavors are informed by his interest in “black spectacle and the way that blackness is consumed by people.” Performance (and its depiction) is the middle ground between his music and his visual art, as is, arguably, the aporia of being center stage yet disappearing. In these paintings, the space of the spectacle is more visible than the performer, who is abstracted to showcase the performance’s essence, a mood. What results is a void where one might expect a show or event. Time and place—nowness and presence—emerged as the two key vectors of this show and the culled materials.

Set on a table in the gallery were two textual accompaniments. The first was the press release, featuring heavily altered excerpts from the poet Tan Lin’s essay “Disco as Operating System, Part One” (2008). Lin meditates on a music that pulls from many sources yet leaves only the shadow of its referents; this merging culminates in an “empty brand,” an un-nostalgic remix without clear origin. Marsalis uses disco, via Lin, as an analogy for his process of teasing out and untethering references from their origins, despecifying them as he does the aforementioned performance spaces. The second text, Crater Speak (2019, edited and designed by Marsalis), was a compilation of reference images and texts dismantled into excision-based collages. Lines by Saidiya Hartman, Jared Sexton, Damien M. Sojoyner, and others are forcefully annotated and accompanied by red footnote-like page numbers that vigorously redirect the reader across the volume, defying standard reading chronology. (The reading process made clear that a degree of performance is involved in digesting these sources of information.) The content here varies wildly: One page depicts the eye of a hurricane; another page simply reads, “Time is racist.”

Marsalis’s fragmented texts yield new meanings while showcasing their sources, modeling a sampling practice that’s emphatically un-precious, a “repurposing.” The dialogue he engenders with the writers feels dynamic, akin to an ongoing conversation. “My aim is to recontextualize Being as a ‘?’ rather than a ✊,” Marsalis writes in the introduction; his omissions are also a means of learning, posing more questions than answers, generating more meditation than revolution. His meaning is often shrouded or, as in his painting method, is a shroud itself.

The show’s last components were sculptural. Head, 2020, resembling an oversize wire model of a microphone, was nuzzled inside a Marcel Breuer model b3 club chair. The 1920s-era seat is described in the book as exhibiting “precise vertical and horizontal coordinates”: Its purpose is, again, to be a place. But an unnerving sense of violence was present in this work, as in the show as a whole. By citing Hartman’s Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America (1997), Marsalis referenced the “centrality of violence” to the origins of the black American experience and its connection to spectacle, complexly intertwined with freedom. On the ground, a fractured fuchsia bowling ball (gruesomely dubbed Head, too, but this time evoking a fallen disco ball) perched on a wiry stand.