BAHM: 2.5.17 Rashid Johnson
Rashid Johnson, at the relatively young age of 24, had his debut in the historic exhibition, Freestyle, curated by Thelma Golden at the Studio Museum Harlem in 2001, a show which controversially introduced the term Post-Black into contemporary art discourse. Johnson, who holds a BFA in Photography from Columbia College Chicago and an MFA from the Art Institute Chicago, now works in several mediums including multimedia painting, sculpture, installation, photography and film. He was the finalist of the 2011 Hugo Boss Prize and has shown his work in a number of exhibitions internationally, including Fly Away at Hauser & Wirth, NY in late 2016.
One particularly intriguing piece, Antoine’s Organ (2016), a 28’ wide by 10’ tall 3D steel grid, is an immersive installation that includes three videos and an upright piano on the second level where musician/producer Antoine Baldwin (aka Audio Blk) played original jazz scores to visitors. The structure also houses some 250 plants in pots handmade by the artist, grow lights, stacks of books influential to the artist and busts carved from Shea butter. A similar piece, Within Our Gates, a site-specific installation made for Garage in Moscow, featured the steel structure and plants but centered on video rather than music.
Johnson’s installations bring to mind a visual database of information science, with fluid black identity at its core. The scientific grid structure coupled with the relics of black cultural and historical production and littered with flora represent a synthesis of science and black history while augmenting the relationship between the objects.
Furthermore, Johnson’s installations challenge and reestablish the signifiers of black identity, in the fashion of Post-Black work. Contemporary black artists, having taken conflict with the constricting representational aesthetics of the Civil Rights Era Black Arts Movement, attempt to expand black identity to include all the complexities of individual experience. Art historian Derek C. Murray, in Queering Post-Black Art, characterizes “the aesthetic strategies of post-black artists as creating a semiotic vulnerability, or, in other words, a liquidity or porousness in the semiotic function of blackness that transcends its historical and ideological opacity.” Johnson himself has spoken of a Post-Black approach to his work in an interview with Touré:
"There’s a generation of black artists before me who made work specifically about the black experience, but I think for my generation, having grown up in the age of hip-hop and Black Entertainment Television, there’s a lot less of a need to define the black experience so aggressively to a white audience. I think it gives us a different type of opportunity to have a more complex conversation around race and identity."
Soundtrack to this post: Antoine Baldwin, Bestuy Apartment
Interview with Kate Fowle for GARAGE Magazine
Artspace article: Rashid Johnson on David Hammons, Andy Goldsworthy, And His Own "Anxiety of Movement"
Artsy article "In His New Show, Rashid Johnson Explores Black Escapism"
Video: Rashid Johnson about Within Our Gates installation at Garage
NYTimes Article: In 'Fly Away,' Rashid Johnson Keeps The Focus On Race