On Saturday, May 22nd, I ventured into New York City via public transportation for the first time in over a year. Why would I dare go where so many still fear to tread in the tri-state area?
For art. That's why.
OK. Maybe I shouldn't be so melodramatic, but when I heard about the Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America exhibition back in February, I just knew that I would do my best to see it before it closed its doors on June 6th. Yes, how we attend museums and galleries has changed in the art world for now, but that doesn't mean that the art is any less powerful, thought-provoking or inspiring. And that's exactly the experience I wanted when I traveled to the New Museum on that beautiful spring day.
Conceived by Okwui Enwezor (1963-2019) exclusively for the New Museum, Grief and Grievance was always intended to be a reflection, a commentary, a testimony of what it meant to walk with the weight of generational trauma collectively and individually yoked to the shoulders of African Americans as they navigated their daily lives in the "Land of the Free." I was intrigued by the concept alone, but when I heard that some of my favorite contemporary artists were included in the show, including Theaster Gates, Latoya Ruby Frasier, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Julie Mehretu, I just knew I had to see it for myself.
The museum describes the exhibit as "an intergenerational exhibition of works from 37 artists," but it is so much more. Too often the response to the psychological impact of entrenched, racially motivated violence experienced by the Black community comes well after the conversation related to a specific event has diminished. Yet due to the prevalence of citizen journalists and community activists refusing to ignore all the stories that don't go viral, when this show was originally planned to open in early 2020 -- prior to the George Floyd protests and the elevation of the Defund the Police argument -- it was still considered both timely and long-overdue.
I appreciate what the New was able to achieve with regards to pulling this show together in the wake of Enwezor's passing, and staying focused during a global pandemic and mandatory quarantine that forced many arts institutions to close their doors. I hadn't visited the museum since 2016, but if I had to wait 5 years to walk its halls again, I'm glad it was to see this show.
If you're unable to see the exhibition before it closes this upcoming Sunday, take a moment to check out their Curatorial Roundtable, Artist Conversations and Special Events online. In these virtual components serving as much-appreciated programming for the exhibition, fellow arts lovers, activists and academics can learn more about the catalyst behind all the works, which are comprised of "video, painting, sculpture, installation, photography, sound, and performance made in the last decade, along with several key historical works and a series of new commissions created in response to the concept of the exhibition."
The 4 floors of the New Museum's cavalcade of artists as activists were a welcome sight for this museum aficionado. And I can't recommend a trip to the exhibition enough for those who can make their way over in the next few days.
But .... if such an option is impossible, please take a moment to see the exhibition through my eyes and review the photos below. I've included each artist's name and artistic statement describing their contribution to the show below the images of the artwork. That way you can learn about the vision of the artist's work through their own words instead of through my verbose descriptions.
The one exception? The third to the last artwork didn't have an artist tag and statement nearby, so I'm not sure who the artist is or what the piece is named. If anyone knows the answer to that mystery, please let me know in the comments or via email/social media, and I'll be sure to credit the creative mind behind the work that was too stunning for me not to share.
Thanks! Now go and enjoy ...
Curatorial Statement for the "Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America" exhibition
"The Full Severity of Compassion" by Tiona Nekkia McClodden
"Peace Keeper" by Nari Ward
"Procession" by Jean-Michel Basquiat
"Sentinel IV" by Simone Leigh
"Manifestos 3" by Charles Gaines
Multiple sculptures by Melvin Edwards
"Night Light" by Lorna Simpson
"The Birmingham Project" series by Dawoud Bey
Artist Unknown at "Grief and Grievance" exhibition
"Book of Hours" collection by Kara Walker
"Antoine's Organ" by Rashid Johnson
All Images: Candace Nicholson