Spring at the Studio Museum in Harlem


Spring hasn't fully sprung in NYC. In fact, it's cold and grey. Despite the cold temps, I refuse to wear socks. I have this thing...I hate socks. As soon as spring hits, I am all about ballet flats and bare ankles. Just me? Anyway, I digress. 

Yesterday, I braved the NYC cold, met up with a dear friend for coffee and a consultation then I headed over to the Studio Museum to see some art. The exhibitions were everything! The art work of Rodney McMillian, Ebony G. Patterson, and Rashaad Newsome got my creative juices flowing and definitely left me with a new found appreciation for installation art. I have to admit, installation and audio visual art hasn't been my thing. I've seen some weird sh*t....naked men in football helmets in a room filed with dirt, strange looking men and women staring out from a television screen doing weird things.  I am sure there were stories behind these pieces, but in the moment I was just like....weird much.

I've definitely grown as an art maker and art consumer. I now spend time learning about artist and their work create before I show up in a gallery or museum wide-eyed and ready to see some art. The weirdness factor of some installation art becomes less so if I'm prepared and armed with the story behind the artwork.

The story is important.

Rodney McMillian's Views of Main Street is a culmination of painting, sculpture, video and performance. Curator, Naima J. Keith, and artist, McMillian brought together twenty key works created from 2003 to the present that "use symbols of domesticity to scrutinize the political and economic biases within the myth of a universal middle class "Main Street."


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"As the title [Views Main Street] suggests, I hope this exhibition will bring out the complexities of the conversations that happen on different Main Streets, with their disparities of race, class and economics. Perhaps more important, I hope to question what ‘Main Street’ means. When I’ve heard that expression, I have never believed it referred to me or other African Americans, regardless of our economic station." 
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The carpet, the linoleum floor (sorry not pictured...I snap-chatted it but forgot to take a picture, sorry) and the upholstered chairs sandwiching a pile of books transported me back to the 80s and 90s. The pieces looked worn and way past the period of being useful but I could still envision them in someone's house, an aunt or a grandma. To McMillian's point the word "Main Street" doesn't conjure up images of Black folk to me but interestingly enough some of the pieces in his work reminded me of things I would see in my grandmother's house, like the linoleum or threadbare sofa....and don't get me started on the Double Jesus blanket....every Black person in America either has something in their home with this image on it or knows another Black person who has something in their home with this image on it.

After finishing up with the Rodney McMillian pieces I went to the lower level of the museum and good LORDT my eyeballs nearly jumped out of their sockets!

Ebony G. Patterson's work can't be fully appreciated unless seen in person in my honest opinion. Viewed online, you miss the intricate detail of the the individual pieces that make up the entire work. I certainly underestimated the painstaking detail of her work. It seemed all over the top, but I get it now. The sensory overload is all done on purpose.

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Her collection - "...when they grow up..." is an explosion of color, nostalgia, drama and trauma.  Unlike, the other exhibitions on display, Ebony's installation encompasses the entire space even the flooring - a Pepto-Bismol pink shag carpet (sidenote: why so specific CD? Well, I painted my daughter's room this exact color when she was was seven).

Back to this installation...the room is dripping in color and texture and TOYS! My senses were overloaded and I was immediately transported back to my daughter's seven-year old bedroom then my own childhood. But let me be clear. This particular piece isn't about the rainbow, candy-colored jewels, beads and toys that fill the room. This piece is about violence, specifically violence against black children.

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In the artist's own words:

"These children are often described as adults. Their blackness overrules the presumption of innocence...I am hoping to create a moment of beauty, 'sainthood,' and humanity, and to call into question the stereotypes that are projected about black youth."

The bejeweled guns really stopped me in my tracks. I had to sit a spell and take it all in. Beautiful and heavy.

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After catching my breath, I ventured up to the 2nd floor where I was pleasantly surprised by Rashaad Newsome's work, THIS IS WHAT I WANT TO SEE (artist's caps, not mine). The caps make sense considering the grandiosity of the work. I started with the collages. They are over the top dripping with images of diamonds, fancy cars, smoke and fire. The imagery is compelling and worth stand-and-stare, but I immediately got up close so I could scan the edges of each cutout looking for the seams and trying to answer for myself the question I ask whenever I see any work of art - How did he/she do that? 

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I walked away satisfied with my answer and now I plan to experiment with my own collage work. 

Newsome's short film transfixed me in ways I had not anticipated. First, there were seats, comfy squishy cubes to sit on whilst being ushered into a hypnotic state by sound and image. The piece appeared to be a computer generated bling-ed out maze of dancing men and women. Four words - voguing pole dancers....EVERYTHING. This piece really got me thinking about the artistic process. I don't know Newsome's technical background, but I am certain he had help pulling off this whole production which is quite cool.  The idea of conceptualizing a piece of art and enrolling others in your vision so that it can become a reality intrigues me.  Art isn't a solitary production or experience.

After coming down from my Newsome high, I got a chance to chart familiar waters and lay eyes on a Bearden. Swooniful.


As I was leaving the museum I spotted this clever piece by Glenn Lignon. It made me smile, the perfect ending to a day at the museum.

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See any good art lately? Who are your favorites?  Leave their names in the comments so I can share them with the A R T W O R K fam. THANK YOU.

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In Art and Love,