Modes of Confrontation

Young, Gifted and Black considers themes of race, class and politics, as well as the importance of human dignity.It is curated by The New Black Vanguard’s author Antwaun Sargent and artist Matt Wycoff, who together haveselected 50 works from the Lumpkin-Boccuzzi Family Collection of Contemporary Art. Before the world reopens and the show continues its journey, we interview Bernard Lumpkin and Matt Wycoff about the decisions behind the show and its organisation.

A: How does the show offer a kind of timeline – artists that have “paved the way” and those emerging today?
MW: We wanted the exhibition to foreground an emerging generation of artists of African descent, whilst also presenting standard bearers from an older, more established, generation as both lineage and foil for the younger. To that end, our loose rule was to have 60 per cent of the work represented made by younger artists (under 40), and 40 per cent made by older artists (over 40). 

But the answer to this question is really in the details of the selections and the installations. For example, in the first exhibition we paired a Kara Walker cutout silhouette with a Sable Elyse Smith colouring book painting. In that pairing, you have two black female artists from different generations wrestling directly with issues of race who are using strategies that force the viewer to confront the content in new ways. Walker’s black and white cut outs reference 19thcentury shadow portraiture as well as children’s book illustrations, but depict a child pulling/playing with the entrails of a pig; and Smith uses the style of children’s coloring books to depict a family’s conjugal visit at a prison facility. Pairing these two artists highlights a well-known older artist (Walker) borrowing a startling visual language to address issues of race, and a younger artist (Smith) adapting that approach in her own way. These sorts of interactions between the older and younger artists abound in the exhibition, and represent both the continuity and innovation occurring throughout.

A: Are there similar threads / themes in the show? Are there recurring topics or subject matters?
MW: In our initial conversations about curating an exhibition from the Lumpkin-Boccuzzi Family Collection, Antwaun and I settled on separating the works into four categories: Portraiture, Materiality, Colour, and Blackness. One of the most exciting aspects of the exhibition for me is how, once parsed out into these categories, the works interact and overlap between each section. For example, in the current exhibition at Lehman College we have six large-scale paintings hanging salon style on the galley’s largest wall. These works deal with a range of subject matter, but all use color in very dramatic and exciting ways. Immediately adjacent to these paintings is a painting by Alteronce Gumby that appears to be a black color field painting, but which is actually a grid of Gumby figures from the 1950s and 1960s era cartoon rendered primarily in black, but with highlights of lush dark green throughout. Here you have a really interesting conversation about “color” and “blackness” – artists using explosive color to represent different aspects of the black experience immediately adjacent to an artist (Gumby) using the color black to have a very painterly, but also a humorous personal conversation about both color and identity. 


A: What are some of your favourite artworks from the collection / show?
MW: I wouldn’t say that I  have favourite individual works, but some the works I spent the most time with are landscape paintings of Cy Gavin. I am a huge fan of American landscape paintings from Fredric Church and the Hudson River School, to Horace Pippin, Milton Avery and Lois Dodd. I’m also a lover of hiking and travel that takes me into nature, so confronting Cy Gavin’s paintings was a real revelation for me because I realized very viscerally through his work that the land and the landscape means different things to different people. That is a startling revelation. As a lover of landscape, as well as art that deals with nature and the land, delving into Gavin’s work has made my subsequent experiences of both so much richer, more complicated, and compelling.  

Credits:
1. D’Angelo Lovell Williams, The Lovers, 2017. Pigment print, 20 x 30 in. © D’Angelo Lovell Williams, Courtesy of the artist and Higher Pictures.
2. Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Dark Room Mirror Study (0x5A1531), 2017. Archival pigment print, 51 x 34 in. © Paul Mpagi Sepuya, courtesy of the artist and team (gallery, inc.), New York.

Posted on 1 May 2020


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