Places of Validation, Art and Progression
California African-American Museum
"PLACES OF VALIDATION" EFFECTIVELY ARTICULATES THE INTENTION to mount a comprehensive survey of African-American artists from the Los Angeles region. Though slightly congested at points, the exhibition's encyclopedic scope is ambitious and rewarding. It locates, identifies, defines and develops aesthetic windows that fix the art movement into time and place, allowing it to be seen within a larger cultural continuum.
"Places of Validation" also addresses the context and circumstances that jump-started an artist-generated infrastructure of artist-run galleries, emerging museums, and community art centers that supported and promoted overlapping aesthetic agendas. It does this by providing a plethora of supporting information which tracks and documents each institution's progress. Full disclosure: I am the former director of Pearl C. Wood Gallery, included therein.
Of the exhibition's 180 works by 90 artists, 22 were represented by examples from the Museum's collections while 60 works on loan from the prestigious Golden State Mutual Collection were afforded a separate gallery. One of the more memorable works from the museum's collection is Timothy Washington's elongated mixed-media female sculpture Energy (1970). From several private collections are also examples of his signature "back etched" drawings. The artist sprays black automobile primer on sanded aluminum surfaces and draws into them with an etching tool, leaving a contrasting shimmer.
Painter and muralist Richard Wyatt's work He Knew Us Before We Were Born (1974) employs the heroic and totemic sensibilities found in Charles White's drawings. A small portrait, Edgar Johnson (1978) (of a former upper management executive with Golden State Mutual), further cements Wyatt's reputation as one of the best photo-realists around.
Veteran sculptor Ron Griffin's two bas-relief sculptures Balls and Melanasia (both 1972) consist of white padded canvas surrounding black compartments. These house undisclosed forms attempting to break through their black nylon stocking constraints, sharing a similar physical treatment found in Senga Nengudi's nylon stocking sculptures, which are currently exhibited at the Hammer Museum and MOCA.
Installation and performance artist Houston Conwill's earth-textured wall relief, Passages (1979), reads like a separated ancient cliff fragment, revealing esoteric and codified information. A structured compartmental hierarchy of niches within the work contains a collection of his time capsules and "JuJu pouches."
VanDerZee The Genius by photographer Willie R. Middlebrook (1980) presents a dual portrait of the Harlem Renaissance luminary and photographer James VanDerZee, seated in front of a black and white photograph of himself. Middlebrook tweaks VanDerZee's own method of photographing the deceased—VanDerZee employed a "ghosted" image of his subject in the background—introducing issues of appropriation and co-substantiation. Like VanDerZee, Middlebrook asserts that the essence of a portrait is a cross-section between a person's physical presence and their spiritual shadow.
The 1971 sculpture Fallen Man (Sergeant Barker) at the exhibit's entrance/exit point by sculptor John Riddle provides the perfect evocation and summation to a strong show. The abstracted black metal figure's presence feels like a poetic fall, a rhythmic descent, an awkward grace, or a provocative encounter that calls to mind a break dancer, performing a stop-frame pose, after a "helicopter" spin-out.
- Greg Angaza Pitts