Sunday, June 21, 2009

How to Get Ahead in the Art World

The New York Times’ image of two headless women in Civil war-era Dutch waxed-cotton dresses caught my attention, long before I realized that they were pointing pistols at each other’s (non-existent) heads.

This is a 2006 work by the Nigerian-English artist Yinka Shonibare, who explores racial and cultural identity in his sculptures, paintings, and films. A critic in the London Times Standard called his work “a little last decade,” and I know what he/she means—I was doing much the same during the nineties, but I still like to see the intersection of gorgeous colors/textiles with provocative, if "dated" ideas.

And what’s wrong with taking another look, anyway? The African American artist Robert Colescott (who died, sadly, the other week) was known, in part, for his racechange paintings, like George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware, below.

I crossed the Delaware myself this morning, and while it wasn’t necessarily an artful moment, I did consciously think of both Georges. My son was also singing a song about “George”; OK, my punny 4-year-old deliberately substituted “George” for “Joy.”

Another “last-decade” artist is the marvelous Faith Ringgold, whose story quilts riff on history and women’s work. This quilt from her Dancing at the Louvre book shows significant African American women quilting at Arles while Vincent looks on.

I suppose that Kara Walker could also be seen as a little “last-decade,” with her stunning but shocking silhouettes.

I do think that Shonibare’s work stands on its, own, though. It might not have a head, but it’s got legs.


WendyB said...

I especially love that first piece. Headless ladies! You know I always like those.

*gemmifer* said...

Great post!

I've loved Shonibare's work since I first saw it a few years back. Kara Walker is also amazing, if a bit overexposed at this point.