Let’s go full throttle and let the engines roar, for this is a prelude to a major exhibition. Rashid Johnson throws down on the runway his explorations about history, society and personal identity for his show Fly Away at Hauser & Wirth. The large-scale paintings and installations were housed suitably in the massive space. If this was an introspective project, then it had the presence of a 747 or the super version of that aircraft, as it most certainly did not shy away from impact or presence.
Untitled Anxious Audience composed of white enamel tiles, black soap and wax, were the first pieces to stare back at the front room where several large panels on each wall bore silent witness to what everyone must be feeling. Etched faces expressed anxiousness and even perhaps, at a sweeping glance, one could easily dismiss them as identical. However, if you took time on each visage, you might see them as being individuals. Quite tribal like and graphic n style, the faces had shades of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Johnson provided us with a pictorial lens of what we could be feeling.
Following the strains of live jazz being played on the piano, you enter another room dominated by a stacked living sculpture of plants and some shelf items for Antoine’s Organ. The lush verdant representation of a Garden of Eden paradise coupled with that haunting music makes you peer through the foliage. Is this a life reflection of seeking one’s paradise but it is at arm’s length because of reality? This organized lush paradise on stacks of shelves is unnatural. It reminded me of the same jungle by naïve artist Henri Rosseau where some plant life is not indigenous to the setting. Johnson gave us a 3-D paradise that is both lost and found.
A quotidian item in the African American culture, Untitled Shea Butter Table, featured a block of the product that is used for health and beauty. It is broken off into pieces atop a Persian rug and presented like a feast on the table. One is poised to ponder the cultural or utilitarian significance of the Shea butter in Johnson’s context. This is a microcosm of what Kara Walker accomplished by building a grand Sphinx out of sugar while Johnson is giving us the same platform for reflection but in a more manageable dose.
Johnson has made this exhibition the takeoff point for these self-explorations and needless to say that he got lift off. Flying high and away from the detritus of the self-inflicted wasteland of doubt and needless anxiety, his journey towards understanding more to get to the truth, or perhaps enlightenment, is definitely worth the trip.
Rashid Johnson: Fly Away
Exhibition Dates: September 8 – October 22, 2016
Gallery Hours: Tuesday – Saturday (10 am to 6 pm)
Hauser & Wirth. 511 West 18th Street. NYC, NY 10011
Art Review by Oscar A. Laluyan
Photography by Olya Turcihin