The current exhibition “Stressed World” at the Jack Shainman Gallery’s School in Kinderhook is a graceful dreamscape supported by moments of pure existential heaviness. The impressive transnational and multi-generational roster of 30 participating artists – including Carrie Mae Weems, Radcliffe Bailey, Carlos Vega, Hank Willis Thomas, Gordon Parks, Odili Donald Odita, Nick Cave, Paul Anthony Smith, Tyler Mitchell and Claudette Schreuders – offers one amiable path through an otherwise intense range of socio-cultural complexities.
Upon entering the exhibition, we are first confronted with Yoan Capote Status quo (reality and idealism) (2010) oversized sculpture. There is a large golden bowl on one side and a smaller black one on the other. This work serves as an authoritative foreword, symbolically heralding Blackness as the central theme of Stressed World.
The show then takes the viewer down a tortuous path of various aesthetic narratives, some of which seem to contradict the foreboding title itself. These include Ifeyinwa Joy Chiamonwu’s photo-like charcoal drawings on paper. The low tones and natural exuberance of her chosen subjects – African women and girls – reflect the traditions and myths of the Nigerian people, while lending a stanza of sorts to Capote’s sculptural ‘opening lines’ in terms of balance and strength. such work, Lost Page (2018) depicts a goddess-like woman weaving a large basket, her gaze fixed on the ancient object she is creating with her bare hands.
Another heartfelt area is a room with mixed media works by Lyne Lapointe. Her charming figures made of linen and fabric show sensitivity and psychotherapeutic quality, but are also reminiscent of the lonely world of the little prince on his distant planet. Other rambling moments offer a romantic glimpse of a “past time” that remains relevant, such as Andy Warhol’s New York City Scene (1976–1986), a series of black-and-white photographs of a nondescript street corner repeated in a grid .
While many of the artworks featured in this exhibition appear approachable and even cheerful, others emphasize the weight of our times. The title stressed world (2011) Piece by El Anatsui is a giant installation made entirely of devastated aluminum bottle tops connected with wire, a candid commentary on the scale of global consumption and waste. Jackie Nickerson’s 2019 series of digital C-Prints is an eerie foreshadowing of the viral reality of 2020, when the entire planet was turned upside down simultaneously and without discrimination. Each of her eight photos – with titles such as clear head and Cloud– Contains a lone figure somehow obscured by a painted plastic object or other random covering, suggesting personal desolation and separation.
Another example of the turbulence of the Stressed World theme is a room with sombre paintings by Pierre Dorian. Although these visions of simple architectural scenes including hallways, corners and doorways look harmless enough, the haunting alienation of these spaces is palpable. Abstract works on paper by the late Barkley L. Hendricks also express a sense of loneliness that pervades the exhibition, and his painting Untitled (1971) of nine ellipses against a green background provides a perfect lyrical echo with Hank Willis Thomas’ Endless Column ( 2017) Sculpture of nine basketballs frozen in time, expanding his concern with the commercialization of black men and their identities.
As I walked through, I could hear the Talking Heads’ “We’re on a road to nowhere” tune, true to the dynamic assemblage of artworks featured in this exhibition. The works have something powerful to say, yet the fantastic “nothingness” of art itself as a parallel realm of understanding offers an imaginative path of insight that is equal parts idealism opposed to harsh realities, indeed a true reflection of our increasingly stressed world.
@ Gallery Jack Shainman: The school
25 Broad Street
Kinderhook, New York
When: Until December 3rd
art galleries and exhibitions