52 Walker, a new David Zwirner outpost led by Ebony L. Haynes dealer and curator, tries to get away from the fast pace of shopping malls. Like Haynes told this post in June, she wants to “change the model and slow things down”. The problem with the art scene, however, is not just a problem of speed, but also of lows. So is slowness the hook, or is it a way to achieve a new fashion, a new mood?
Located in the former M1-5 Lounge party venue in the now gallery-filled Tribeca neighborhood, the space is lavish and expansive, in more ways than one. It invites extended engagement through a longer than usual exhibition cycle (shows last around three months, compared to the more typical turnaround time of four weeks).
Managed by an all-black staff, the gallery also extends beyond the four walls of the exhibition space, with plans underway for a library, publication series and other programs. Unusually, there are no installation images on the gallery website or on social media. While nothing prevents people from posting their own photos, holding the gallery in a time of visual saturation involves another way of encouraging people to visit and linger in person. And although the works are for sale, 52 Walker does not represent the artists she shows. All this, combined with an emphatic curation, traces an orientation towards care that will leave an imprint on the visitor, but only if he allows it.
The sense of ability is heightened by the details of the inaugural show, âA Lineâ by multimedia artist Kandis Williams. The exhibition – her first solo showing in New York City – gives her collages and subtle sculptures plenty of room to breathe. (Williams will be followed by solo exhibitions with Nikita Gale, Nora Turato, Tiona Nekkia McClodden and Tau Lewis in 2022.)
Beyond his contribution to what 52 Walker is and will become, Williams’ exhibition is elegant and conceptually rich. On display, 23 works produced specifically for the show – collage, painting, sculpture and video – which, according to the text of the exhibition, represent “a formal dance notation”, a practice used by dancers and choreographers to record and translate movement through symbols. and graphics.
Deep in space, the video installation Triadic ballet (2021) is screened on six vintage boxy televisions, rejecting the linear story and projecting ambient acoustics throughout the gallery. A score of percussion and piano accumulates in tumultuous turbulence, punctuated by the distinctive sound of hand clapping and mobile phone vibrations.
The video highlights a dancer on a stage crossed by white lines, moving through Williams ‘choreography in front of another screen that shows wrecks, marvels of movement lore and everyday events from’ black body history. on the move â, including the beating of Rodney by the LAPD. King, scenes from The matrix, a performance by BeyoncÃ© and archival dance images from the Library of Congress.
Taken together, this critical visual collage is a retort to the overdetermination, commodification and brutalization of the black body, its relentless and insistent secretions in every crevice of American life, culture, and politics.
The exhibition also features a dazzling variety of delicate assemblages on large rectangular grid papers. All related to dance and movement – a reflection of Williams’ interest in performance and dramaturgy – they contain cutouts of dancers in motion, archival photographs and archival material, some accented with painting and written sentences (“communicative discomfort” or something as simple as “black woman’s chair”).
One of the strengths of the exhibition is that the viewer can see movement in the same work but also, as certain figures repeat and overlap, progressing through them. In her collages, certain figures appear to rotate around the room, captured in snapshots as they move from one surface to another. A quartet of works at the back of the gallery, Black box, 4 points (2021), shows half-slit and arabesque figures juxtaposed with flared limbs – disembodied torsos, hands and legs. The contrast of these anatomical paintings makes the authoritarian and erotic frontal figures appear, as if they necessarily kept pains and antagonisms secret.
Williams, who lives and works in Los Angeles, where she is represented by Night Gallery, is no stranger to 52 Walker’s avowed slowness. She is the founder of Cassandra Press, which produces publications (readers, zines, art books) and organizes workshops, creating a place for reading, research and black thought.
For Williams, therefore, notation also means citation. Her editorial work demonstrates that she is interested not only in the way 3D movement is translated into 2D, but also in black intellectual practice, in the meanders of articulation and encounter. Seen in this light, “A Line” is a score and a recording, a plan and a historical document, an instruction and a study.
Swirling with photographs and videos of black dancers (Catherine Kirk, Damond Garner and Natasha Diamond-Walker) captured in Williams’ studio, the show contains numerous references that, taken together, sketch out sweet arguments about black ingenuity, the appropriation, objectification and white supremacy.
The sources are numerous and include West African dance, ballet, modern, contemporary and hip hop dance, Hollywood cinema, art history, musical composition, black pop culture, etc. The darkness both disturbs and constitutes both the aesthetic history of Williams’ dance. Its serpentine, unruly and exhilarating titles (“The term ‘theater’ designates the most fundamental nature of this scene: make-believe, mummery, metamorphosis. Between worship and theater is the scene considered a moral institution”, is one example, but the longest is over 250 words) add even more layers, suggesting critical ways of dancing.
Amidst strong socio-economic pressures to speed up, slow curation doesn’t just boil down to sensation and experience, but also to incremental and often unverifiable elements: how art unfolds over time, how relationships are built and maintained, how ideas develop, how collaborations are organized, how experimentation is encouraged. In other words, the constructive, if not political, nature of Walker’s slowness may not be immediately noticeable.
Some of the more haunting works of “A Line” seem at first glance to be artificial horticulture: monstera, vines, pears, citrus, black and red berries growing from moss. Aligned towards the middle of the gallery are six sculptures that look like simple potted plants. Upon further investigation, it becomes clear that each contains cutouts of black pinup girls hiding in the leaves, looking away from the viewer.
A pair of these large plants cradle a number of small eyes coming out of the stems. âIs it decoration or art? I hear a visitor say on my second visit. “I can’t decide.” Due to Haynes ‘low-key curation and Williams’ body poetics, “A Line” is like this: a moving evanescence that not everyone will or should catch.
“Kandis Williams: A Line” is on view at 52 Walker in New York until January 8, 2022.
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