This summer, a host of museums across the city are unveiling exciting and urgent exhibitions centered around identity as Covid-19 restrictions ease up. The Met recently staged an expansive retrospective dedicated to the late painter Alice Neel, who made her black and brown neighbors in Spanish Harlem a chief focus of her work. While The Whitney is currently exhibiting the decades-spanning work of photographer Dawoud Bey, who captured a nostalgic era of Harlem replete with Black-owned shops and cultural centers. Over the weekend, the Gagosian Gallery unveiled its own contribution to the current wave with an exhibition showcasing the work of 12 in-demand contemporary black artists titled Social Works.
The exhibition is the first staged under the purveyor of art critic and writer Antwaun Sargent, who was appointed director and curator at the influential gallery in January. Speaking on the topicality of the exhibition, which features reflective work from Carrie Mae Weems, Theaster Gates, and others, Sargent told The New York Times last week, “Given the last year of the pandemic and protest and the history in which Black artists operate, the work does more than just sit quietly on the wall.”
The work on display comes from some of the most celebrated Black artists of our time. One standout piece is Theaster Gates’ work “A Song For Frankie” (2017-2021), which features the artist’s collection of over 5,000 records from the pioneering house music producer DJ Frankie Knuckles. Another eye-catcher comes from the Houston-based artist Rick Lowe in the form of his visual piece “Black Wall Street Journey #5,” a work that commemorates the 1921 Tulsa Massacre. Meanwhile, photographs from Carrie Mae Weems, who won the MacArthur Fellowship in 2013, sees the artist posed in front of various significant national monuments and institutions, providing a powerful reflection on where Black people sit within the narrative of American history.
Overall, the exhibition showcases Black artists reflecting on their past, contextualizing our present, and envisioning a more equitable future. Allana Clarke, a Trinidadian-American artist featured in the show, described the show as “a really complex view of Blackness” to the Times.
Social Works is on display at Gagosian Gallery’s West 24th Street location (just a short walk from The High Line!) from now through August 13. You can find more information about the show here.