May 2015 – March 2016
Inspired by a childhood steeped in African American cultural influences, Rashid Johnson creates layered artworks that engage a conversation between personal biography and the implied gravitas of larger cultural and historical narratives. Johnson works predominantly in mixed media sculptures and paintings, combining bare materials such as mirror, wood, and shea butter with loaded iconic objects including record covers, CB radios, historical books, and common domestic objects. Throughout his career, Johnson has explored the ways in which we form our sense of belonging to races and communities, investigating the relationship between familiar objects and identity.
For his High Line Commission, Johnson will build one of his minimalist three-dimensional steel black grids, which will house a variety of objects including busts painted to resemble shea butter (a material commonly used by the artist), and will act as a living greenhouse as plants on the High Line begin to intertwine with the sculpture over the year of its installation. Playing with forms taken from the Minimalist tradition – Sol LeWitt’s white open cubes come to mind – Johnson turns them into a reflection on blackness by breaking the rational structure open and embedding loaded objects within it.
Installed in an oblong island of plants growing between pathways on the High Line just south of The Standard, High Line, the sculpture will change over the course of its installation, the empty rectilinear vessel becoming a horticultural container as the seasons pass. The work reflects the artist’s ongoing interest in a line from a book by Lawrence Weiner called “Something to Put Something On,” in which the concept “table” is explained as “something to put something on.” This semiotic explication resonates with Johnson, who pushes its implications toward thinking about the ways in which lives, cultures, and historical arcs are a mere practice of putting some things on top other things that are imagined to be taken as given, such as the exemplary case of the table.
Photos by Timothy Schenck
Rashid Johnson (b. 1977, United States) lives and works in New York. Recent solo exhibitions include The Drawing Center, New York (2015); the Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver (2014); Ballroom Marfa, Texas (2013); High Museum of Art, Atlanta (2013); Kemper Art Museum, St. Louis (2013); Miami Art Museum (2012); Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2012); and South London Gallery (2012). Selected group exhibitions include The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World, the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2014 – 2015); 30 Americans, organized by the Rubell Family Collection, Miami, traveling to Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans (2014), Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville (2013 – 2014), Milwaukee Art Museum (2012), Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia (2012), Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. (2011 – 2012), North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh (2011), and Rubell Family Collection, Miami (2008 – 2009); Variations: Conversations in and Around Contemporary Painting, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2014); Body Doubles, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2014); Angel of History, Beaux-arts de Paris: L’école nationale supérieure (2013); and In the Holocene, MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, MA (2012). Johnson’s work has been featured in major biennials, including the 2012 Shanghai Biennale; the 54th Venice Biennale (2011); and the International Biennale of Contemporary Art, Prague (2005).
Major support for High Line Art comes from Donald R. Mullen, Jr. and The Brown Foundation, Inc. of Houston, with additional support from Vital Projects Fund, Inc. High Line Art is supported, in part, with public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the New York City Council and from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.