Rashid Johnson’s Minimalist Blocks

High Line Art presents a wide array of artwork including site-specific commissions, exhibitions, performances, video programs, and a series of billboard interventions. Learn more about Rashid Johnson's Blocks, now on view on the High Line at Little West 12th Street.

Inspired by a childhood steeped in African American cultural influences, Rashid Johnson (b. 1977, United States) 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 titled Blocks, Johnson built one of his minimalist three-dimensional steel black grids, which houses a series of busts painted to resemble shea butter (a material commonly used by the artist), and acts as a living greenhouse as plants on the High Line intertwine with the sculpture. 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 April 2015 in an oblong island of plants growing between pathways on the High Line, the sculpture has changed over the course of its installation, the empty rectilinear vessel becoming a horticultural container as the seasons pass.

Johnson's work reflects his ongoing interest in a line from a book by artist 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.

Installing the work in April 2015

Spring 2015

Summer 2015

Fall 2015

Winter 2016

Photos 1 - 14 by Timothy Schenck. Photos 15 - 17 by Steven Severinghaus.

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