Home / A&E / Visual Arts / The Order, Chaos and 'Joy' of Rashid Johnson at Milwaukee Art Museum

The Order, Chaos and 'Joy' of Rashid Johnson at Milwaukee Art Museum

Aug. 1, 2017
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“Art is a slow responding medium and it often doesn’t lend itself to reacting very directly to current events and issues,” says Rashid Johnson. “So it slowly begins to translate those things and tell us how history unfolds through the artist’s brain…” This is a reminder to take time when viewing Johnson’s work in the exhibition “Hail We Now Sing Joy” at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

At the exhibition space’s entrance, Antoine’s Organ is an imposing presence, like a garden that rises far overhead. Constructed on a metal grid, hundreds of plants are placed with old televisions, lights and books. Inside the structure is a hidden piano, which is played at certain times during the exhibition run. Some items embedded in this installation are reflective of Johnson’s earlier artwork, other items signify research and questions about identity and the experience of being African American. Shea butter and black soap from West Africa are particularly resonant materials for the artist, as is the abundance of plants. This motif stems from an idea in his childhood that lush gardens and tropical paradise were signifiers of success, and places standing in stark contrast to the cold concrete of his Chicago home.

The exhibition comprises essentially four series of Johnson’s work. The grid structure is often disguised, but ever-present. Surfaces of painted works range from abstract smears and textures, like in the Falling Man series, to large areas of images and patterns in the Escape Collage series. In the quietly haunting Anxious Audience, a massive array of expressionist faces are scratched and incised into soap and wax on white ceramic tile. As is the case throughout “Hail We Now Sing Joy,” a dichotomy forms between elements that are highly personal and symbolically charged, flowing in energetic gestures and even chaos, yet girded by foundational structures.

In conjunction with this exhibition, a panel discussion titled “Art, Politics, and Activism” will take place at 6:15 p.m., on Thursday, Aug. 3. Panelists include Slate Magazine political analyst Jamelle Bouie, 88Nine Radio Milwaukee DJ Marcus Doucette, activist and urban agriculturist Venice Williams and MAM curator Margaret Andera.

“Rashid Johnson: Hail We Now Sing Joy” continues through Sept. 17 at the Milwaukee Art Museum, 700 N. Art Museum Drive.

Friday, Jun 23
Milwaukee Art Museum

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