PICTURE ID: Contemporary African American Works on Paper' opens March 14

Eye On Art  |  03/05/2020 9:00 am

A new exhibition opening March 14, 2020, at the Toledo Museum of Art (TMA) will address race, gender and identity issues through the art of nine contemporary African American artists including Glenn Ligon, Lorna Simpson, Kara Walker and Fred Wilson, among others.

PICTURE ID: Contemporary African American Works on Paper will appear in Gallery 4 through June 14, 2020. Admission to the exhibition is free.

“The works of art in the exhibition were created in response to artistic developments and cultural debates prevalent throughout the late 1980s and 1990s in the United States,” said Robin Reisenfeld, TMA’s senior curator of works on paper. “Each artist uses a mixture of text and images to tackle cultural stereotypes and help the viewer consider the meaning and interpretation of individual identity through overlapping perspectives of gender, race, ethnicity and sexuality.”

Central to the exhibition is Wigs by Lorna Simpson, who presents an array of vacant wigs and hairpieces from thick braids and weaves to smooth blond locks.

“Lorna Simpson’s work makes us stop and think how our hair reflects and shapes our identity and how we perceive others,” Reisenfeld said. “The panels of fragmented text that accompany many of the images allude to the hairpieces’ capability for personal transformation and/or concealment.”

Printed on felt, each photo-lithographic image possesses a tactility that recalls the texture of hair. Simpson’s sequence of images encourages one to question assumptions about who might wear the various wigs and raises the issue of hair’s centrality in African American cultural and personal identity, especially in relation to traditional white standards of beauty. 

“Though Simpson’s work deals with issues of race, gender, class and identity, she leaves any precise interpretation of her images and text – and how they interact – up to the viewer,” Reisenfeld said.

In addition to Wigs, Glenn Ligon’s Untitled (Crowd/The Fire Next Time), a screenprint with coal crystals, will be featured in the exhibition.

Ligon is a multi-media artist noted for his text-based work in black and white that engages with visual art, literature and history.

Untitled features a stenciled text that spells out in glittering coal crystals: “Something in me wondered what will happen to all that beauty?” excerpted from James Baldwin’s 1963 famous essay "The Fire Next Time." Beneath Baldwin’s quotation lies a screen printed, blurred photographic image of the Million Man March, a demonstration of black activists on the Mall in Washington DC in 1995.

“Obscuring the legibility of each, the placement of Baldwin’s powerful words onto an underlying photographic image of a historic march that occurred more than three decades later calls attention to the ongoing discourse about race in America,” Reisenfeld said.

PICTURE ID: Contemporary African American Works on Paper is sponsored by 2020 Exhibition Program Sponsor ProMedica with additional support from the Ohio Arts Council. Admission to the exhibition is free.