’30 Americans’ Opens at the Corcoran Gallery of Art

Exhibit sign featuring “Sleep,” 2008 (oil on canvas) by Kehinde Wiley

WASHINGTON, DC—When visitors ascend the stairs to the Corcoran’s upper galleries, they are confronted by a room-sized installation—a noose surrounded by chairs, each sort of slip-covered with a KKK hood. Titled “Duck Duck Noose,” the work by Gary Simmons is jarring and provocative and makes clear that race issues will be explored aggressively in “30 Americans.”

Proceed to the show’s first main gallery—which is anchored by an enormous, dramatic portrait of a reclining black man—and while the vibe is very different, the creative approach is sharpened and the provocation continues.

“Sleep” by Kehinde Wiley is 300″ x 132″ and is the epitome of his impeccably detailed canvases juxtaposing contemporary black men with elaborate, regal settings reminiscent of the Old Masters.

The painting sets the stage for a riotous survey of work by 31 of the most important African American artists over the past three decades, including Lorna Simpson, Barkley L. Hendricks, Rashid Johnson, Kerry James Marshall, Carrie Mae Weems, Iona Rozeal Brown, Hank Willis Thomas and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

The exhibit is culled from the extensive collection (more than 5,000 pieces) of Don and Mera Rubell of Miami, who told Metro Connection, the local Washington public radio show, that they spend 25 percent of their income on art. About five years ago they noticed that a large portion of their most interesting pieces were by African American artists, prompting the idea for the show.

In addition to race, “30 Americans” explores black identity, popular culture and media images and is organized around what the museum describes as “the idea of artistic community and legacy, highlighting relationships between artists across generations.”

The show is composed of 76 works and includes paintings, photographs, sculptures and video, as well as silhouettes by Kara Walker, sound suits by Nick Cave and “I Sell the Shadow to Sustain the Substance,” a neon light installation by Glenn Ligon. “30 Americans” is on view from Oct. 1 to February 12, 2011.

Photos by Arts Observer

Post Your Thoughts