Critics Pick, ONE: We Buy Gold
Mar 19, 2017 / by Wendy Vogel / Artforum
Inaugurating a Bedford-Stuyvesant art space named after the neighborhood’s cash-for-gold shops, the exhibition “ONE.” traffics in sobering monochromes rather than glittery baubles. The three exhibiting artists are united in their desire to explore how political abstractions become tools of oppression. Yet that doesn’t mean their works rely on representational tactics that are easily digestible. Torkwase Dyson reveals how environmental degradation, architecture, and racial injustice are intertwined. The artist gives us two new reliefs, subjective interpretations of black architecture, such as nomadic structures, that relate to her concept of black compositional thought. She affixes wire forms to simplified, architectural-seeming abstract panels. Before Black Mountain and the Anthropocene (Tuareg Women: Namadcity), 2017, references the Tuareg Saharan tribe, a matrilineal society that favors radical female sexual liberation.
Renee Gladman’s drawings are composed of letter-like forms that arc into sketches of densely populated city skylines. Some are overlaid with expressionistic washes of gouache. The effect recalls Conceptual forebears such as Robert Smithson’s A Heap of Language, 1966, or Jackson Mac Low’s densely scrawled, illegible poems from the 1990s. It also suggests the ultimate incommensurability of text and lived experience.
Los Angeles–based Harold Mendez’s work, also currently on view at the Whitney Biennial, finds more breathing room here. Untitled (Death Mask), 2015, consists of an oxidized copper replica of a pre-Columbian death mask in a singed cardboard container. For let X stand, if it can for the one’s unfound (After Proceso Pentágono) II, 2016, he distressed and reprinted a photo by the Mexican antiauthoritarian art collective Grupo Proceso Pentágono. The image shows decontextualized violence—a man being punched in the face and electrocuted by attackers whose identities lie outside the frame. It’s a staggering image, especially in a moment when the question of representation (in the sense of who speaks for whom) is igniting the art world