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Rashid Johnson “Makes Things to Put Things On”
© Art21, Inc.
How does an artist contribute his own personal story in the face of prevailing historical narratives? In this film, Rashid Johnson discusses the fluid nature of black identity in America and its escapist tendencies, from the Afrocentric politics of Marcus Garvey to the cosmic philosophy of Sun Ra. Johnson’s invented secret society—”The New Negro Escapist Social and Athletic Club”—is a framework through which the artist humorously upends, through repetition and juxtaposition, conventional expectations of historical influence and legacy. Inspired by a story by the artist Lawrence Weiner in which one character says to another that “a table is something to put something on,” Johnson creates sculptures of shelf-like structures from materials such as black wax, mirror, tile, and branded wood. Each structure is filled with culturally resonant objects—such as Miles Davis and Ramsey Lewis jazz records, books by comedians Dick Gregory and Bill Cosby, and treatises by scholars such as W.E.B. Du Bois and Debra J. Dickerson—as well as the artist’s own photographs and hand-made objects. Featuring works from the exhibitions “The Dead Lecturer” (2008) and “Other Aspects” (2009-10), as well as works-in-progress in the artist’s Williamsburg studio.