Thursday evening the exhibition tête-à-tête, curated by Mickalene Thomas opened at Yancey Richardson gallery. The photo-based group show consists of eleven African and African American artists including Derrick Adams, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Clifford Owens, Hank Willis Thomas and Mickalene Thomas herself, among others. Initiated by a talk held this past January, which included Adams, Owens and Simmons, called ‘Conversations: Among Friends’, Thomas was inspired to consider more extensively ideas surrounding collaborative work, but specifically, as described in the press release, ‘the performative process in which a conversation is transformed into a visual expression.’
All the works in the exhibition, as well as the artists who have created them, deal with issues of identity, how that identity is constructed, and seen, and by whom. tête-à-tête references a type of dialogue and the works here definitely seem to have a call and response type relationship rather than a static coherence. Malick Sidibe’s images of pop culture from the sixties hang amongst Hank Willis Thomas’ appropriated images from the seventies also depicting pop and advertising culture. Clifford Owens’ performance-based photographs challenge the traditional subject/viewer relationship by inserting the male body into both roles. Likewise, Zanele Muholi’s photographs of black lesbians she met in South Africa further inverts this traditional formula by using the genre of portraiture to unravel cultural and political histories rather than simply aesthetic pleasure. Mickalene Thomas’ extensive collages of Polaroids, which provide the groundwork for her paintings, are insights not only into an artist’s physical process of creating a work but also the cultivation of her subject. The abundance of Polaroids displayed along with annotations give insight into the psychological construction of her paintings. Other works like Derrick Adams’ ‘Communicating with Shadows’, another performance-based piece, where he projects silhouettes of other artists and LaToya Ruby Frazier’s video that features the artist and her mother, both literally engage in conversations within the work themselves.
This exhibition is also like a crash course in the short history of photography and its varied uses in the artistic practice. The show includes vintage and almost documentary prints (Sidibe), the photograph as documentation of performance (Owens, Simmons, Adams), the photograph as sketchbook (Mickalene Thomas), portraiture (Muholi and Deana Lawson), appropriation (Hank Willis Thomas) and the use of video, photography’s sibling, (Frazier). tête-à-tête is indicative of the complexity of the issues these artists attempt to address and try to work out. But it is also testament to how varied and layered the visual medium of the photographic image can be and how integral it is to deciphering these complexities.
Check out Yancey Richardson Gallery on Paddle8 here.
Rebecca Roberts is the founder of November Projects, an arts production and consultancy firm based in New York focusing on creative partnerships, special projects and events. Prior to starting November Projects, Roberts was a photographic agent at Management & Production Inc., working with some of the most sought out talent in fashion and fine art photography. Clients, past and present, include, The Public Art Fund, Planned Parenthood, The Noguchi Museum, No.10 Gallery, Calvin Klein, Barney’s, Elle Magazine and W. Rebecca is also a freelance writer contributing to several publications on art and photography including the blog ‘On Pictures’ on Artinfo, Acne Paper and vmagazine.com. Roberts also teaches at the School of Visual Arts.