“So much of contemporary art deals with now – it’s important to understand that there is a trajectory,” said Valerie Cassel Oliver, curator of Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art, which opened at the Walker Art Center on July 24. As a survey of black contemporary art from the 1960s to the present, Radical Presence not only acknowledges, but affirms this trajectory through its showcase of 36 artists.
From installations to videos, this exhibit, also curated by Fionn Meade, Senior Curator of Cross Disciplinary Platforms at the Walker, brings performance to the forefront of black contemporary arts culture. Originally debuted at the Contemporary Art Museum of Houston, where Oliver is also senior curator, Radical Presence will have its final showing at the Walker after two previous shows at Harlem’s Studio Museum and New York University’s Grey Art Gallery.
Radical Presence challenges the viewer to examine and process the idea of performance. In works such as Theaster Gates’s See, Sit, Sup, Sing: Holding Court and Lorraine O’Grady’s Art Is, the role of the audience as inactive viewers is distorted and inverted through the use of participatory action.
Other works such as Howardena Pindell’s Free, White and 21 and Pope.L’s Eating the Wall Street Journal use the idea of the body as a site of oppression and alter it into a site of resistance. By juxtaposing physical and constructed space with performance and infusing elements of race, gender, class and sexuality Radical Presence is both challenging and liberating in nature.
At its core, Radical Presence places the black body at the forefront of its dissection of contemporary art and encourages the audience to engage in dialogue about the politicization, commodification, and figurative consumptions of bodies of color through the ages.
By honoring the legacy of black contemporary artists through a showcase that challenges and inspires viewers, Radical Presence is a brilliant addition to the world of the Walker Art Center. On display through January 4th, 2015, with performances and events continuing until its closing, I encourage the Twin Cities to experience an important addition to the world of contemporary art.
Gallery hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday from 11am-5pm and Thursdays from 11am-9pm.
Read Todd Wardrope's review of 'Radical Presence' here.