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Rashid Johnson

Magic Numbers

The George Economou Collection Space

20 JUN. —
28 AUG. 2014

Press Release

The George Economou Collection is pleased to present Magic Numbers, a solo exhibition by American artist Rashid Johnson (b. Chicago, 1977). Curated by the artist in collaboration with Katherine Brinson associate curator at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum New York and Skarlet Smatana, director of the Economou Collection, the exhibition features a site-specific installation of works largely conceived on the occasion of the exhibition.

Presenting a suite of works largely comprised of site-specific commissions, this exhibition foregrounds the singular symbolic language of American artist Rashid Johnson, immersing visitors in a visual cosmology that ricochets between diverse cultural allusions and formal traditions. The installation opens with a constellation of works forged from Johnson’s signature vocabulary of materials suffused with personal and historical resonances. Covering the back wall of the gallery is the largest example to date of one of his characteristic shelf assemblages of found objects charged with talismanic meaning. This monumental work is paired with a black monochrome composition from the artist’s Cosmic Slop series and an enigmatic sculpture that draws on the forms of Brazilian modernist furniture to create a vessel for an undulating topography of shea butter – the dense, emollient fat derived from a nut indigenous to Africa that is prized for its healing properties.

At the heart of the exhibition is a gallery devoted to The New Black Yoga (2011), a short film that depicts a group of five young African-American men performing a series of choreographed movements that are in turn balletic, athletic, and martial. Originating in the artist’s absurd experience of attempting to participate in a yoga class conducted in a foreign language, the work broadens into a disorientating collision of codes and signifiers, expanding on Johnson’s pervasive interest in constructing fictive fraternal collectives and ambiguous rituals. The video begins and ends with the image of a gun’s crosshairs – a symbol appropriated from the logo of hip-hop group Public Enemy, which here takes on a more oblique, runic connotation.

The crosshairs icon resurfaces in the final gallery, where Johnson’s sculpture Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos (2012) functions as both a stark portent of aggression and a serene study in geometric forms. It is installed with a group of abstract compositions that deploy layers of burned wood, cast bronze, and a special mixture of black soap and wax as expressive surfaces for the artist’s additive and subtractive mark-making. Together, the works in the exhibition channel Johnson’s current preoccupation with notions of hybridity and metamorphosis, cohering into an immersive environment freighted with narrative possibilities.