Last week I went to a lecture by Mark Greenfield, Director of Los Angeles Municipal Gallery and artist. He has a body of work entitled "Incognegro" that was on display at 18th Street and now is at the Sweeney Art Gallery in Riverside, where the lecture took place.
Shane Shukis, the Assistant Director of Sweeney introduced the discussion with a quote by Dave Chapelle who had to take a break from his comedy because he "heard the wrong kind of laugh." [installation view of MG's Lenticulars]
Greenfield's work is centralized around very controversial and not so centrally accepted imagery and connotation - Black Face Performers and Minstrelsy;
their history, the performers' roles literally and metaphorically/historically, the connotations, acceptance and repulsion - all of that and more.
For those of you not familiar with Black Face, it is yet another one of those embarrassing ticks in our socio-political history that offends many.
His work is appropriation at its most base (as in it is from a personal collection that he began)yet it is very - dare I say - a most appropriate use of appropriation in conceptual work, in my opinion. Here's why:
Now, all joking aside, as we deal with this
artist's important subjects, the point I want to make is about
the use of humor in art and when as artists, we can finally laugh.
I find the reasons why we laugh compelling:
genuine happiness, making others laugh, to get attention in a room, nervousness, overcompensation, lying, mockery, trying to cover something up.
Black Face = the utmost in covering something up in order to get a laugh to cover something else up.
Mark can find and portray the humor in these images because as he states, "This is history, it's not me." In a sense, he has moved on from the realities that he shows in his work enough to be able to point out the absurdity of it all. Whereas earlier generations of artists, such as Betye Saar, grew up in a generation without irony.
"The Liberation of Aunt Jemima" by Betye Saar 1972
The story of her work dared not tread upon making light of these important issues. Her work was about reclaiming the derogatory images of Blacks and make a statement about how they were treated.
Mark's use of the Lenticular reminds us that sometimes what we initially see is not always real. In addition, the diamond shapes and the candy colors are referential to theatrical performance in general adding further irony.
We sway side-to-side in order to see the characters' faces change from Black to White, from White to Black again. We can laugh in the "right" way.
The gentleman on the left is Dr. Vorris Nunley.
and there is Mark on the right - laughing in the "right" way.
Other topics that night surrounded around Thug Mugs, Reverse Minstrelsy, Diacritical Images, People who do not care for Mark's work and the fact that Black Face is still performed in Vermont.
And it goes without saying, Kara Walker was brought up - she has a show at the Hammer right now.