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Continuing in the Spirit at The Studio Museum in Harlem


Theaster Gates
See, Sit, Sup, Sing: Holding Court (installation view), 2012
The Studio Museum in Harlem
Photo: Adam Reich

Theaster Gates
See, Sit, Sup, Sing: Holding Court (installation view from 125th Street), 2012
The Studio Museum in Harlem
Photo: Adam Reich

Theaster Gates
See, Sit, Sup, Sing: Holding Court (installation view), 2012
The Studio Museum in Harlem
Photo: Adam Reich

On a regular Thursday evening passers-by walking down 125th Street will occasionally stop to look through the glass windows of the Studio Museum's atrium. It is not unusual to see people of all backgrounds stop and meander, trying to get a quick peek to glimpse at what is going on inside the museum. Theaster Gates's See, Sit, Sup, Sip, Sing: Holding Court (2012), currently housed in the Atrium, has garnered considerable attention since its installation in plain view of 125th Street on the occasion of Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art. An installation comprising classroom materials sourced from the recently closed Crispus Attucks Elementary School on the South Side of Chicago, See, Sit, Sup, Sip, Sing: Holding Court is designed as a learning tool, encouraging interactivity, community engagement and friendly exchange.

During the day, Gates's installation has become a site for Studio Museum personnel to convene and hold meetings; it has also been activated by the Education department for youth programs, such as Lil' Studio and Hands On activities. Recently, a conversation involving high school and college students, including many Expanding the Walls alumni, came to "The Table," (as See, Sit, Sup, Sip, Sing: Holding Court is known informally at the Museum) to sit and discuss the Museum's current exhibition, The Shadows Took Shape.

Navigating through initial shyness and apprehension, many small conversations about the exhibition gave way to a larger group discussion. We talked about the work on view related to the larger history of art and how it has been skewed when looking through the lens of the African diasporic experience.  For these students, history is an important consideration when thinking about the future and defining futurism. When presented with the question of "what is futurism," I expected the students to focus on technology or scientific advancement as defining factors. Surprisingly, a few cited Karl Marx as a means of thinking about social change and its global impact in the coming decades.  The lively discussion then unfolded to cover a wide range of topics, including the definition of “blackness” and the black identity, the role of race in music, the politics of respectability, gentrification and cultural appropriation, among other issues. The discussants' insight into the problems within their communities, coupled with their forward thinking in approaching solutions for those problems, prompted me on more than one occasion to put down my pen and stop taking notes, so I could listen with full attention to their words.

The themes they discussed in this 90-minute conversation, loosely inspired by a series of questions formulated by Gerald Leavell II, the Studio Museum's Expanding the Walls and Youth Programs Coordinator reverberate not just with the Museum's current exhibitions, but also as the surrounding community. Museums are important educational tools; events such as this affirm the Museum's position as a "site for [the] dynamic exchange of ideas about art and society." The art on view sparked a socially-engaged, intellectual dialogue amongst this young audience, activating this particular space in the Museum in a truly awe-inspiring way.

Tara Burns was a Fall 2013 Education Intern at The Studio Museum in Harlem.

Permanent Collection Highlight Sonia Boyce: , 2006


Sonia Boyce (b. 1962, London, UK)
Untitled (from the "Rivington Place Portfolio"), 2006
Hard, soft ground and spitbite etching on Pescia Magnani paper
30 × 20 inches
Museum purchase with funds provided by the Acquisition Committee 08.10.1

In her 2006 etching Untitled, Sonia Boyce pays tribute to fourteen black female luminaries in British music history. Performers featured in the composition include Dame Shirley Bassey, DBE, Welsh pop singer known for recording several James Bond movie theme songs, such as the title theme for Goldfinger (1964); Adelaide Hall, American-born and UK-based jazz singer; Millie Small, Jamaican singer-songwriter who topped pop charts in the mid-1960s with her song “My Boy Lollipop”; Cleo Laine, British actress and Grammy award-winning singer, among others. The act of assembling such a collection, according to Boyce, is not intended to represent the musicians; rather, it is a nod to the collective memory built by their diverse audiences. The sinewy lines enshrining the names resemble connective tissue or sonic reverberations, suggesting that the artist’s personal act of inscription is also a making of a body of musical history. The stars, blot-like and tonal in comparison to the letters and lines, were created by spitbite aquatint. In this etching process, the artist unevenly applies acid to a rosin-based (aquatint) coating of a metal plate, exposing the areas of the surface to be printed. Boyce’s stars that speckle the page seem to represent the fame and accomplishments these women achieved.

Sonia Boyce is a painter and mixed media artist whose work deals with questions of history, British national identity, and Afrodiasporic experience. Her recent solo exhibition, Scat - Sonia Boyce: Sound and Collaboration, at the Institute of International Visual Arts (InIVA)’s Rivington Place,  featured video installations, including Oh Adelaide (2010) and Devotional Collection (2013) related to this print.

Dana Liss is a Curatorial Intern at The Studio Museum in Harlem.

The New Studio Magazine is Here!


The cover of the Winter/Spring 2014 issue of Studio
Image: Wanuri Kahiu, Pumzi (video still), 2009 Courtesy Focus Features Africa First Short Film Program

The latest issue of Studio Magazine has arrived! 

This issue features an introduction to our new artists in residence, Kevin Beasley, Bethany Collins and Abigail DeVille; reflections on Carrie Mae Weems by Franklin Sirmans; interviews and conversations with 2013 Turner Prize nominee Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Jennifer PackerOscar Murillo and Harold Offeh; celebrating the 20th anniversary of Houston's Project Row Houses; Wein Prize winner Gary Simmons; activities for kids, including a coloring page by Stacey Robinson, a performance art-inspired lesson plan for teachers and book picks; checking in with The Laundromat Project; and a preview of our highly anticipated Spring 2014 exhibition, When the Stars Begin to Fall: Imagination and the American South

Check out a digital copy here or you can pick up the magazine at the Museum beginning January 30, the first day of our new exhibition, Carrie Mae Weems: The Museum Series

Introducing Sable Smith Meet our New Education Assistant!


Sable Smith

My name is Sable Elyse Smith, and I am the new Education Assistant here at The Studio Museum in Harlem. I am originally from Los Angeles, which is one of many reasons why I'm so passionate about education and access—when I was in high school, my access to arts education became increasingly nonexistent, and I decided to commit myself in some way to arts education.  My path has been long—the abridged version is that I studied painting and filmmaking at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, Georgia, and recently completed my MFA in Design & Technology at Parsons: The New School for Design, where I am currently part-time faculty.

Somewhere in between pursuing my two degrees, I did a year's long stint in London working while taking classes from time to time. There I discovered the work of Kara Walker while visiting the Tate Modern. A year later, I discussed the colonial archive, Walker’s work, and the repetition of the words light & dark in Joseph Conrad’s novel, Heart of Darkness at a liberal arts symposium held at Oglethorpe University. The archive—a subject with which I am fascinated—can be generally considered a vessel of information contributing to the construction of a particular historical narrative.

In addition to my teaching practice, which also includes an apprenticeship at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), I am a working artist. My work has been supported by institutions such as the New Museum, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and Artist Television Access in San Francisco, the International Center for Photography and Eyebeam in New York, among others. My work encompasses lectures, pedagogy and the examination of history, both personal and collective.

Through this chain of events, I find myself at the Studio Museum. I am excited to be working at an institution whose values are completely in line with my own, but more importantly, I am excited to be involved in an educational endeavor which posits access as a driving force. I am looking forward to getting to know Harlem, to familiarize myself with the Museum's permanent collection and I am especially excited about the opportunity to learn. This is a position where my hours of learning will dramatically outweigh my hours of teaching and I am grateful for that. Don’t be surprised if you find me leading your groups guided tour or workshops at the Museum in the near future!

Around Town Gulu Real Art Studio: Martina Bacigalupo


Obal Dennis: “I choose backgrounds according to the person’s request, depending on the purpose of the photograph. For instance the “UWMFO,” (United Women for Co-operative Saving Society) wants their members to have their photos taken [with] a red background, I don’t know why—that’s their policy.”

Image courtesy the artist and the Walther Collection

Patterns of dress and even aberrations in patterns are signs we normally read unconsciously but become more legible when the face is missing from the composition.

Image courtesy the artist and the Walther Collection

Denis: “Red background is really fitting for our dark skin; it brings out the tone on the skin and makes it look nicer.”

Image courtesy the artist and the Walther Collection


Gomesi (the garment worn here) is traditional African dress, most often worn by women who are well-to-do and married as a sign of being respectable.

Image courtesy the artist and the Walther Collection

Denis: “My father taught me to be a professional photographer but as a young man we also discovered taking photos in a landscape format and full pose, seated on a stool. Then we punch out the heads to make passport photos. My father is very much against it this way because it’s not professional but it helps serve our customers’ needs when they need only one or two copies.”

Image courtesy the artist and the Walther Collection

“There is no art to find the mind’s construction in the face...” Macbeth, William Shakespeare

What constitutes a portrait when the face of the subject is removed from the composition? A critical mass of 73 photographs, the Gulu Real Art Studio installation, recently on view at The Walther Collection Project Space in Chelsea, presented such portraits for contemplation. The images included in the exhibition were found materials salvaged from the trash behind a studio in Gulu, a town in northern Uganda, each portrait had the face cut out for use on official documents. After gaining permission, Italian photojournalist Martina Bacigalupo, who happened to be at the studio for her own portrait, was compelled to begin collecting the discarded photographs.

The collaboration between Raymond Okot, the owner of Gulu Real Art Studio, his son Obal Denis, and Bacigalupo combines the studio's practical approach to photography with observation and interviews. Bacigalupo conducted a series of interviews with the Acholi, the ethnic group that populates the region, highlighting their history, culture and customs.

Central to the exhibition were the photographs themselves. Experiencing the series in one image after the other, one becomes more of aware of other distinguishing features and gestures, such as the folds of a garment, the formality of the pose, silhouette and the varieties and similarities in patterns of dress. These patterns are signs we normally read unconsciously but they become more legible as the eye compensates for the missing faces. By reading these details more closely, the photographs demonstrate the recurring impulse to communicate identity through signals embedded in clothing in spite of the fact that the intention of the portraits are only meant for bureaucratic documents.

Monique Long is the 2013–14 Curatorial Fellow at The Studio Museum in Harlem. 

Terry Adkins 1953–2014


Terry Adkins performing at the Studio Museum
November 13, 2013
Photo: Will Ragozzino

The staff and trustees of The Studio Museum in Harlem mourn the tragic loss of a great artist, musician, teacher and performer. Terry Adkins was one of the most innovative artists of his generation, combining a musical and lyrical approach to visual art with a deep investment in the individuals who shaped American history and a fascination with material culture. The Studio Museum is proud to have had a long association with him dating back to his participation in the Museum’s Artist-in-Residence program in 1982–83. His legacy will live on not only through his incredible body of work, but also through the lives and work of the many students he mentored during his tenure as a beloved Fine Arts professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

Breath and Body Questions for performance artist Dave McKenzie


Dave McKenzie
Dave, 2010
Image courtesy the artist and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects

Dave McKenzie
Dave, 2010
Image courtesy the artist and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects

Thomas Lax, Studio Museum Assistant Curator and organizer of Darker than the Moon, Smaller than the Sun, diagrams highlights of McKenzie's history as a performance artist

Dave McKenzie
We Shall Overcome (video still), 2004
Courtesy the artist

On February 20 and 21, 2014, Dave McKenzie performs his retrospective Darker than the Moon, Smaller than the Sun. The performance is part of the live programs series organized on the occasion of Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art, currently on view through March 9, 2014 at the Studio Museum.

The artist has a long history with the Museum including his residency in the 2003–04 cycle of the Museum’s Artist-in-Residence program and the group exhibition 30 Seconds Off an Inch in 2009. He also premiered a lecture-performance last November at Performa 13, All the King’s horses… none of his men. McKenzie will exhibit a new work in the Whitney Museum of American Art's 2014 Biennial, opening March 7.

Curatorial Fellow Monique Long sits down with McKenzie to talk about this juncture in live performance in relationship to the Museum and art making.

You are a fairly young artist yet you have been working for well over ten years. How do you feel about a retrospective at this point in your career?

I don't think I am treating this as a retrospective in any strict sense of the word. So that really frees me up to talk and think about the things that are more basic and fundamental in my work. I think of retrospectives in much the same way that I think about the question, "What kind of work do you make?" It's a simple question but not really an easy one. Plus, the question can be addressed through form, material, intention, history, biography and so on. For some artists the answer will be fairly straightforward (even as the answer doesn't necessarily address the breadth and depth of one's thinking), but I have always found it difficult to describe what I am doing succinctly. I suppose I favor a certain type of complexity which doesn't only privilege 'looking back' but also introspection.

Your formal training is in printmaking. How did you transition into performance art?

The transition started at some point in college. I was lucky enough to be in a department that accepted and encouraged experimentation, but I always think back upon the education that I received by sitting in the school's library and flipping through various monographs and catalogues. It was there that I discovered the work of a number of artists from the 70's, in particular, artists who had actively used the body or engaged the body as a subject or medium—artists like David Hammons, Gina Pane and VALIE EXPORT. At the time, I would have said that the work was more radical and intense than the things I was seeing on a daily basis, and even though I was looking at images from the past my mind was coming to terms with something forward looking. Again, I think the openness of the printmaking department and this sense of an anachronistic-future really led me towards experimenting with performance, language, and structure.

Your retrospective features a parade-sized balloon which was previously used in another performance at the Aspen Art Museum. Could you talk about the object in this iteration? Particularly your ideas around metaphor and repetition?

The balloon was originally created for a July 4th parade in Aspen, Colorado, and was based on a video that I made called Watch the Sky. In Watch the Sky, I used television footage of the Macy's Day Parade and then superimposed a caricature of myself over top of a character named Little Bill (a Bill Cosby character).  What ended up in Aspen was a Frankenstein version of this image from Watch the Sky.  Aspen is not a town known for its racial diversity, so when viewers of the parade saw this black figure—one they could not identify and had no particular reference or even affinity towards—they tended to fill in the gaps by associating this black male with any popular black male they could conjure up. Obama, Lebron [James], etc. In the [retrospective], I think the balloon will have a number of functions and refer to a number of things—it is beautiful and ugly, full and empty, present and absent. It's my body, maybe, but certainly like my body it is already historical and preconceived. Still, if I had to put my figure on one thing it points to and addresses it would be breath.

There is great interest in your participation in the Whitney Biennial opening next month. Could you give an overview of your work for the exhibition?

In the Whitney Biennial I will be showing two recent works in video. I am not sure that I can describe them well, but I think they both have a lot to say about history, memory, preservationand witnessing—they are notably different from other videos that I have made, in that,  my presence behind the camera is more important than my presence in front of it . Beyond all that I am just incredibly happy with them...

What or who would you say has been most influential to your work?

I don't know that I have one answer for this as a lot of things and a lot of people have influenced the way I think and work. I do however think back to school and a lecture that Vito Acconci gave. His lecture is probably the only one from that period in time that I still have an after image of. In talking about his own history he said something along these lines, "I knew I could be an artist because I knew I could think." That for me was confirmation of something that I had started to believe and still to this day believe. It is not that I don't value the hand and eye in making but to think is already a form of participation and creation.

Studio Visit Alexis Peskine


Inside Alexis Peskine's studio
Photo: Martha Scott Burton

Inside Alexis Peskine's studio
Photo: Martha Scott Burton

Alexis Peskine
Désintégration, 2011
Courtesy the artist

Alexis Peskine
Liberty Leading, Equality Leaving, 2011
Courtesy the artist

Artist Alexis Peskine (b. 1979) focuses on questions of national and racial identity, the black body experience, and universal emotions. Peskine moved to the United States to attend Howard University in Washington, D.C., where he received a Bachelor of Fine Art degree in 2003 and a Master’s degree in Digital Art in 2004.  He then enrolled in Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) on a Fulbright Scholarship (the first foreign student to be awarded this honor), where he completed his MFA. His influences are wide-ranging, including Kara Walker, Takashi Murakami, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Banksy, as is his approach to art-making and his chosen materials.

Peskine’s most recent work surrounds what he calls the “third step in an artistic practice: activism.”  He has been teaching and working with urban youth in Brazil, encouraging them to make their own work and bringing them on as assistants in his own practice.  Three of them traveled with him to Paris to meet and collaborate with youth in the Bobigny section of Paris.  Peskine is currently developing an artist studio for youth in Brazil and is working to bring the Bobigny youth to Australia to work with aboriginal populations.  For Peskine, these relationships and the resultant work area methodology for working and an artistic medium itself. 

Of the work created while living in the States, Peskine states that the focus was more on bridging racial dynamics between the United States and France. Upon returning to France during Nicolas Sarkozy's presidency (2007-2012), Peskine became more involved with protests and supporting movements against racism and xenophobia, which were on the rise. He sees his work as questioning the concept of an ideal French identity, summed up in the common French phrase, “France eternal.” His first exhibition in the United States, French Evolution: Race, Politics and the 2005 Riots (Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts [MoCaDa], 2007) featured large and immersive works examining the intense racial-political terrain of France.

It was during his studies at Howard that Peskine began his nail pieces.  Using nine sizes of nails, he uses the nail as brushstroke in a technique that brings to mind screen printing, Pop Art from Warhol to Chuck Close and Lichtenstein, and African Nkisi sculpture.  He drives in the nails at different depths to create a sense of relief and introduce a third dimension.  Critics have noted a connection between his technique and voodoo and crucifixion.  There is a tension between simple materials and technology, of ancestral themes and modernity, of art and craft. 

His subjects are always black and always bold, at times bordering on aggressive.  Peskine used pop culture icons, such as the famous  Franco-Belgian comic book character, Asterix, Mister Clean, Aunt Jemima and Delacroix’s iconic image of Liberty in Liberty Leading the People (28th July 1830). “They are characters, not victims. In Désintégration (2011), Asterix is erasing the woman, but she’s bigger and can take control.”  In the nail pieces and his photographs, the models hold a strong, unwavering presence.  “I am trying to diversify images of the black body, a sort of visual affirmative action.”He combines political or advertising slogans, visual puns and references to universal themes with a hint of humor, all towards a vigorous social commentary on the black body’s experience.  He cites as an aesthetic inspiration Jean-Paul Goude, a well-known French graphic designer and illustrator who has had a lasting influence on French advertising.  Peskine now says he is moving beyond the pop culture icons in a return to the “pure, simplified” nail pieces.  His growing interest in Afrofuturism and travel are leading him to “depart from the black body” and head into unknown territories.

Martha Scott Burton is a former Studio Museum Curatorial Intern.

Elsewhere Thelma's Current Exhibition Picks


Lamar Peterson
The Window, 2010
Courtesy the artist and Fredricks & Freiser, New York

Archibald Motley
Nightlife, 1943
The Art Institute of Chicago; Restricted gift of Mr. and Mrs. Marshall Field, Jack and Sandra Guthman, Ben W. Heineman, Ruth Horwich, Lewis and Susan Manilow, Beatrice C. Mayer, Charles A. Meyer, John D. Nichols, and Mr. and Mrs. E.B. Smith, Jr.; James W. Alsdorf Memorial Fund; Goodman Endowment, 1992.89

Yinka Shonibare, MBE
Magic Ladder Kid I, 2013
Commissioned by The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia
Image courtesy James Cohan Gallery, New York

Herbert Gentry
Dance Turquoise, 1978
Courtesy Mary Ann Rose/The Estate of Herbert Gentry

Blue Plastic Bubbles: Paintings by Lamar Peterson
On view through April 5, 2014
University Art Museum, SUNY Albany
1400 Washington Avenue
Albany, NY 12222

Lamar Peterson is presenting a new suite of paintings, works on paper and mixed media collage from the past 10 years at SUNY Albany. Showcasing his signature style of combining deceptively cheerful imagery with sinister subtexts, Peterson's work considers issues of race, class and social unrest. Peterson's work has been featured at the Studio Museum in Shift: Projects | Perspectives | Directions (2012) and Picture in a Picture, his 2005 solo exhibition. On February 25, the University Art Museum will welcome Peterson for an artist talk, followed by a reception for the artist.

Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist
On view through May 11, 2014
Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University
2001 Campus Drive
Durham, NC 27705

A master painter whose vibrant canvases captured the essence of early 20th century Chicago, Archibald Motley (1891–1981)'s legacy is on full view at Duke University's Nasher Museum. Jazz Age Modernist is the first retrospective of the artist's work in two decades. Curated by Richard J. Powell, the exhibition will travel throughout 2014 to the Amon Carter Museum of American Art (Fort Worth, TX), the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, the Chicago Cultural Center, with a final stop at the Whitney Museum in Fall 2015. Accompanying the exhibition will be a full-color catalogue with essays by David C. Driskell, Ishmael Reed, Amy Mooney, Davarian L. Baldwin and Oliver Meslay.

Yinka Shonibare MBE: Magic Ladders
On view through April 24, 2014
The Barnes Foundation
2025 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy
Philadelphia, PA 19130

The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia is presenting an exhibition in collaboration with Yinka Shonibare MBE, his first major exhibition in Philadelphia since his 2004 residency at the Fabric Workshop and Museum. Including approximately 15 sculptures, paintings, photographs and an installation, Magic Ladders reflects on educational access and opportunity, as well as the collecting practices of the Barnes, one of the first American collections to treat African sculpture with equal weight as art from Europe or the Americas. 

Making Connections: The Art and Life of Herbert Gentry
On view through March 30, 2014
Boston University Art Gallery at the Stone Gallery
855 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215

Herbert Gentry (1919–2003), whose La Vie Rougee (1965) was included in our Spring 2013 exhibition, Brothers and Sisters, is the subject of a new exhibition at Boston University. Gentry, who expatriated in the 1950s to France, where he befriended fellow American painter Beauford Delaney, is noted for his swirling, figurative work refracted through the lens of abstraction. Also included in this exhibition are works by close friends of Gentry, such as Delaney and Romare Bearden.

Check in next week for more of Thelma's recommendations for things to see around town and beyond! 

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Ellison at 100 Livestream Watch it here!


Ralph Ellison lived in Harlem from the late 1930s until his death on April 16, 1994. He was a prominent figure in the neighborhood’s overlapping literary and artistic communities. Ellison at 100: Reading Invisible Man honors this legacy through a landmark collaboration between two leading Harlem-based cultural institutions. The participating artists in the program have been specially curated by the Studio Museum and the Schomburg Center teams, following in both institutions’ tradition of exploring Harlem as a site for artistic and literary creation. 

Ellison at 100: Reading Invisible Man is organized by the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and The Studio Museum in Harlem with the generous support of the Ralph and Fanny Ellison Charitable Trust.

10am Session: Ralph Ellison and the Future:
Youth Reading Invisible Man

Ramya Ramana, 2014 NYC Youth Poet Laureate
Arnell Calderon — junior at The New York, City iSchool and 2013 participant, Expanding the Walls: Making Connections Between Photography, History and Community at the Studio Museum
Christopher Neal — sophomore at Manhattan Hunter Science High Schooland 2014 participant, Expanding the Walls Participants in the The Junior Scholars Program at the Schomburg Center

1pm Session
1 p.m.
Bill T. Jones, Prologue
Music by Aaron Diehl

2 p.m.
Oren Jacoby and friends, Chapter Nine
Alondra Nelson, Chapter Eleven
Deborah Willis, Chapter Seventeen

3 p.m.
Jonathan McCrory, Chapter Twenty-One
Greg Tate, Chapter Twenty-Three
Music by Marcelle Davies-Lashley

4 p.m.
Terrance McKnight, Epilogue
Music by Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber / REBELLUM