New Exhibition Focuses on Revisualizing History and Politics Through Abstract Art

Above: Alteronce in Hannah by Tomashi Jackson.

Opening Sept. 30  at ArtCenter/South Florida, “On Documentary Abstraction” explores the ways contemporary artists are using abstract painting and sculpture to document, discuss and revisualize recent history.


Featuring artists Torkwase Dyson, Tomashi Jackson, Richard Ibghy, Marilou Lemmens and others, the works in “On Documentary Abstraction” examine a range of topics, including the history of lynching in the southern United States, civil rights legislation, and labor exploitation in the 20th century. These revisualizations vary widely in aesthetic and process, from dense configurations to colorful and airy representations, offering the viewer the opportunity to choose what and how much information to take in.


The exhibition, on view through Dec. 17,  will be accompanied by a series of talks and film programs on the forms of visual abstraction and the rich, historical connections between politics and abstract art. A full schedule is available on ArtCenter’s website.


“This exhibition emerged from an idea: What would an imageless documentary look like?” said curator Rachael Rakes. “At first, the term Documentary Abstraction might seem contradictory, but documentary approaches continuously evolve. These artists are pushing the boundaries around both documentary and abstract art and, in doing so, they are merging form with function and finding new ways to communicate the issues of our times.”


Dyson’s contribution consists of two paintings from her Strange Fruit series, which respond to the more than 4,000 lynchings that occurred in the U.S. between 1877 and 1950. The backgrounds in Dyson’s “He She, 2015” and “She He, 2016” are inspired by landscape architecture plans, geometric maps, and statistical reports, while the foregrounds are treated with washes, glosses and gradients. What results is a visualization of data from these public acts of torture and trauma that enables an understanding of this facet of black history in spatial and visual terms.


Jackson’s series of works, on view last year at New York’s Tilton Gallery in the solo exhibition titled “The Subliminal is Now,” combines painting, sculpture, textiles, embroidery and printmaking to form sculptures that simultaneously reference past and present civil rights abuses in the U.S. and the history of American art abstraction. This work is rooted in a linguistic


comparison of court transcripts from historic civil rights cases alongside writings on the rules of color by mid-century abstract painters. The resulting works are brilliantly colored and compelling mixed media sculptures that blend into a meditation on racism and color theory.


The exhibition also features 13 small sculptures from Ibghy and Lemmens’ ongoing series, “Each Number Equals One Inhalation and One Exhalation.” These works continue the duo’s examination of the infiltration and impact of economic thinking on everyday life, this time focusing on how labor has been measured and quantified since the industrial revolution. The sculptures each represent actual graphical analyses of human productivity, as used in fields of management, work science, and psychology. Reimagined here as simple, elegant models, these works contrast with the authority and seriousness of the data and demonstrate how deeply the aesthetics of representation affect their interpretation.


The exhibition will kick-off at 1 p.m. Sept. 30 with a conversation between curator Rakes and Jackson, followed by a brunch reception at the ArtCenter’s Miami Beach location, 924 Lincoln Road. The event is open to the public with RSVP.

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