31.8.12

The Bearden Project: Arnold J. Kemp

The Studio Museum in Harlem is currently having a 3 part show of works that have been inspired or influenced by the work of Romare Bearden.  Before reaching the The Bearden Project Gallery I took note of these great works:

 René Peña


 Allora and Calzadilla
Returning a Sound, 2004
This video had a man riding a motorcycle where various wind instruments were attached to the exhaust. It was simple yet amazing.

Njideka Akunyili

The Bearden Project gallery was an open space, the works were well hung and curated in the space given the variety of works that were on display.

 Chakaia Booker 
Repugnant Rapunzel (Let Down Your Hair)

 Elia Alba
Portrait of a Young Girl

Arnold J. Kemp
The Names I Can't Remember and the Face I'll Never Forget (After Bearden)

While most works in this show found themselves within the genres of painting, sculpture, photography, or collage, Kemp's work stood out for it's mere technological difference.  This difference takes resonance because of a featured article I read in the September 50th anniversary issue of Artforum.  Step into Liquid addresses the growing number of paintings made of ink-jet print on paper.  Hung like paintings, Kemp's work immediately feels as though it belongs to this newer category of works where the archival pigment becomes the new medium.  Historically, I've not been a fan of these works and many people share this sentiment, 
"In its most extreme state, a contemporary ink-jet painting on stretchers inside a museum is technically the same as an advertising banner stretched on the museum's facade. For some that may be hard to stomach." pg. 426. 
Kemp's works are no where near this sentiment at all, but how do you take a new medium and make work that resonates with art's past and takes hold of the ideas and struggles of contemporary culture?  
Kemp's works accomplish exactly that - they take into account the influence of the past while allowing the technology to speak of the future.
Kemp's works stand out amongst a room full of paintings and sculptures, where familiar tropes fall into familiar places. In Kemp's artist statement, he praises Bearden's variety as one of his many strengths.  Kemp is also familiar with variety in his own process, his works differ from concept to concept addressing the subtleties of changing identities and culture. 
Upon looking at these works, it's hard not to fall in love with them. There is a satisfying play between the darkness of black and brightness of white, the subtle degree of high definition versus moments that fall back into a blurry grey hue, and ultimately the joy of imagining their physicality.  These masks seem difficult to construct due to the delicate nature of foil - a household item whose construction and color feel metaphorical for aspects of identity.  These works utilize the characteristics of this new medium to create intelligent meaning and presence - a combination for many artists to consider.

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