This month, Nicole R. Fleetwood—curator of Marking Time—Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration at MoMA PS1—and Jackie Wang will discuss “carceral aesthetics, the legacy of revolutionary prison arts programs, and the ways that penal space, time, and matter shape the production of prison art. What kinds of worlds and images of freedom have been imagined by prisoners and those with loved ones in prison? What forms of care are embodied by social practices rooted in art-making?”*
When Metro Pictures asked me to do a show in 1982, they already had an image. They represented a group of artists whose work often dealt with issues of appropriation and was often spoken of and written about together. A gallery generates meaning through the type of work they choose to show. I self-consciously made work that “looked like” Metro Pictures. The first thing you saw when you entered my show, Arrangements of Pictures, was an arrangement of works the gallery had on hand by “gallery artists” Robert Longo, Cindy Sherman, Jack Goldstein, Laurie Simmons, and JamesWelling. A wall label titled it “Arranged by Louise Lawler.” It was for sale as a work with a price determined by adding up the prices of the individual pieces, plus a percentage for me. I went to the collectors to whom Metro had sold work and photographed the Metro artists’ works in those contexts. I printed the resulting images a “normal” picture size and titled them “arrangements,” too—for example, “Arranged by Barbara and Eugene Schwartz, New York City.” The Metro situation at that time formed that work, and it also formed a way of working for me. — Louise Lawler*
What do we mean by “crime” in America? The question should be easy to answer—we have detailed codes and statutes that forbid certain conduct defined as a criminal offense. We have an elaborate system of policing, prosecution, punishment, and incarceration that involves millions of people. But there’s a great deal more to how we think and talk about crime, and certainly to how we see and enforce criminal laws.
From the beginning, the prosecution and punishment of crime in this country have been profoundly shaped by race, poverty, power, and status. For centuries politicians have stoked fear of crime and exploited perceived crime waves, while our public discourse about crime has been compromised by persistent inattention to our history of racial violence. There is a different narrative about “crime in America” that we have for the most part ignored…
In 1957, Life magazine editors engaged staff photographer Gordon Parks and writer Robert Wallace to explore crime in the United States. The published article, by Wallace and staff editors, was a myopic rendering of the dominant narrative about crime and criminality, emblematic of a discourse shaped by politicians, law enforcement officials, and criminologists not interested in reckoning with pervasive racially motivated criminality.
Parks’ photographs told a different story. As an African American survivor of racial injustice, he was keenly aware of race and class in America, and this palpably informed his photography and his art. He consistently humanized people who were meant to be objects of scorn and derision. It’s this dissonance with a conventional crime narrative that makes his “crime” photos for Life so compelling today. — Bryan Stevenson*
The complete 1957 crime series by Parks—only a few images of which were published in Life—is available now in an exhibition catalog from the suspended Museum of Modern Art exhibition. See links below for details.
*Bryan Stevenson, “The Lens of Gordon Parks: A Different Picture of Crime in America,” in Gordon Parks: The Atmosphere of Crime 1957, ed. Sarah Meister (Göttingen: Steidl; Pleasantville, NY: Gordon Parks Foundation; New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2020).
Streaming for the first time, Camille Henrot’s GROSSE FATIGUE—which won the Silver Lion at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013—is now on view as part of the Virtual Views: Video Lives program at the Museum of Modern Art.
Henrot uses the familiar setting of a computer desktop to narrate the origins of the universe. The video draws on the artist’s experience during a Smithsonian Artist ResearchFellowship, for which Henrot was granted access to film the collections of the SmithsonianArchives of American Art, the National Museum of Natural History, and the National Airand Space Museum in Washington, DC. Set to a spoken-word poem written by Henrot in collaboration with the poet Jacob Bromberg, and scored by Joakim Bouaziz, GROSSEFATIGUE draws from scientific theories, religious creation stories, and oral traditions. The text is voiced by multimedia artist Akwetey Orraca Tetteh...
The work features a rapid-fire choreography of pop-up windows with images drawn from a potentially limitless field of references. The swiftly proliferating imagery signals both the speed and lightness of the digital world and, conversely, the exhaustion provoked by overwhelming streams of data. Henrot has explained that the work attempts to confront “the desire to universalize knowledge [that] is accompanied by the conscience I have of this act. As soon as you think you have laid out and circumscribed the entirety of your universe within a single, selfsame landscape, isn’t the only question of any worth, and which relentlessly nags and torments the mind, But what is there beyond thelimit?”*
I’m a person who walks looking down, because you can find a lot of things on the ground. I’m basically a recycler. I find other people’s stuff and junk and recycle it into my stuff and junk. — BetyeSaar