This spring, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
, presents Rashid Johnson: Message to Our Folks, the first major solo exhibition for Johnson, who is a preeminent artist in the post-media generation. A former Chicagoan and alumni of the MCAs UBS 12 x 12 exhibition series, Johnson explores the complexities and contradictions of black identity, rooted in his individual experience, through photographs, sculptures, videos, installations, and paintings. On view April 14 to August 5, 2012, this exhibition is organized by Julie Rodrigues Widholm, MCA Pamela Alper Associate Curator, and includes thirteen years of Johnsons work with an emphasis on major works from the last five years.
Throughout his work, Johnson evokes shared cultural memories by referencing creative and intellectual black figures whose impact has transcended black communities. The exhibition fosters a dialogue by inviting viewers' free associations with familiar figures -- such as W.E.B. DuBois, Sun Ra, Miles Davis, and Public Enemy -- and everyday objects that appear in the work, including plants, mirrors, rugs, record albums, CB radios, shea butter, and books. The title of the exhibition is based on a 1969 album by the avant-garde group Art Ensemble of Chicago, who performed with a variety of found percussive objects and spanned musical styles to radically redefine the rules of jazz.
The conceptually loaded and visually compelling works also allude to alchemy and transformation through different media that hold their own significance and symbolism. He prefers to create a sense of wonder in the unknown rather than present a concrete understanding of his art. The exhibition also presents examples from ongoing bodies of Johnson's work such as Cosmic Slops, abstract paintings made with melted black soap and wax; The New Negro Escapist Social and Athletic Club, portraits of members of a fictional black bourgeois secret society; recent "shelf sculptures" featuring found objects, such as The Shuttle (2010) and Triple Consciousness (2009); and early photographs of homeless men made using the nineteenth-century Vandyke brown printing process.
Johnson was born in Chicago in 1977 and currently lives in New York. He has a BFA in photography from Columbia College and attended graduate school at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His work is in the collections of the MCA Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago, Whitney Museum of American Art, Seattle Art Museum, Brooklyn Museum of Art, Detroit Institute of Art, and Los Angeles County Museum of Art. His work has been featured in major group exhibitions including 30 Americans: The Rubell Collection (2008); Only Skin Deep: Changing Visions of the American Self at the International Center of Photography (2003); and Freestyle at the Studio Museum in Harlem (2001); and in 2011 was featured in the International Pavilion of the 54th Venice Biennale. He is one of the nominees for the Guggenheims Hugo Boss Prize in 2012, and the winner of the 2012 High Museums David C. Driskell prize that honors excellence in African-American art and scholarship.