ATHENS.- The George Economou Collection
announces Magic Numbers, a solo exhibition by American artist Rashid Johnson (b. Chicago, 1977), on view now in Athens. Curated by the artist in collaboration with Katherine Brinson, associate curator at the Guggenheim Museum New York, and Skarlet Smatana, director of the Economou Collection, the exhibition features a site-specific installation of works largely conceived on the occasion of the exhibition.
Since coming to prominence in the early 2000s, Johnson has forged a nuanced and diverse body of work that explores the complex contemporary and historical forces that shape identity. His paintings, photographs, videos, and sculptures draw on a shifting corpus of references spanning music, literature, intellectual history, and pop culture, interwoven with dense autobiographical valences. His installations often take the form of wall-mounted shelves that suspend together found objects such as books, vinyl records, CB radios, plants, and oyster shells, imbuing them with a new, talismanic significance. In recent years, Johnson has also increasingly worked in a purely abstract vein, mining the legacy of modernist abstraction while exploiting the unique expressive potential of his vocabulary of unconventional materials.
Magic Numbers takes as its starting point a film by Johnson in the George Economou Collection, The New Black Yoga (2011). This emblematic work grounds a group of new paintings and sculptures that advance a number of longstanding formal and conceptual impulses in the artists oeuvre. In the first gallery, a wall of mirror tiles will form the backdrop to a configuration of objects charged with intensely personal symbolism as well as broader cultural inflections. In relationship to this monumental work, Johnson has drawn on the forms of Brazilian modernist furniture to create an enigmatic vessel for one of his most resonant materials, shea butter the unctuous fat derived from a nut indigenous to Africa that is prized for its healing emollient properties.
At the heart of the exhibition will be a gallery devoted to The New Black Yoga, a short film that depicts a group of five young African American men in a sublime natural setting performing a series of choreographed movements that are in turn balletic, athletic, and martial. Originating in the artists absurd experience of attempting to participate in a yoga class conducted in a foreign language, the work broadens into a disorientating collision of codes and signifiers, playing on Johnsons pervasive interest in constructing fictive fraternal collectives and ambiguous rituals. The video begins and ends with the image of a crosshairs target a symbol appropriated from the logo of hip hop group Public Enemy which here takes on a more oblique, runic connotation.
The crosshairs icon will resurface in the final gallery, where Johnsons sculpture Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos (2012) functions as both a stark portent of aggression and a serene study in geometric forms. It will be installed with a group of abstract compositions that deploy burned wood, cast bronze, black soap and wax to forge surging topographies interrupted by the artists additive and subtractive mark-making. Together, the works in the exhibition will channel Johnsons current preoccupation with notions of hybridity and metamorphosis, cohering into an immersive environment freighted with narrative possibilities.