Artist Kevin Beasley returns to Casey Kaplan this month for an exhibition of new work surrounding questions and explorations of ancestry, ownership and land, dwelling on a range of questions over ownership and property that underscore the United States’s relationship to its own past, and the culture of violence and oppression that helped to build its economic foundations.
Beasley’s work here continues to pursue his exploration of the past and his family, particularly exploring notions of black land ownership and the connections forged between generations of family, property and wealth. Beasley sources materials of cultural and personal significance from his family and from the history of American sharecropping and agriculture, among other objects, for use in his practice, spanning from raw cotton to elaborately patterned polyester housedresses sourced from a former Harlem dress shop that was patronized for decades by his grandmother and great-grandmother. The cotton and the dresses have been altered and manipulated then cast and molded to form a body of sculptures that acknowledge the complex, shared histories of the broader American experience as it relates to the history of the production of cotton, as well as to Beasley’s own connection to this location, surrounded by family and steeped in generational memories.
Other works delve into explorations of the body and time in other modes. His work The Road presents a massive slab of polyurethane resin and cotton, directly referencing ideas of artifactual and archaeological time in relation to black historical experience and deeper patterns of time and material. The Road echoes three slabs included in Beasley’s critically acclaimed 2018-19 solo exhibition at the Whitney, but depicts Beasley’s familiar car journey to his family reunion each year. A golden sunset comprised of raw and dyed cotton, altered t-shirts, and cut-up rubber tires hovers in the near distance, just beyond the horizon yet grounded to the winding black tarmac. Rays of sunlight, articulated by brightly dyed du-rags and copper, extend into a dyed-blue cotton sky dotted with birds made from guinea fowl feathers (a symbol of protection among native African tribes) illuminating a field of varying shades of altered green-colored housedresses where two child-like figures frolic.
Lining the gallery walls are a new series of elevated, wall-based slabs. Originally conceived in 2017, Beasley’s large-scale square and rectangular structures were transformed into wall-mounted works, occupying the traditional space of painting, and bearing images printed onto t-shirts derived from photographs Beasley shot of his family property. Within a Rorschach test-like composition of absent bodies, t-shirts are coated in resin and combined with pine cones, soil, and twigs culled from Virginia. Images and material are interchangeable and reference the same origin. Surfaces read as topographical and bodily, straddling the line between abstraction and representation.
Beasley’s explorations of space and memory, time and property, history and material, make for a compelling sense of physical and psychological longing, bound up in a complicated and nuanced meditation on the history of these feelings in the black consciousness.
– D. Creahan
Kevin Beasley: Reunion at Casey Kaplan [Exhibition Site]