Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art
Kansas City, MO
Hail We Now Sing Joy features a new body of work by Chicago-born, New York-based artist Rashid Johnson, a chapter following his acclaimed exhibition Fly Away at Hauser & Wirth Gallery, New York. This exhibition includes Johnson’s Anxious Audience, large-scale panels of white ceramic tile covered with dozens of agitated faces scrawled in black soap and wax. The new Falling Men works, in which Johnson uses his signature materials of white ceramic tile, red oak flooring, mirror fragments, and black soap and wax splatters, depict inverted figures falling through the air that can be read as flying heroes or chalk outlines of deceased bodies from crime scenes. The Escape Collages consist of large-scale vinyl images of lush tropical environments atop a modernist tile surface, some of Johnson’s most complexly layered works that introduce an expanded palette into his practice.
Themes of anxiety, escape, and identity reach a climax in Antoine’s Organ, Johnson’s newest sculptural installation and the largest of his architectural grid works ever shown in the United States. Johnson’s towering minimalist grid structure is bursting with hundreds of potted plants, videos, lights and sculptures, creating a lush oasis that engages his audience with music, literature, and video, transitioning the anxiety expressed in other works in the exhibition into action.
Hail We Now Sing Joy is a music track by musician and composer Joseph Jarman for The Meeting, a jazz reunion album released in 2003 by Art Ensemble of Chicago. In his review of the album, Kurt Gottschalk talks of Hail We Now Sing Joy and other songs not as a reunion (since the bands members have come and gone and come back again over the years) but a “meeting” in the true spirit of jazz. This sentiment is strongly felt in the development of American jazz in Kansas City, a rich location and experimental jazz epicenter between New Orleans and Chicago. Use of this title suggests that Johnson’s exhibition is a meeting of the themes of identity, Afro-futurism, and the African American experience synonymous with his body of work, while incorporating new motifs that speak to the current climate of anxiety and tension that seeks resolution.
Exhibition overview from museum website