Inspired by a childhood steeped in African American cultural influences, Rashid Johnson creates layered artworks that engage a conversation between personal biography and the implied gravitas of larger cultural and historical narratives. Johnson works predominantly in mixed media sculptures and paintings, combining bare materials such as mirror, wood, and shea butter with loaded iconic objects including record covers, CB radios, historical books, and common domestic objects. Throughout his career, Johnson has explored the ways in which we form our sense of belonging to races and communities, investigating the relationship between familiar objects and identity.
For his High Line Commission, Johnson will build one of his minimalist three-dimensional steel black grids, which will house a variety of objects including busts painted to resemble shea butter (a material commonly used by the artist), and will act as a living greenhouse as plants on the High Line begin to intertwine with the sculpture over the year of its installation. Playing with forms taken from the Minimalist tradition – Sol LeWitt’s white open cubes come to mind – Johnson turns them into a reflection on blackness by breaking the rational structure open and embedding loaded objects within it.
Installed in an oblong island of plants growing between pathways on the High Line just south of The Standard, High Line, the sculpture will change over the course of its installation, the empty rectilinear vessel becoming a horticultural container as the seasons pass. The work reflects the artist’s ongoing interest in a line from a book by Lawrence Weiner called “Something to Put Something On,” in which the concept “table” is explained as “something to put something on.” This semiotic explication resonates with Johnson, who pushes its implications toward thinking about the ways in which lives, cultures, and historical arcs are a mere practice of putting some things on top other things that are imagined to be taken as given, such as the exemplary case of the table.
Photos 1 – 8 by Timothy Schenck. Photos 7 – 9 by Steven Severinghaus.