Rashid Johnson’s new exhibition, Fly Away, is well suited for its spacious home in New York’s Hauser and Wirth Gallery. The centerpiece installation, Within Our Gates, is a towering collection of black cube shelves filled with a profusion of plants, books, sculptures, and Shea butter. In the high, airy space of the gallery, it looks like someone’s luxurious loft apartment, a sanctuary space. And the objects in the shelves are all icons and symbols of the African diaspora, the integration of black culture into global cultures.
The rest of Johnson’s work in Fly Away is in a variety of mediums. Many pieces combine paint with black soap and wax, similar to his show last year at the Drawing Center, Rashid Johnson: Anxious Men.
Anxiety is often a role in Johnson’s works. Large white ceramic panels with wax black faces titled Anxious Audiences are the first things that visitors notice. Abstract, they suggest both staring crowds and crowding threats, and ominous gaps among the faces bring to mind the missing, or the dead.
As viewers move deeper into the exhibition, there is more color to be found. The series titled Falling Men uses harsh slices and spatters of white tile, red wood flooring, black soap and wax, and shards of mirror to portray falling figures in an almost pixelated style.
More works feature geometric designs, bold spray paint, and a limited palate—Johnson is evoking very specific memories of his own childhood experiences, every color tied to a place or experience. White bathroom tile. Warm brown wood. Yellow Shea butter. Green palms. Black soap.
Adding life to the setting will be Antoine Baldwin, a pianist playing amidst the shelves on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Saturdays, and whenever he feels like dropping by.
Fly Away will be on display until October 22nd at Hauser and Wirth New York on 18th Street. After it closes, most of the pieces will be sent to Missouri for Johnson’s next show in the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City in February of 2017.