The Shuttle, 2011

The Shuttle, 2011

Mirrored tile, black soap, wax, books, shea butter, plant, and CB radio
Rubell Family Collection, Miami
Photo: Adam Reich, courtesy of the artist and David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles, CA

"It has [seventeen] copies of a book by comedian Dick Gregory called, Write Me In, where he tries to convince the American public to write him in as a candidate for president to run against Nixon...It also includes a CB radio, which is what my dad did for a living…He went on to run a CB radio business, so I use that radio quite often in my work. This shape, which is space shuttle-like, is actually the blueprint of the first comedy [club] that comedian Dick Gregory ever performed in."

— Rashid Johnson

Rashid Johnson, Untitled, Manumission Papers
Rashid Johnson
Untitled, Manumission Papers, 2001
Van Dyke Brown print
Collection of Paul and Dedrea Gray, Chicago
Photo: Michael Tropea, Chicago

Message to Our Folks is New York-based artist Rashid Johnson's first major solo museum exhibition. Titled after a 1969 album by avant-garde jazz collective Art Ensemble of Chicago, the exhibition examines how Johnson's work has developed over the first fourteen years of his career. Johnson (American, b. 1977) deftly works with several different media exploring the physicality of his materials to investigate the construction of identity and abstraction, both visual and conceptual. Many of Johnson's materials refer to his childhood in Chicago during the 1970s and 80s, suggesting both personal and broader cultural connections.

While Johnson's works are grounded in a dialogue with modern and contemporary art history, specifically abstraction and appropriation, they also give voice to an Afro-futurist narrative – an approach that combines history, science fiction, magical realism, and non-Western theories of the origins of the universe. Throughout the artwork on view, Johnson explores the work of black intellectual and cultural figures as a way to understand his role as an artist as well as the shifting nature of identity and the individual's role in that shift. By bringing attention to difference and individuality, he attempts to deconstruct false notions of a singular black American identity.

Organization & Support
Rashid Johnson: Message to Our Folks is organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.

Top Image Credits
Rashid Johnson
Triple Consciousness, 2009
Black soap, wax, vinyl in album cover, shea butter, plant, and brass
Collection of Dr. Daniel S. Berger, Chicago
Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

Rashid Johnson
Death by Black Hole "The Crisis", 2010
Steel, black soap, wax, books, shea butter, plant, space rock, mirror, spray enamel, and stained wood
Courtesy Gagosian Gallery
Image courtesy of the artist and David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles, CA