"Surface Politics" is a piece of installation art in the form of a group art exhibit. At Salon Joose, curator Theodore A. Harris combined the work of nine highly respected African-American artists with his own, adding elements like yellow "caution" tape much like he interlayers images from art history, news and advertising into his collages. "For me," says Harris, "this show is like John Coltrane improvising on 'These Are a Few of My Favorite Things.'"
Although the show might feel like a single work, the materials and mediums range from video to painting to sculpture, and individual concepts are equally disparate. Two minimal Quentin Morris "6-foot circle" black paintings are the first thing visitors will see. Their uncompromising humanistic object-ness, allied with a sense of the infinite, seems fresh even though — or maybe because — Morris has been exploring it for four decades.
Harris' addition of two small ship models and coins referencing the slave trade undermines the impact of 13 22-inch-tall crosses by sculptor David Stephens that run along one wall. A video documents the action in which the crosses were burned in Fairmount Park as a response to the 2003 Supreme Court ruling legalizing cross-burning.
Sophisticated and ominous, Tanya Murphy Dodd's dreamlike mixed-media painting Embracing Light is inescapably about race and history. In contrast, the sensuous, abstract surfaces of Jared Wood's unfinished black wood diptychs may well have a socio-political aspect, but it's understated. LeRoy Johnson's layered cube wrapped in wire resonates with the struggle and tenacity of life in Philadelphia.
Joan Huckstep's video documentation, Ancestral Women, anchors the show. Choreographed by Huckstep (also a dancer in the performance) and projected in a separate darkened space, it is a testament to the survival of the spirit.
Surface Politics: Looking Beneath Aesthetics and Formalism | Through Dec. 3, Salon Joose, 601 N. Third St., 4joose.blogspot.com