During the 2016 election, I worked at a large, well known national nonprofit. The organization was firmly part of the political establishment, and among my colleagues, getting tickets to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s frequently sold-out musical “Hamilton” was a marker of social status on par with visiting Cuba in the wake of the warming of Cuba-US relationships. I personally never really understood the appeal of Hamilton. It was everywhere, so I had of course listened to parts of the soundtrack, but it never appealed to me. Overdone. Corny. Yet it sparked something in others.
A common refrain in current activism is “Listen to Black Women”. When the latest traumatic news cycle starts, a chorus of commentators and thinkers invariably chime in, trying to either explain or deny or commodify the moment we find ourselves in. A pervasive response? Listen to black women. This moment is a deep and long overdue reckoning that will take years to unfold - it has of course been building for hundreds of years and is so nuanced so as to require a continual deep engagement etc. But for guidance - what do we listen to? And how?
When I first entered this exhibit, I knew only bits and pieces of Whitten’s work - namely, his use of a “developer”, a handmade canvas-sized squeegee contraption that allowed him to make a painting in a manner of seconds. His developer paintings were on display, as were his homages, and sculpture from throughout his career.
“Adrian Piper: A Synthesis of Intuitions, 1965-2016,” which was first shown at the Museum of Modern Art from March-July 2018, is an expansive and exhaustive retrospective of the artist and philosopher’s prolific body of work. Piper, who now lives in Berlin, was the first tenured African American woman professor in philosophy, and an intense attention to detail and masterful analysis is reflected in her work. The exhibition is mounted chronologically, and as such, you see Piper interrogate a variety of subjects over the course of her life: psychedelia and minimalism, time and space, meditations on philosophy, race, gender and abject embodiment, of social perceptions, of the death of both systems and people. Equally impressive is Piper’s command of media. Her works range from drawings and paintings, to sculpture, to photographs and essays, to performance. What unites her vast and masterful body of work is her attention to detail and a rigorous approach to the concepts she interrogates - and best of all, she has a sense of humor.