This will be Williams’ first solo show with the gallery, and her first solo show in New York since 2009. Primarily a video-artist, Williams works to address grief, race, sexuality, and the body through such familiar cinematic tropes as subtitles, credits, the intermission, the montage, and the black frame.
In Vignette, Williams brings these subjects together through her own body, as well as the bodies inhabiting magazine pages, iconic painting and sculpture, vintage travel guides, and popular music. In two overlaid portraits, Venus and Origin, Williams inserts herself into iconic images as a kind of becoming; a historical re-write that examines longing, visibility, and how we view women’s bodies through the lens of aging, motherhood, and desirability.
In Overture, the lush introduction to the classic movie My Fair Lady is gradually subsumed by an overlay of black visual space and the sexually empowered directives of Khia, Princess Nokia, Nicki Minaj… Eventually, these forms blot out the swelling score and transform the flowers into an abstracted animation of redactions that dissolve into an infinite spacescape. The enormity and endless possibility of Blackness is central to Williams’ work, as she asks: What if Blackness becomes the opposite of an erasure? Does Blackness have to recede? Is the Blackness on top of an image a redaction, or a fathomless space of possibility? I mean, where the fuck should I really even start? is both the rhetorical question as an answer to these questions and the refrain in her video Reprise.
Adjacent to the video work, Williams presents two new bodies of works on paper. In the video Reprise, we see glimpses of the full depictions of Yuppie luxury lifestyle from 1980s LIFE magazines that now lie underneath ash, graphite, and paint built and poured upon the surface as “matter.” With several images displayed flat, creating Black space as pools with depth and points of entry rather than erasure or just negation, these works take on new form and order, where the surface and flatness questions perceptual impoverishment.
In the second body of work, pages from 1960s travel books depicting Black skin are cropped and framed by a heavy matte border, which gives the pictures a rarefied quality, as though they are precious gems—an approach that underscores the value of the found image. Yet the artist’s subtle détournements of these photographs also memorialize her anonymous subjects. Each work is a remembrance of someone Williams will never know.
Williams’ work has long situated the Black space in her art as an affective and narrative tool that works on the viewer in subtle or virtually imperceptible ways, repeatedly employing Black frames around images or enlisting entirely Black frames that cut or fade to or from Black. But they aren’t interstitial. The Blackness holds the same space an image would to foreground Blackness both politically and formally. Or, as Williams puts it “Having grown up biracial, it took me nearly a lifetime to feel I could claim my Blackness. And now I just want to wallow in it, like Ann-Margret in Tommy, when she ecstatically rolls around in the baked beans.”
Abbey Williams (b. 1971) lives and works in New York City. Her work has been exhibited at TATE Britain, London, UK; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia; Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid, Spain; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA; The Center for Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv, Israel; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY. Williams was a part of the 2005 Greater New York exhibition at MoMA PS1. Williams holds a BFA from the Cooper Union, an MFA from Bard College, and was a participant at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. Her work has been written about in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Flash Art, and ARTFORUM. Williams will have a solo show with Sargent’s Daughters from February through March of 2021.