The installation highlights a distinctive series from each artist that speaks to materiality and contemporary culture.
Brad Kahlhamer’s oeuvre of paintings, works on paper, and sculpture is a site of synthesis concerned with what the artist terms “the spiritual rebar” that under grids American culture, blending references as diverse as music, comic books, art history, and Plains ledger drawings from the nineteenth century. His Super Catchers (2014—ongoing) draw on the Native American tradition of dreamcatchers. Industrial metal wire and jingle bells come together in intricate constellations mixing the sacred with the commonplace. In Untitled (2017), the distinctive super catcher motif delineates the American flag, fusing two cultural icons into one hybrid symbol.
Turiya Magadlela’s work also engages and subverts the quotidian. Her abstractions stretch pantyhose across canvas, transforming an everyday feminine convention into gestural painting. The delicate nylon becomes distorted, pulling and puckering into compositions that allude to the human body and its orifices, yet the material’s transparency and sheen renders each work distinctly exquisite. The specificity of the pantyhose invokes both the freedom that fashion represents, as well as the standardized flesh tones that reflect a narrow conception of race. Magadlela’s use of intimate undergarments speaks to these longstanding issues of gender, identity, and the role they play in the broad manipulation of the female body by external forces.
Hank Willis Thomas is similarly interested in the stereotypes and ingrained expectations surrounding race and perspective. His Punctum series (2014—ongoing) derives from Roland Barthes’ term for the detail in a photograph that pierces or wounds the viewer, creating a direct, highly personal relationship with the image. Thomas expands this concept to reframe areas of an image which he translates into three-dimensional, photo-based sculptures, in a sense employing alternative media to articulate and illuminate photographic concepts. Promise (2016) draws from the artist’s exploration of professional sports and the way in which they shape popular culture. Here the arm of a basketball player is isolated, the ball precariously balanced on his fingertips, frozen in a moment of suspense.
By bringing together these three artists and their multiplicity of styles and media, The Past is Present invites us to contemplate issues of power, identity, and otherness that are at the fore of today’s society, yet have always been with us.