RETROaction: Reviving Artistic Legacies from 1993 at Hauser & Wirth

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CalArts School of Art Faculty Emeritus Charles Gaines’ groundbreaking 1993 exhibition Theater of Refusal: Black Art and Mainstream Criticism is revisited in Hauser & Wirth’s RETROaction (part two), opening tomorrow night (Feb. 27) and running through May 5 at the gallery’s downtown Los Angeles location.

Curated by Kate Fowle in collaboration with Harvard academic Homi K. Bhabha and Gaines, the show features work by a number of CalArtians including Gaines, Gary Simmons (Art MFA 90), Edgar Arcenaux (Art MFA 01), Mark Bradford (Art BFA 95, MFA 97), Lauren Halsey (Art BFA 12), and Rodney McMillian (Art MFA 02).

RETROaction brings forth the legacy of Theater of Refusal, originally mounted at the University of California, Irvine, which spoke to the social and political turbulence of the time, and has since been recognized for its transformative impact on the art world. Many of the artists whose work was featured in the 1993 show went on to work with Hauser & Wirth.

More about the exhibition from Gaines per the gallery:

We speak less now of marginalization and refusal than of the world systems—historic and ongoing—that undergird those processes: capitalism, colonialism, racism. We consider Bhabha’s description of the way we can think of past work and its relation to the present moment through an investigation of strategies of marginalization from the ’90s and how it has transitioned into a critical space—30 years later—now dominated by the issues of decoloniality, which in turn gives representation to those suppressed ideas of the ’90s. We chose to undertake an investigation of abstract art produced by Black artists to show that the controversies around representation—a significant context for the marginalization of their practices—continues today. Like the original project, Theater of Refusal: Black Art and Reconstitution rethinks structures of artistic knowledge and the critical discourse that surrounds it.

The initial phase of RETROaction ran in New York City earlier this year, and featured a condensed presentation of Theater of Refusal, while also exploring the Whitney Biennial in 1993. The New York show featured pieces from Gaines’ Submerged Text series from the early 1990s. Created as both drawings and installation wall works, Gaines selected paragraphs from essays and articles that weren’t implicitly about race, and isolated words that referenced race or held radicalizing connotations. All the other words were then replaced with numbers. Other artists featured in the first iteration of RETROaction included Ida Applebroog, Mike Kelley (Art MFA 78), Zoe Leonard, Glenn Ligon, Cindy Sherman, Simmons, and Lorna Simpson.

One of the most celebrated artists of his generation, Gaines is a leading practitioner of conceptualism, celebrated for his works on paper and acrylic glass, photographs, drawings, musical compositions, and installations. His work is collected internationally by institutions such as MoMA, LACMA, Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Studio Museum in Harlem. Gaines was the 2019 recipient of the Edward MacDowell Medal.

Since becoming faculty at CalArts in 1989, he has worked tirelessly to promote diversity within the Institute. He was a key figure in the development of the Office for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, and in 2020, Gaines provided the initial donation to establish a fellowship to provide critical scholarship support for Black students in the Institute’s MFA Art Program: the Charles Gaines Fellowship.

On Tuesday, Feb. 27, there will be an opening reception of RETROaction (part two). Click here to register.

CalArts Wild Beast | Image by California Institute of the Arts
PUBLISHED BY Elizabeth McRae

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24700 is CalArts‘ online space dedicated to sharing news and work of the larger CalArts community from around the world. The news site captures stories of the exploration of new forms and expressions in the arts by our students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

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