From Whitewall‘s recent “Curator Q&A” with Rashid Johnson. Sam Gilliam: Hard-Edge Paintings 1963-1966, curated by Johnson, is on display at the David Kordansky Gallery in Los Angeles until 11 May 2013.
“WW: What do you feel is the currency and the relevancy of these works from the mid-‘60s, these Hard-edge paintings. Why did you want to show them?
RJ: I was interested in, and continue to be interested in, Sam’s entire body of work. I think the reason that I reached into these particular works is that they’re even less familiar than the work that people are familiar with, if they are at all familiar with his work. The Hard-edge paintings were works that I was less familiar with.
I think they’re relevant in a couple different ways. There are some artists functioning in similar ways today. If you get a chance to go to some young artists’ studios today, you’ll see that there’s an interest in Frank Stella, an interest in Barnett Newman, and a lot of young artists are exploring similar directions as these painters. Also, there’s this idea of the escapist tactic that’s been employed in Sam’s work. If you think about the time in which he’s making these paintings—Kennedy gets assassinated, Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated shortly after that period—and you have a guy living in Washington, D.C., right in the heart of a lot of this discourse, choosing to avoid it. It’s, in its own way, a form of protest. As an artist, as a person considering their environment, from my generation, you would look at the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, and how do artists function and build bodies of work that don’t necessarily address those issues specifically, but are somehow happening at the same time as those things are.”
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