- On view April 13, 2019
- MASS MoCA
“It will gradually become apparent that at particular moments when there is within a society a crisis of belief…the sheer material factualness of the human body will be borrowed to lend that cultural construct the aura of ‘realness’ and ‘certainty.’ – Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World (1985)
Suffering from Realness explores the politics of representation — and the ways in which artists use the body to grasp at and re-center the “aura of realness” in an age of uncertainty. The title for the exhibition is borrowed from the song “Ni**as in Paris” by Jay-Z and Kanye West in which West raps: “Doctors say I’m the illest / ‘Cause I’m suffering from realness.” This prophetic lyric ended up signaling the musician’s spiraling ego, over-the-top public behavior, and mental health issues. But the phrase also begs the question, “What exactly is realness?” In her most political group exhibition to date, curator Denise Markonish explores the fluidity of identity and the media rituals performed to tell the narrative of “realness.”
Realness in the 21st century is an increasingly complicated concept. In 2016, British filmmaker Adam Curtis directed HyperNormalisation, which is accompanied by the following tagline: “Our world is strange and often fake and corrupt. But we think it’s normal because we can’t see anything else.” In the film, Curtis traces society’s descent into — to borrow Stephen Colbert’s term — ‘truthiness’ and the systematic confusion it has created, from the Reagan to Trump administrations. The film outlines how, since the 1970s, corporations and politicians have increasingly gained power over the “real world” by creating a “fake world” that they can easily stabilize and control. Examples range from various financial crises to the use of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi as a public relations pawn by the United States. In the last two years, absurdity has been amplified further as xenophobic behavior has reached a new extreme. Artists are increasingly probing the notion of realness, using art to create moments of political resistance while also trying, difficult as it may be, to forge paths towards reconciliation.
The artists whose work comprise Suffering from Realness examine the human condition from all sides, creating works in various media that are both personal and universal, addressing racism, violence, gender equality, the politicized body of wartime, the anxious body, the complexity of responsibility, and the future. Ultimately, the exhibition endeavors to provide a sliver of optimism, to show how tenderness and collective action can lead to a new form of realness, one tied less to uncertainty and more to liberation. No longer bound, we can “resist or move on, be mad, be rash, smoke, and explode” (Morrissey, Hold On to Your Friends), and ultimately, find hope in something lasting and real.
Featuring: Aziz+Cucher, Cassils, Adriana Corral, Joey Fauerso, Jeffrey Gibson, Hayv Kahraman, Jennifer Karady, Titus Kaphar, Robert Longo, Christopher Mir, MPA, Wangechi Mutu, Allison Schulnik, Keith Sklar, Robert Taplin, and Vincent Valdez
About the Artists
Anthony Aziz and Sammy Cucher have been living and working together since 1991. They are pioneers in the field of digital imaging and post-photography, using diverse media to explore the issues of our time. The duo has exhibited at the 1995 Venice Biennale (representing Venezuela); the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; the Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art, Israel; The Indianapolis Museum of Art, IN; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA. They teach at Parsons The New School for Design, New York, NY. They are based in Brooklyn, New York, NY.
The Huffington Post called Cassils “one of ten transgender artists who are changing the landscape of contemporary art.” Cassils achieved international recognition for a rigorous engagement with the body as a form of social sculpture. Recent solo exhibitions include: Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York, NY; Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts, PA; The School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; and Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, Omaha, NE. Group exhibitions include Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, CA; The Broad Museum, Los Angeles, CA; and the National Museum of Macedonia. Cassils is based in Los Angeles, CA.
Adriana Corral employs a research-based practice, working with material provided by anthropologists, writers, journalists, gender scholars, human rights attorneys, and victims, to create installations, performances, and sculptures that explore universal themes of loss, injustice, concealment, and memory. She has exhibited at the Grounds for Sculpture, Trenton, NJ; National Museum of Mexican Art, Chicago, IL; McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, TX; Artpace San Antonio, TX; The Snite Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame, IN; and David Shelton Gallery, Houston, TX. Corral lives and works in Houston.
Joey Fauerso works between painting, drawing, and performance, exploring themes of nature, culture, gender, family, and humor. Exhibitions include Centro Cultural Border, Mexico City; Villa Terrace Museum, Milwaukee, WI; and David Shelton Gallery, Houston, TX. She participated in the Drawing Center’s Open Sessions Residency in New York, NY (2014-15). She is an Associate Professor in Art and Design at Texas State University in San Marcos and is represented by David Shelton Gallery, Houston, TX and Antenna Gallery, New Orleans, LA. She lives and works in San Antonio, TX.
Jeffrey Gibson grew up in the United States, Germany, Korea, and England. He is a member of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and is half Cherokee. This unique combination of global cultural influences converges in his multidisciplinary practice. Gibson’s works are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; the Smithsonian; the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, ON; and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR. Solo exhibitions include the Savannah College of Art and Design Museum of Art, Savannah, GA; The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA; and the Cornell Fine Arts Museum, Winter Park, FL. He lives and works in Hudson, NY.
Hayv Kahraman’s work grapples with the marginal spaces between Western and Middle Eastern culture, aesthetics, and concepts of gender through her personal history as an Iraqi émigré. Recent solo exhibitions include: Acts of Reparation, Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis, MO; Audible Inaudible, Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, NE, travelling to The Third Line gallery, Dubai; Sound Wounds, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, CA; Collective Performance, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO; and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, NY. She lives and works in Los Angeles, CA.
Jennifer Karady works with American veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan to create staged narrative photographs that depict their individual stories and address their adjustment to civilian life. After an extensive interview process, Karady collaborates with the veterans to restage a chosen moment from war within the safe space of their everyday environment. Her exhibitions include the Palm Springs Art Museum, CA; the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; CEPA Gallery, Buffalo, NY; Momenta Art, Brooklyn, NY; SF Camerawork, San Francisco, CA; and White Columns, New York, NY.
Titus Kaphar’s works interact with art history by appropriating its styles and mediums. He cuts, bends, sculpts, and mixes historic painting, creating new works between fiction and quotation. His work has been included in exhibitions at Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, NY; the Studio Museum in Harlem, NY; and the Seattle Art Museum, WA. His work is in the collections of the above museums along with the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY. In 2014, Time magazine commissioned Kaphar to create an artwork in response to the protests in Ferguson, MO. He lives and works in New Haven, CT.
Robert Longo’s monumental charcoal drawings address the psychology and anxiety of what it means to be human. He has had retrospectives at the Hamburg Kunstverein, Germany; the Menil Collection, Houston, TX; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL; and the Isetan Museum of Art, Tokyo, Japan. Group exhibitions include Documenta, the Whitney Biennial, and the Venice Biennale. He is represented by Metro Pictures, New York, NY; Galerie Hans Mayer, Düsseldorf; and Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris. He lives and works in New York, NY.
Christopher Mir’s paintings explore the slippages between consciousness and dream states. Solo exhibitions include RARE Gallery, New York, NY; Galeria Senda, Barcelona; Galerie Schuster, Berlin; the Wadsworth Athenaeum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT; and TMproject, Geneva. Group exhibitions include The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, CT; the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, Lincoln, MA; and Bellwether, New York, NY. His work is in the collections of Yale University Art Gallery; Susan and Michael Hort; Jeff Bezos, Beth Rudin DeWoody; Simon Watson; and Pamela Auchincloss. He lives and works in Hamden, CT.
MPA engages her body in performances and installations exploring the social and political implications of the body as a site of resistance. Works and performances have been seen in New York, NY at Swiss Institute; Whitney Museum of American Art; The Kitchen; Art in General, Brooklyn; Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, CA; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; the Art Institute of Chicago, IL; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL; Contemporary Art Museum, Houston, TX; and Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, Oaxaca, Mexico. MPA lives and works in TwentyNine Palms, CA.
Wangechi Mutu uses her training in sculpture and anthropology to reveal contradictions of female and cultural identity, referencing colonialism, African politics, and fashion. Solo exhibitions include The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA; The Contemporary Austin, TX; Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York, NY; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; SITE Santa Fe, NM; the Brooklyn Museum of Art, NY; and the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, NC. In 2017, she was part of Performa 17, a performance art biennial in New York, NY. Mutu lives and works between New York, NY and Nairobi.
Allison Schulnik uses painting, ceramics, and animation to choreograph her subjects in compositions that embody a spirit of the macabre, a Shakespearean comedy/tragedy of love, death, and farce. Solo exhibitions include the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT; Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Beach, CA; Oklahoma City Museum of Art, OK; Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Overland Park, KS; ZieherSmith gallery, New York, NY; Division Gallery, Montreal; and Rokeby Gallery, London. Her films received “Best Experimental Animation” at the Ottawa International Animation Festival. She lives and works in Los Angeles, CA.
Keith Sklar’s drawings and paintings are densely packed with cultural references, absurdist humor, and pathos. His works have been shown at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA; and Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, AZ. Solo exhibitions include P·P·O·W, New York, NY; Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Santa Monica, CA; and Dorsch Gallery, Miami, FL. Sklar has received a Robert Rauschenberg Foundation Residency, a California Arts Council Fellowship in Visual Arts, and multiple Artist-in-Communities Grants. He lives and works in Chicago, IL.
Robert Taplin lives and works near New Haven, CT. His solo exhibitions include the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, PA; Grounds for Sculpture, Hamilton, NJ; The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, CT; the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery at Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT; the Smack Mellon Gallery, Brooklyn, NY; and Winston Wächter Fine Art, New York, NY. His public commissions include the State of Connecticut and the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and he has received grants from the Connecticut Commission on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. He has taught at Yale University and the Rhode Island School of Design. He is represented by Winston Wächter Fine Art in New York City.
Vincent Valdez is committed to the practice of drawing and painting and is recognized for his intensive devotion to skill and detail. His monumental portrayal of the contemporary figure remarks on a universal struggle with various sociopolitical arenas and eras. Exhibitions and collections include: the Ford Foundation; The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; the Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, TX; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; and the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C., among others. He is represented by David Shelton Gallery and lives and works in Houston, TX.
Principal exhibition support is provided by Christopher and Alida Latham. Major exhibition support is provided by the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, the Barr Foundation, and the Mass Cultural Council. The exhibition catalogue is made possible in part by the Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation.
Untitled (Black Pussy Hat in Women’s March), 2017
Charcoal on mounted paper
60 x 106 5/8 inches
Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York.