Todd Gray: Euclidean Gris Gris
Euclidean Gris Gris
The exhibition project “Todd Gray: Euclidean Gris Gris” activates the Pomona College Museum of Art’s largest gallery throughout the 2019/2020 academic year and consists of a site-specific wall drawing and an evolving selection of photographs from Gray’s ongoing artistic examination of the legacies of colonialism in Africa and Europe. A series of monthly programs, Longing on a Large Scale, and a publication accompany the exhibition.
Los Angeles-based artist Gray is known primarily for photography, performance, and sculptural works that explore contemporary and historical examinations of power in relationship to the African Diaspora. His work consists primarily of photographs from his own archive juxtaposed with one another, then mounted within found frames as a structuring device. In recent installations, he pairs images of Michael Jackson (Gray was Jackson’s photographer in the 1980s) with photographs of rural scenes in Ghana (where Gray maintains a studio) and formal gardens in Europe.
In his work, Gray explores the historical constructs of the “logical” and geometrical gardens of Europe—an aesthetic manifestation of the idea of disembodied reason—with the “sublime” nature found in African landscapes. The exhibition title “Euclidean Gris Gris” combines contrasting language to frame the work within a broader cultural critique. Gray’s project pushes beyond these binaries, referencing the Euclidean—Western influences—and Gris Gris—African animism and poetics.
Serving as a year-long, artist residency, Gray’s project expands the space of his exhibition to introduce other artistic and creative voices. Inspired by Gray’s work, visiting professor in art history of the African Diaspora at Cooper Union, New York, Dr. Nana Adusei-Poku is curating the “Longing on a Large Scale” programming. The nine monthly events originate from Gray’s techniques of deconstructing images, rupturing the body/mind and nature/culture binaries, and examining the intimacies of Black sociality. Gray’s work provides the catalyst for the program series by exploring the web of connections between his project and contemporary creative, social, and artistic issues, such as the possibilities of Black Liberation, the relationship between institutional politics and systemic exclusion, the tension between performativity and performance in relationship to race and gender. Longing on a Large Scale invites artists, poets, activists, and thinkers to unpack colonial paradigms and explore strategies of resistance.
The exhibition is curated by Rebecca McGrew with Hannah Grossman and is accompanied by a publication designed by Kimberly Varella of Content Object. Contents will include an introduction by McGrew and Grossman, new essays by Nana Adusei-Poku and Neelika Jayawardane, and a conversation with Carrie Mae Weems and Gray.
About the Artist
Todd Gray (b. 1954, Los Angeles) received both his BFA and MFA from the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts). Gray’s work has been featured in solo and group exhibitions internationally, including the Whitney Biennial 2019. In 2018, his work was included in the major group exhibition “Michael Jackson: On the Wall” at London’s National Portrait Gallery, which traveled in 2019 to the Grand Palais, Paris; the Bundeskunsthalle, Bonn; and the Espoo Museum of Modern Art, Finland; and “Public Fiction: The Conscientious Objector” at the MAK Center for Art & Architecture in Los Angeles, where he directed a new durational performance. In 2017, Gray had two solo exhibitions: “My Life in the Bush with MJ and Iggy” at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco and “Pluralities of Being” at Gallery Momo in Johannesburg, South Africa. Gray has presented performance works at the Roy & Edna Disney Cal/Arts Theater, REDCAT, and as part of the 2016 Hammer Museum biennial exhibition “Made in LA: a, the, though, only” in Los Angeles. He is a 2018 John S. Guggenheim Fellow.
Interview with Todd Gray with Lindsay Preston Zappas for Carla Podcast, November 14th, 2019
Longing on a Large Scale
Curated by Nana Adusei-Poku, a year-long series of events inspired by "Todd Gray: Euclidean Gris Gris"
September 2019-April 2020
Todd Gray’s alluring, lush photographic installations create portals from one realm into another—spatially, culturally, and individually. Bodies are never fully visible, landscapes are concealed, and photographs are cut apart and reassembled into collage-like constellations. The artist plays with notions of the familiar and the unknown, allowing the spectator to fill in the gaps with ideas of a non-linear history of coloniality.
These nine events in Longing on a Large Scale are inspired by Gray’s techniques of rupturing the body/nature binary, and examining the intimacies of Black sociality. The program series proposes a dialogue with Gray’s work and current intellectual and artistic discourses, including the possibilities of Black Liberation, the relationship between institutional politics and systemic exclusion, the role of art and the imaginary, the tension between performativity and performance in relationship to race and gender, and the role of curation as an act of care. The title Longing on a Large Scale riffs on the author Don DeLillo’s quote “Longing on a large scale is what makes history,” and it emphasizes the needs, desires, and possibilities that non-linear engagements with our present moment offer. Gray’s work is particularly focused on landscape images from the African continent, people of African descent, and European gardens, and the series engages current Black Studies, particularly the premise that “No-body is free, if Black people aren’t free.”
This program includes artists, poets, activists, and thinkers who work to unpack colonial paradigms and explore strategies of resistance. The colonial violence that Gray’s photography consistently captures points towards the fact that, while it is centuries old, multilayered, and has undergone structural transformations, nevertheless there are glitches that allow visitors who desire and long for other possibilities to see, hear, feel, taste, create, bond, and imagine an alternative future.
See related events below.
Nana Adusei-Poku, PhD, is Senior Academic Advisor and Luma Fellow at the Center for Curatorial Studies and Contemporary Art at Bard College. She was previously Visiting Professor in Art History of the African Diaspora at the Cooper Union in New York City. At the Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam, she was Research Professor for Cultural Diversity (2013–14) and Visual Cultures (2015–17). From 2012 to 2018, she was Guest Lecturer at the University of the Arts, Zurich. She received her PhD from Humboldt University Berlin for her thesis on post-Black art, in the program Gender as a Category of Knowledge, following degrees in African studies and gender studies at Humboldt University and in media and communications at Goldsmiths College, University of London. She has been a visiting scholar at the University of Ghana, Legon; London School of Economics; and Columbia University, New York. Her articles have been published in Nka Journal of Contemporary African Art, e-flux journal, Kunstforum International, Flash Art, L’Internationale, and Darkmatter, and her work has been translated in English, German, Portuguese, French, and Swedish. She curated the exhibition “NO HUMANS INVOLVED,” at Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam (2015), and the event Performances of No-thingness, at the Academy of Arts Berlin (2018).