Opening reception: Saturday, January 14, 4 – 6 PM
Several years ago my father said “The world needs to acknowledge the tremendous, artistic legacy of the people of Africa and its Diaspora. The unique and varied sense of freedom, design, color, detailed or abstracted, has given the world a new way of seeing and relating to life itself.” “It’s Time” is a thoughtfully curated, artistically masterful intergenerational expression of this proclamation.
- Kwame S. Brathwaite
The Kwame Brathwaite Archive
Vielmetter Los Angeles is pleased to present “It’s Time,” an exhibition of works by Kwesi Botchway, Genevieve Gaignard, Rodney McMillan, Wangechi Mutu, and Paul Mpagi Sepuya in conversation with works by legendary New York-based photographer Kwame Brathwaite (b. 1938, Brooklyn NY). Anchored by Brathwaite’s influential images, the exhibition creates a cross-generational dialogue that posits an exploration of the photographer's influence and the continuing investigation of portraiture and representation of the Black body by artists today.
The exhibition title, "It’s Time,” refers to the landmark 1962 album released by drummer Max Roach, featuring singer Abbey Lincoln. Composed of six songs in six meters, the album “It’s Time” is in some sense a metaphorical parallel to the construction of the exhibition itself, with each artist finding their own “meter.” “It’s Time” also refers to the Civil Rights Movement, in which friends and peers from the Black Arts Movement Brathwaite, Roach, and Lincoln were all actively involved. Just as artist and media theorist Brathwaite worked tirelessly in his six-plus decades of art and practice to promote “Black is Beautiful”, one of the most important American ideas of the 20th and 21st centuries, the artists included in the exhibition, in their respective practices, work to craft images that ask us to think about who we are today, what we want our society to be, and affirm that change now is possible.
Working within the tradition of portraiture, Ghanaian artist Kwesi Botchway reworks the storied legacy of portrait painting within Western art by centering the long-absent and ignored Black figure. Blending styles of French Impressionism and African Realism, Botchway transforms his portraits into studies, not of a fixed identity, but of becoming and possibility.
Genevieve Gaignard’s multidisciplinary practice employs a language of nostalgia by reinterpreting thoughtfully sourced vintage materials. In these two new works, Gaignard celebrates Kwame Brathwaite’s jazz-like spirit of improvisation through varied techniques and glamorous composition. Gaignard highlights the essence of Black expression, which informs and shapes popular culture. Each piece demands a requisite reverence of Black beauty for its intuit self-expression.
Rodney McMillian's 2006 work Untitled (Unknown) is a series of unique photographic prints of a plaster bust of an unknown man that the artist purchased in an antique store. Shot using a tripod, the number of prints is limited only by the number of exposures made by the artist. The work is a conceptual portrait that troubles the categories of identity, value, and image as they relate to the art market and individual people. Alongside these unknown portraits, we are exhibiting three works from McMillian's 2016 series from the installation, pod: frequencies to a manifestationing, 2016. Composed of wooden shelves with a selection of black glass vases arranged on each shelf, these sculptures suggest the presence of a receptive, listening audience. In both works, McMillian's approach to the portrait could be described as metaphorical and oblique, expanding our definition of the genre.
Wangechi Mutu’s collage “Chinrest with Cut-eye” was culled from a body of work in which the artist explored her experience of the Diaspora before she relocated from New York to her home in Kenya. Trying to create a space for an alternate experience outside of any place, Mutu’s collages are imaginary tales of female characters – hybrid beings fused together from elements of Western and African cultures and molded from body and machine parts, ancient sculptures, jewelry and animal limbs - and thus subverting traditional notions of a singular place of origin. Her characters, always powerful and aware of the role they are playing in generating desire, are part of a larger and horrific narrative in which conflicting cultural and historical projections are played out on the female body.
Paul Mpagi Sepuya is known for his studio-based photography. In his portraits, Sepuya explores the positions that queer, racialized bodies occupy within the intimate dynamics staged by studio spaces where friends oscillate between subjects of portraiture and stylized model studies. By drawing out these associations and modes of relation, Sepuya entangles the pleasure of exhibitionism and leisure with histories of labor and objectification that can be glimpsed within the archive. The two works on view in It's Time reflect the artist's re-assesment of his own recent work in the context of Brathwaite's legacy. For example, Daylight Studio Model Study (0X5A2297), 2021 was an outtake from a collaboration between Sepuya and the British fashion designer, Grace Wales Bonner. This work, which features garments from Wales Bonner's 2022 collection, calls to mind Brathwaite's iconic "Black is Beautiful" portraits and Wales Bonner's own research-based collections call to mind the archive of Brathwaite's work drawn upon for this exhibition.
Inspired in part by the writings of Marcus Garvey and the teachings of Carlos Cooks, Kwame Brathwaite's (b. 1938, New York, NY) photography created the visual overture for the Black is Beautiful Movement in the late 50's and early 60’s. Brathwaite spread this idea through his writings and photographs, as well as the activities of the two organizations he helped co-found: AJASS (1956) and the Grandassa Models (1962). His career spanning over 6 decades has allowed him to document the intersection of music, fashion, activism and art globally throughout the diaspora.
Throughout the 60s Kwame Brathwaite produced reporting and pictorials for leading black publications such as The Amsterdam News, City Sun and The Daily Challenge. By the 70's, Brathwaite was one of the top music and cultural photographers, shaping the images of such public figures as Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Brathwaite wrote about and photographed such landmark events as the “The Motown Revue” at the Apollo (1963); “WattStax ’72” (1972); The Jackson 5’s first trip to Africa (1974); and the “Festival in Zaire” (1974) which accompanied the famous Foreman-Ali fight, “The Rumble in the Jungle."
Currently, Kwame Brathwaite is the subject of a major touring exhibition, “Kwame Brathwaite: Black Is Beautiful.” The exhibition opened at The New York Historical Society (New York, NY) August 2022. “Kwame Brathwaite: Black Is Beautiful” premiered at the Skirball Cultural Center (Los Angeles, CA); and traveled to the Museum of the African Diaspora (San Francisco, CA); Columbia Museum of Art (Columbia, SC); Blanton Museum of Art (Austin, TX); Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, MI); (Reynolda House, Durham, NC) with additional institutions forthcoming. A monograph of the same title, produced by the Aperture Foundation, was released May 2019 with essays by Deborah Willis, Professor and Chair of the Department of Photography and Imaging at Tisch School of the Arts of New York University and Tanisha C. Ford, Professor of History at The Graduate Center, CUNY. Brathwaite's work is featured in the touring exhibition, “Black American Portraits,” which opened at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, (Los Angeles, CA); and travels I to Spelman College Museum of Art (Atlanta, GA); and Memphis Brooks Museum of Art (Memphis, TN). Brathwaite's work recently appeared in “This Tender, Fragile Thing” at Jack Shainman Gallery (Kinderhook, NY). His work has recently been acquired by such institutions as Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Los Angeles, CA); Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (Houston, TX); Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University (Chicago, IL); Pérez Art Museum Miami (Miami, FL); National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution (Washington, DC); Museum of the City of New York (New York, NY); The Studio Museum in Harlem (New York, NY); Museum of Modern Art (New York, NY); Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, NY); MIT List Visual Arts Center (Cambridge, MA); and Sharjah Art Museum (Sharjah, United Arab Emirates). Corporate collections include JPMorgan Chase Art Collection (New York, NY) and Sidley Austin LLP (New York, NY). Brathwaite’s work has recently appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Vogue, New York Post, New York Magazine, National Geographic, Aperture, and other publications. Brathwaite retired in 2018 and lives in New York, NY with his wife Sikolo Brathwaite.
Kwesi Botchway was born in 1994, in Accra, Ghana — where he continues to live and work. Botchway has exhibited his work internationally for the past several years, including most recently with Maruani Mercier, in Brussels, Belgium and with Gallery 1957, in Accra, Ghana and in New York, NY. His work is included in such collections as the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, the Vanhaerents Foundation, Belgium, the High Fashion Foundation, New York, the Israel Museum, Tel Aviv, and the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.
Genevieve Gaignard (b. 1981) is a multidisciplinary artist from Massachusetts living and working in Los Angeles, CA. Her work elicits dialogue around race, beauty, and cultural identity. Last year she presented three solo exhibitions:"To Whom it May Concern," at Rowan University Art Gallery, Glassboro, NJ, "Strange Fruit," at Vielmetter Los Angeles, and "This is America," at The Atlanta Contemporary, Atlanta, GA. Her work has appeared in numerous group exhibitions, including The Nerman Museum, Overland Park, KS; Rennie Museum, Vancouver, CA; The Broad, Los Angeles, CA; The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA; The San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CA; The Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, TX; The Getty Center, Los Angeles, CA; The National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.; Crystal Bridges Museum of Art, Bentonville, AR; The Studio Museum, Harlem, NY. In July 2022, Gaignard partnered with Orange Barrel Media on Look At Them Look At Us: a permanent, site-specific public art installation in downtown Atlanta. Gaignard received her BFA from Massachusetts College of Art and Design and her MFA from Yale University.
Rodney McMillian (b. 1969) lives and works in Los Angeles, CA. He received an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts in 2002. Most recently his monumental landscape painting, shaft, 2021 – 22 was on view in the 2022 Whitney Biennial and his immersive 2012 vinyl sculpture, From Asterisks in Dockery was included in the groundbreaking touring exhibition The Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture, and the Sonic Impulse, which originated at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Recent solo exhibitions of McMillian’s work include Historically Hostile, Blaffer Museum, Houston, TX; Videos from the Black Show, the Underground Museum, Los Angeles, CA; New Work, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA; and Against a Civic Death, The Contemporary Austin, Austin, TX. McMillian’s work is included in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL; the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA; The Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Wolfsburg, Germany; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA; the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA; and the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY among many others.
Wangechi Mutu (b. 1972, Nairobi, Kenya) lives and works in New York and Nairobi and received her MFA from Yale University in 2000 and BFA from Cooper Union in 1996. Mutu will have a major solo exhibition at the New Museum in New York City opening March of this year. Her work has been the subject of solo exhibitions at Storm King, New Windsor, NY; Nasher Museum of Art, Durham, NC; Legion of Honor, San Francisco Fine Arts Museum, San Francisco, CA; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA; Des Moines Arts Center, Des Moines, IA; Austin Contemporary, Austin, TX; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, NC; Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York, NY, among others. She has also been included in numerous important group exhibitions at Hayward Gallery, London, UK; The Getty Center, Los Angeles, CA; High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA; The National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington DC; Minneapolis Institute of Art, MN; Museum of Moderne Kunst, Ishøj, Denmark; Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, Scotland; Bronx Museum of the Arts, Bronx, NY; Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, WA; Columbus Museum of Art and Pizzuti Collection of the Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, OH; The Phillips Collection, Washington DC; The Centre Pompidou, Paris, France; Johannesburg Contemporary Art Foundation, Johannesburg, South Africa, among others.
Paul Mpagi Sepuya (b. 1982, San Bernardino, CA) makes work that investigates visibility, the circulation of images, and racialization as material and subject position within photography. He received an MFA in photography at UCLA in 2016. In 2019 a survey of Sepuya's work was presented in a solo exhibition at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis that traveled to the Blaffer Art Museum in Houston, Texas. Other recent solo exhibitions include "Drop Scene," Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, Omaha, NE; "Double Enclosure," FOAM Fotografiemuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands; "Portraits / Positions," KMAC Museum, Louisville, KY; and "STUDIO WORK," Platform Centre for Photography, Winnipeg, MB, Canada. Recent group exhibitions include "Masculinities: Through Photography and Film from the 1960s to Now," Barbican, London; "In Focus: The Camera," Getty Museum, Los Angeles; "Implicit Tensions: Mapplethorpe Now," Guggenheim Museum, New York; the 2019 Whitney Biennial; “Being: New Photography 2018," Museum of Modern Art, New York; and “Trigger” at the New Museum, New York. Sepuya's work is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the International Center for Photography, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Carnegie Museum, among others.
The gallery is located at 1700 S Santa Fe Avenue, south of the 10 freeway. Parking is available on the south parking lot adjacent to the building. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 10 am to 6 pm and by appointment. For further information and press inquiries, please contact Olivia Gauthier at Olivia@vielmetter.com.