In honor of Black History Month, we’re celebrating works by African American artists, including Kevin Beasley's Untitled (hollow), 2016, which is currently on view in We the People: New Art from the Collection.
While still a graduate student at Yale University, Kevin Beasley began making sculptural objects out of sneakers, hoodies, sweatpants, skullcaps, and other discarded or outgrown clothing. He filled and soaked these items with concrete, polyurethane foam, resin, and Fiberglas—all materials that harden as they dry. The results were bulbous, distended forms suggestive of both simple trash and even a kind of accidental violence toward the human bodies that must have once filled the clothing. Beasley’s choice of garments has never been neutral, and he deliberately favors clothing with strong cultural resonances. Untitled (hollow) belongs to a series of works the artist made using the kind of house dresses that he associates with older African American and black immigrant women, including members of his family. These are clothes that combine extreme comfort with exaggeratedly joyful patterns and colors and that exist entirely outside the fashion world.
Although Beasley’s work increasingly features audio components—recorded sounds of the gallery environment, tracks produced by collaborators for performances, or components that invite visitors to generate sounds themselves—in Untitled (hollow), sound is more implied than heard. To make this sculpture, Beasley coated the dresses in resin and draped them over props he constructed from microphone stands. It’s hard to look at these garments and not hear the plastic “whish” of their polyester material. They appear like a chorus of brightly colored bugs trapped in amber, shells of bodies, and gathering, hooded witnesses.
Beasley will give a free Voices in Contemporary Art talk at the museum on Thursday, April 18, at 7:15 pm.