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Khalif Kelly, Metamorphosis

Thierry Goldberg Projects
5 Rivington Street, 212-967-2260
East Village / Lower East Side
September 9 - October 11, 2009
Reception: Wednesday, September 9, 6 - 8 PM
Web Site

Thierry Goldberg Projects is pleased to present Metamorphosis, new paintings by Khalif Kelly. In the exhibition, Kelly merges classic narrative struggles from children’s literature with a contemporary visual sensibility. He makes references to L. Frank Baum, the Grimm brothers, and Lewis Carroll, mixed with American anti-slavery literature. The fairy tale gives Kelly a setting to explore ideas of good versus evil and concepts of heroism. Filtering traditional stories through the video game, Kelly explores literature as technology, an extension of the self and mind, with painting as a site for change.

Originally inspired by the 1930s controversial animated Puppetoons of George Pal, Kelly’s paintings have evolved from the smooth round modeling of plasticine to a superflat pixelation that evokes a more recent history of early video games. This style refers to the game?s invitation to the gamer, in this case the viewer, to enter the narrative and not only have sympathy for the protagonist but to become the protagonist through play. In Kelly?s world, the hero is the Robot Piccaninny, the mechanised version of the traditional stereotype of African Americans as children, the burden of which the viewer takes on by transference through video gaming.

Paradoxically, the flat surface adds more depth of context, suggesting the interactivity of video games as an extension of the imagination and exploration of identity. By bringing racially motivated tales to the space of early video games, physical identity is virtually lost, abstracted by the uniformity of the pixel. Kelly likens this mode to a state without “the burden of realism,” thus thwarting discrimination’s gaze. In Kelly’s digitized world, difference in appearance—once target of segregation and dehumanization—is something to be embraced, the key to making the child heroes more human, their valuable link to the real world.

Khalif Kelly, born in Nashville, Tennessee, lives and works in New Haven, Connecticut. His work has been recently exhibited in a solo show at the Santa Monica Museum of Art, Santa Monica, California. His paintings are also on view in Encodings, the 2008-09 Artist-in-Residence exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem, which runs through October 29. Metamorphosis is Kelly’s second solo exhibition with Thierry Goldberg Projects.
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