Wallspace is pleased to present an exhibition by Harlem-based artist Donelle Woolford. This will be the artist’s first solo show in New York.
Woolford’s work investigates the performance of authenticity and originality on the 100th anniversary of Cubism, particularly in relation to African culture and aesthetics. In her paintings Woolford rejuvenates the conventions of collage, multiple perspectives, appropriation theory and cultural politics by remaking Cubism in her own image. As she has written, “I make Cubism relevant to me by both recognizing and refuting its origins. In my paintings, carefully assembled scraps of wood—cut offs, marginal pieces, the outcasts from primary modes of production— coalesce into images culled from memory. The question is: which memory? As an African American woman, where does my recognition of Cubism come from?” Woolford’s work seems to pit the idea of authenticity against itself, often to sophisticated and uncanny effect, exploiting the conventions and contradictions of high art to challenge the seemingly neutral genius of artists like Picasso or Richard Prince. As Ralph Ellison might have written, “By way of imposing meaning upon her diasporic African American experience, Donelle Woolford seeks to create collages in which objects speak for more than their immediate selves. In this enterprise, the very nature of memory and culture is on her side. For by a trick of fate (and our racial problems notwithstanding) the human imagination is integrative. And while art is but a form of symbolic action, a mere game of ‘as if,’ therein lies Donelle Woolford’s true function and her potential for effecting change.”
For her first solo show in New York City Woolford has re-imagined the origins of Cubism through an elaborate performance of insincerity. Citing Marcel Broodthaers as an inspiration—particularly the Musee des Arte Moderne, Département des Aigles and the Décors—Woolford will transform the gallery into a kind of stage, performing a series of actions (doubling, copying, impersonating) that repeatedly explore the relationship between narrative, source material, image and author. She has produced a series of collage paintings that, at least from across the room, bear a resemblance to the work of Picasso and Braque. Up close the paintings reveal themselves to be carefully assembled scraps of wood and have the appearance of props, earnest but deadpan stand-ins for their virtuoso predecessors. The paintings act as both referent and object, a duplicity that is mirrored by the artist herself. Complementing these paintings will be an installation featuring tropical plants and a “picture narrative” of images culled from the internet, all of which relate to the amalgam of exotic influences and “discoveries” that catalyzed into the art movement known as Cubism in 1907; as compared to, say, the amalgam of global influences and “discoveries” that are informing the ambitious young artists of today.