If it Don’t Fit

The Studio Museum in Harlem features the work of Kalup Linzy for the first solo exhibition in their new video space.

poster for Kalup Linzy

Kalup Linzy "If it Don’t Fit"

at The Studio Museum in Harlem
in the Harlem, Bronx area
This event has ended - (2009-04-02 - 2009-06-28)

In Reviews by Sarah Rapp 2009-04-02 print

“If it Don’t Fit,” there may be a place for it at The Studio Museum in Harlem. Like so many forward-thinking artistic venues, the institution is embracing video art in a way that goes far beyond keeping up with technology – its curators are a skip and a jump ahead, anticipating what comes next and stretching the box of themes and aesthetics that fill the category. For the current exhibition, Kalup Linzy’s “If it Don’t Fit,” this includes drag queens, music videos, and soap operas.

The museum unveiled this new space dedicated solely to video only last fall. Curator Naomi Beckwith comments, “we thought it would be really important to dedicate part of our program and exhibition time and also physical space to the media, to actually show the breadth of the media that our artists have been working in lately.” The inaugural program saw four month-long exhibitions, organized around conceptual themes titled “Filmic,” “Psychogeography,” “Letters from the Left Coast…,” and “Muted.” “What’s really wonderful about video is that it’s a medium that’s in an idiom that the general public is already familiar with, as opposed to abstract painting, where you really have to describe it, or really difficult performance work. There’s a way in which you don’t really have to introduce what people are looking at, and that’s lovely,” says Beckwith.

Kalup Linzy, ''Conversations wit de Churen III: Da Young and Da Mess,'' 2005. Digital video. Courtesy The Studio Museum in Harlem.

“If it Don’t Fit,” is the first solo video exhibition in the new space and Kalup Linzy is certainly an appropriate choice. His work jumps off the screen in cartwheels and somersaults, immediately pulling the viewer into his colorful and flamboyant world of melodrama, performance, and caricature. Highly influenced by the soap opera genre, much of his work explores familial drama. The All My Churen video series makes up one of the three components of the exhibition. Familiar characters, all played by Linzy, are followed throughout each episode. With Linzy appearing in various personas and guises (including an impressive array of distinct voices for each character), the viewer is treated to witty quips and unconventional struggles, such as finding a ride to the club or getting a physic reading on the phone while taking a bubble bath.

Using extremely colloquial speech, seemingly simple statements and exchanges often carry a subversive and troubling humor in subtext. In one such episode, a character warns, “Don’t treat us like queens, treat us like shit, and we’ll love you. Trust me, if you can’t be an asshole to her, I suggest you leave her and get a good girl.” Clearly, Linzy’s work carries more weight than it may initially seem, and the dialogue is no exception.

Linzy is an auteur, handling all aspects of the writing, production, and acting himself. A product of the pop art movement, the “me” generation, and the age of mass consumption mixed with a strong southern African American family background, his creativity explodes onto the frame in a colorful and risqué media collage. Linzy attended the MFA program at the University of South Florida, was named a Guggenheim Fellow in 2007, and has since received many grants and fellowships. In addition to his All My Churen videos, a set of seven music videos from his 2007 album SweetBerry Sonnet will be screened, as well as nine drawings by Linzy – or rather, executed by one of his characters, Katonya, a young woman trying to make it in the art world.

Kalup Linzy, ''SweetBerry Sonnet,'' (video still) 2008. Courtesy the artist and Taxter & Spengemann, New York.

At its most basic level, Linzy’s work stands boldly apart from much video art due to its watchability. Museumgoers entering the micro theater often prepare themselves for a certain level of abstraction, but Linzy’s work requires no film or art background in order to enjoy his characters and sense of comedy. Yet, his artistic intelligence is clear in the work, which actively explores serious aesthetic issues and questions American tropes and ideals, sexual identity, class, and the roles we assume in our families and communities. “If it Don’t Fit” is a sometimes shocking, impressive exhibition that pushes aside conventional art vocabulary with humor and style.

Sarah Rapp

Sarah Rapp. Sarah Rapp is a film student and soon to be graduate of Barnard College. Her main interests include reading, writing, and watching, and then writing for arts and pop culture publications about what she reads and watches. She has yet to venture away from the tri-state area for longer than a few months, and has no problem with this. An aspiring filmmaker, her subject matter ranges from a history of Capital Punishment in the U.S. to an expose on bathrooms. » See other writings

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