Kevin Beasley “In An Effort To Keep”

Casey Kaplan

poster for Kevin Beasley “In An Effort To Keep”

This event has ended.

In February of this year, Kevin Beasley (b. 1985, Lynchburg, VA) prompted five performers—Taja Cheek, Paul Hamilton, Ralph Lemon, Okwui Okpokwasili, and Jeremy Toussaint-Baptiste—to join him in an apartment in Brooklyn. Over the course of two days, the group shared space alongside an intricate collection of over 36 microphones laced from the entryway to the kitchen and living room. Sixteen hours of the recordings of their happenings, conversations boisterous and hushed (Adrienne Edwards joined by phone), improvisations of a piano, a round of chess, periods of rest, and the movements of their bodies map a collective experience through sound.
In an effort to keep, Beasley’s fourth solo exhibition at Casey Kaplan, preserves an auditory experience of a moment in time. The exhibition’s titular work draws from the audio documentation of the performance, realized as a soundscape in the round. Within the gallery, an enclosed room constructed to the specifications of the same apartment’s architecture, houses a medley of speakers and their armatures, situated to mimic the layout and furnishings of the apartment’s topography. A kitchen stovetop with speakers that resemble burners emanates sound. A purple carpet provides a comfortable ground amid a series of acoustic panels that condense and absorb the multi-tones of music and tenors of activity that resound. Translating the often-unnoticed white noise that permeates our daily lives into an all-encompassing experience, Beasley traces the sensory composition of a memory.

In the galleries, Beasley presents a collection of floor-based sculptures cast from molds of the sound absorbing wedges of anechoic panels. Titled Wedge I to V, the series substitutes the foam-based insulation used to condition the sonic pattern of a space with hardened resin; raw cotton harvested near his family-owned, century-old property in rural Virginia; altered garments and housedresses sourced from a former Harlem dress shop, frequented for decades by Beasley’s grandmother and great-grandmother. The functionality of the anechoic panel, which focuses unwanted reflection, is replaced with culturally relevant materials and body signifiers.
In contrast, one side of the freestanding sculpture Diffuser…Still it burns. (2023) is cast from the mold of a diffuser—the asymmetrical hard surface that refracts sound in a broken-up pattern. On the other side, resin, raw cotton, dye sublimation t-shirts and other garments (such as a hooded jacket that recalls Beasley’s ghost series) coalesce with a resin-soaked copy of the January 28, 2023 issue of The New York Times, with the headline “HELD AND BEATEN BY MEMPHIS POLICE AS HE CRIED, ‘MOM’.” Conflating two modes of tuning a space, Beasley presents a material reverberation. An object’s potential to absorb or refract light, heat or sound becomes a conduit for the viewer’s psychological experience.

The shelves of an armoire manufactured by American of Martinsville, Virginia are filled with hangers Beasley has stored for years, previously used to hang hundreds of housedresses that comprise past works. Encased in a bed of resin and floating in space, the empty hangers are unoccupied and left idle like an erasure of what was. Turning to the vessels in which we store memories, Beasley presents a large-scale bookshelf that supports a group of objects such as a pair of Niagara Spray Starch cans that recall the artist’s morning routine in the late ‘90s—a familiar product that left his clothes crisp and affixed in place. A trio of “Aunt Jemima” pancake mix boxes, which was rebranded in 2021 to “remove racial stereotypes from the product” is engulfed by raw-dyed cotton and resin, further erasing the 133-year-old symbol of supposed “idealized domesticity” and the exploitation of Black women as caretakers for America. Subverting the urge to repress, the gesture of reviving or retelling our shared histories through the objects that linger—the objects we keep—becomes a radical move.

In Deep Cuts (40 acres/40 lives) (2023), forty knives pierce the surface of a marble kitchen island lined with bed linens and garments soaked in resin. “40 Acres and a Mule,” the broken commitment to provide a form of reparations to newly freed slaves by offering plots of land no larger than 40 acres during Reconstruction, lingers like a scar from a persisting series of unhealing, deep cuts. A kitchen island serves to symbolize the destruction of a dream, while equally representing the nucleus of a domestic space and our connection to site.
A body of new wall-based sculptures traverse both public-facing galleries. New Site and Vista slabs (sculptural forms that draw from millennia-old traditions of relief sculpture) bridge overlapping memories tied to the landscapes they stem from. In the Vista series, Sharpie transfers combine material and drawing through a casting process. The past spaces of Beasley’s mind’s eye are rendered in three-dimensions—from New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward and the Blue Ridge Mountains of the northern Shenandoah Valley to the backdrop of Ohio skies connecting his road trips from his hometown of Lynchburg, VA to Detroit, MI.

Abstract, transparent color fields of dyed resin and cotton in the Site series offer a view into and through the surface of the work. A site, ground on which to build upon, connotes a future happening. The works’ fog-like atmosphere foregrounds what was and what can be. Through this exercise, Beasley keeps us in tune with our own histories and our mutual efforts to keep truth.

In March 2023, Kevin Beasley released A View of a Landscape, a 300-page book and double LP record, conceived as equal elements and designed together. The publication was produced in collaboration with the Renaissance Society and The University of Chicago Press. A selection of recent exhibitions and performances include The Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture, and the Sonic Impulse, a touring exhibition curated by Valerie Cassel Oliver, which traveled from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond (2021); to the Contemporary Art Museum of Houston, TX (2021); Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR (2022), and the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, CO (2022); Prospect.5, New Orleans, LA (2021), in which Beasley realized a multiyear site-specific project in the Lower Ninth Ward; a series of outdoor performances for the Performa 2021 Biennial, New York, NY; Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America, conceived by Okwui Enwezor, New Museum, New York, NY (2021); a month-long residency and solo exhibition at A4 Arts Foundation, Cape Town, South Africa (2020); and ASSEMBLY, organized by Kevin Beasley, Lumi Tan, Tim Griffin, and Nicole Kaack, The Kitchen, New York, NY (2019). In 2018–2019, Beasley transformed the eighth floor of The Whitney Museum of American Art for his first institutional solo exhibition in New York, A view of a landscape, organized by Christopher Y. Lew with Ambika Trasi, in conjunction with a series of performances. In 2017, Beasley presented Chair of the Ministers of Defense at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA a monumental installation inspired by Bernini’s Baroque altarpiece in Saint Peter’s Basilica and an infamous image of Black Panther Huey P. Newton; it later traveled to the Baltimore Museum of Art, MD and the Snite Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame, IN. Other past exhibitions include Kevin Beasley, Institute of Contemporary Art Boston, MA, organized by Ruth Erickson (2018); inHarlem: Kevin Beasley, The Studio Museum in Harlem, Morningside Park, NY (2016); Between the Ticks of the Watch, The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, IL (2016); and Storylines: Contemporary Art at the Guggenheim, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY (2015). In 2012, Beasley performed at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, as part of Some Sweet Day, co-curated by Ralph Lemon and Jenny Schlenzka. Beasley’s work is included in the collections of the The Museum of Modern Art, NY; Art Institute of Chicago, IL; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY; Dallas Museum of Art, TX; Minneapolis Institute of Art, MN; Pérez Art Museum Miami, FL; Tate Modern, London, United Kingdom; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA; Institute of Contemporary Art Boston, MA; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY, and others. Beasley was born in 1985 in Lynchburg, VA. He received his BFA from The College for Creative Studies, Detroit, MI in 2007 and his MFA from Yale University School of Art, New Haven, CT in 2012. Kevin Beasley currently lives and works in New York.

[Image: Kevin Beasley, In an effort to keep, 2023 (Detail), 38-channel recording, custom speakers, amplifiers, vintage speakers, audio playback rack, monitor, custom cabinetry, acoustic panels, carpet, lounge chairs, FM hearing system, speaker cables, custom lighting system, Duration: 16-hours, 234 x 374” / 594.36 x 949.96cm. Photo: Jason Wyche]



from May 13, 2023 to July 28, 2023


Kevin Beasley

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