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I See Myself in You: Selections from the Collection

August 26, 2015–February 26, 2017

Titus Kaphar (American, born 1976) The Jerome Project (My Loss), 2014. Oil, gold leaf, and tar on wood panel, each 7612 x 5912 x 334 in. (194.3 × 151.1 × 9.5 cm). Brooklyn Museum, William K. Jacobs, Jr. Fund, 2015.7a–b. © Titus Kaphar. Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, 2015

ASK Brooklyn Museum Bloomberg Philanthropies

Here are some questions visitors asked us during their visit to this exhibition.

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What can you tell me about this piece by Titus Kaphar?
That's a really powerful piece, he uses a really interesting mix of materials such as gold leaf and tar. I think the mixing of this one very expensive and one very cheap material alludes to the meaning of this series.
The label says it's about men who shared a name with his father and the common history of prison.
I think that the tar symbolizes the time these men spent in prison: this heavy, suffocating, dark, coating material covers their lives. However, the gold leaf sparkles on top, showing the humanity and resilience of the people who endure incarceration. The gold leaf also references religious iconography. Jerome also was the name of St. Jerome, the man who translated the Bible into Latin.
I know the show is called "I See Myself in You," I guess there's the identity of black men wrapped up in the prison system. And a shared identity of fathers and sons. Maybe the show is about identities being shared between people?
Definitely, I'm glad you're finding a thematic thread through the curation. I like that many of the pieces in this show are a little harder to decipher as "portraits" or reflections of identity. It requires us to really think through our associations.
They say everything an artist makes is a self portrait, right? Even if it's not a traditional self-portrait, a work of art reveals something about the maker.
Absolutely! Artists' works are a reflection of their own lived experiences and beliefs.
I'm looking at a pile of clothes with a vaguely feminine form. What makes these found object arrangements museum quality?
Thoughtful question. With this work, as with many, many contemporary works that utilize found objects and materials, it is really the intent and the idea of the artist that makes them of interest to collectors and museums.
The artist, Shinique Smith, was inspired by a film that tracks a T-shirt with a university logo from a thrift shop in New York to a mountain village in Africa, where it is purchased by a man and becomes his second shirt. Her piece really comments on the global economy through the path of second hand clothing. The title "Mitumba" is a Swahili word that literally means “bundles” and refers to the packages and articles of used clothing donated by people in prosperous countries to charitable causes. Smith has a series of sculptures like this.
Ok, I see that. Is the Santa Claus an original part of it?
Yes, her bundles include fabric scraps, clothing and toys and it was a complete piece when it was gifted to the Museum in 2009.
You're welcome!
What is this made of? Was it carved or assembled?
That's a popular question today! It was assembled. The artist, Leonardo Drew, works primarily with new materials that he transforms to look as though they were found. His work is meant to draw from memories of his childhood surroundings—from the housing project where he lived to the adjacent landfill. 
This work is very striking.
I think this gallery does a great job in showing how material can be integral to the meaning and motive behind a work of art. You have El Anatsui's work made of recycled metal bottle caps, Leonardo Drew working with found wood, and here, Kaphar using tar and gold leaf. Which I think is a really incredible message he is sending about the lives of the incarcerated. In my interpretation, the gold leaf recalls the resilience, integrity and value of the lives of the incarcerated, and the tar represents the stigma, the lost time and the cultural devaluing of prison inmates.       
Can you explain this piece? Are the males in it famous rappers?
That is a painting by Kehinde Wiley. The men are not famous rappers. They are ordinary men that Wiley met on the streets who chose to pose for him.
You may have read this on the label already, but if not: "This ceiling mural of five panels depicts five young black men in various poses floating through a blue sky scattered with cumulus clouds. Large, ornate doily-like halos surround the head and most of the body of three of the figures. Only the legs of one figure are visible; a figure in the far distance has a doily-like halo encircling his head."
The artist is using famous art history paintings and art historical styles such as Baroque and Rococo but with contemporary sitters dressed in their own clothing to make a comment about the absence of Black sitters in art history.
Who is the model for these?
Those pieces are all modeled after a famous sculpture of the Egyptian queen Nefertiti that belongs to the Egyptian Museum of Berlin collection (currently on display in the Neues Museum). The original sculpture is over 3000 years old -- Nefertiti's estimated life/death dates are ca. 1370 – ca. 1330 BC.
I'm curious of the significance of this. Why is it called the "Number 153"?
All of the Leonardo Drew's works are titled "Number xyz," so that title is merely a convention of his works and his process and not necessarily a series.
Does the work always look like this?
One of the many interesting things about El Anatsui's work is that he doesn't dictate how any of his works should be displayed. He allows the curators and art handlers to make choices about where the work should be folded, tucked and laid flat. The artist has said "The whole idea is that I want to involve whoever is dealing with the artwork to also bring in a bit of him- or herself, to incorporate the way he or she is feeling."
Hi, I'd like to know some more about this series of portraits.
You're looking at a Deborah Kass series of silkscreens. At first look many people assume it's a work by Andy Warhol. But Kass is a woman interested in interjecting herself into the mostly male art world.
I was just passing through on my way to the period rooms, but this caught my eye.
It's a pretty interesting exhibition on self-portraiture and identity. I know some people say, "Every work of art an artist makes is in a way a self portrait." Some of the works in this installation are easy to understand as a portrait, but others are much more abstract.
Why in Arabic?
Aha! Great question!
Mona Hatoum is the artist, and she likes to point at the idea of the youth in Arab countries, who are caught between action and inaction because of the political climates in their countries. "Waiting Is Forbidden" can be taken to mean no loitering.
Is she the photographer? Where are her pieces located?
She is a Canadian-based sculptor an most of her pieces are exhibited in Canada. Interestingly the artist hired a traditional sign-maker to create the work in the same format as a traditional Cairo street sign, which often has the name of the street written in two languages.
It's part of her series called "Cairo," where she also speaks about the immigrant journey, particularly for children and teenagers who stand between two different cultures.
Can you tell me more about the artist who painted The Root?
Lynette Yiadon-Boakye was born in London in 1977 and she attended St Martins School of Art and Design and the Royal Academy Schools in London. She usually paints figures, and her influences include Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas, and the British artist Walter Sickert. Here's an interesting quote from Yiadom-Boakye: “People are tempted to politicize the fact that I paint black figures, and the complexity of this is an essential part of the work. But my starting point is always the language of painting itself and how that relates to the subject matter.”
You're welcome!
What can you tell me about this?
The artist, Leonardo Drew, creates abstract works out of what appears to be found found materials, trash and detritus. In reality his works are made out of almost entirely new things. Things like wood, rusted iron, cotton, paper, mud—that he intentionally subjects to processes of weathering, burning, oxidization, and decay. The work draws on Drew's  childhood memories and surroundings—from the housing project where he lived to the adjacent landfill.
Can you tell me a little about it?
Yes! To make this specific work, Deborah Kass photographed herself posing just like one of Andy Warhol's Self-Portraits and then she painted her new self-portrait in Warhol's style, in multiples with bright screen-printed colors. Kass is inserting herself into an iconic work from art history, but in a way that asserts her own identity as a female artist.       
She has produced many works inspired by Warhol's most famous paintings, inserting herself or another woman -- for example, in her "Jewish Jackie" series, she put Barbra Streisand's face into paintings that otherwise look like Warhol's paintings of Jacqueline Kennedy! In the work you're looking at right now, Kass is making us think about originality and the process of making art as well as about gender.
Thank you!
Can you tell me some more about the painting titled The Root? Who are these people?
The figures are entirely fictional -- Lynette Yiadom-Boakye doesn't work with models. Instead she assembles images from scrapbooks, drawings, and her imagination.
Here's a quote from the artist that we find interesting: "The thing is that if you use a model, the painting becomes about capturing that particular person, and it’s disappointing if you can’t. I once tried to paint a friend, an incredible character, and it just wasn’t him. So moving away from that was to do with freedom.”
She paints quickly, completing the bulk of each canvas in a single day!
What is this?
That's a large installation by Ghanaian Artist El Anatsui. Made up of flattened caps from thousands of bottles. El Anatsui hires and trains local craftsman to assist him with flattening and stitching the caps together. One of the many interesting things about El Anatsui's work is that he doesn't dictate how any of his works should be displayed. He allows the curators and art handlers to make choices about where the work should be folded, tucked and laid flat.
The exhibition it is placed in, "I See Myself in You," is all about understanding the body and portraiture as you may have read in the introductory text. Any ideas why this work might be considered bodily? Or dealing with portraits?
It seems rather organic, like a skeleton.
I can totally see that. I think about where he found that many discarded liquor bottle tops and what type of person would drink and then discard a bottle outside.
Okay, that makes sense.
What is the message behind this piece?
Like a lot of contemporary art, the artist is presenting us with that exact question for us to consider. In this piece, Fred Wilson raises controversial questions about the racial identity of ancient Egyptians. Referring to one of the most copied works of ancient civilization, Wilson illustrates a value scale ranging in color from oatmeal to dark chocolate.
Can you tell me more about The Root by Lynette Yiadam-Boakeye? There's not much information on the label.
The artist was born in London in 1977  and has won multiple awards for her art, namely  in 2013 she was shortlisted for the Turner prize. She has stated, specifically about this work, that what is happening is up to the interpretation of the visitor.
She says that the titles of her work never relate to a specific narrative but instead for the visitor to think of them as an extension of the work, not as an explanation. She paints quickly, often completing most of a canvas over the course of a day and she does not paint from models. Is there more you would like to know?
That's very interesting. I once heard that she is either very interested in jazz or has some connection to jazz. Am I making that up?
No she is totally interested in jazz, you're right! Actually, that takes me back to titling her works. In that same statement that I pulled from previously, she mentioned that she loved Miles Davis and said "He puts titles to things, even though his music is instrumental. You see the title, and you feel it in the sound of the music."
Oh, that actually really helps make concrete the thing you said before about titles!
Oh, great! Glad we could pull those two together haha. There is a great 4 minute video on YouTube about Yiadom-Boakye from the 2013 Venice Biennale where she talks about her work, if you're curious.
YES! I'd love to see that. I'll search for it, thank you so much.
Of course! Enjoy and please let me know if you have more thoughts or questions.
How long did this take to make?
While we don't know the exact number of man-hours put into this amazing El Anatsui work, I can tell you he hires and trains local craftsmen to assist with his projects. The work is made of aluminum and copper wire on which discarded bottle caps are then strung. I imagine it would take many people and many hours to create a finished project.
Yeah, I can see that. I was a little confused by the El Anatsui in terms of how to understand it.
El Anatsui's work is pretty complex. It’s not recycling that interests him. It’s the idea that an item was touched by another human being, he says, "because then it comes with not only energy, but history and it has a story." He collects bottle caps that were discarded by people to make the wall sculptures. He has 30 assistants that help in making it.
He believes there is a human residue left on every day items. He cites the work of spiritual healers in Africa: "Say somebody wants to have the love of another person. The healer you are consulting might ask you to bring something that a fellow has used and with that he’ll be able to make a connection," so things that humans have used have a spiritual energy in them.
What kind of materials are used in this piece?
That is actually a newly installed work by Shinique Smith. Forgive me if you already read the label, but it is made of bundles of fabric, stuffed toys, and articles of clothing as well as twine and cardboard. It even includes some of the artist's own clothes, and clothes of her friends. She was inspired by a film that tracks a T-shirt with a university logo from a thrift shop in New York to a mountain village in Africa, where it is purchased by a man and becomes his second shirt-her piece really comments on the global economy through the path of second hand clothing. Mitumba is a Swahili word that literally means “bundles” and refers to the packages and articles of used clothing donated by people in prosperous countries to charitable causes. Mitumba Deity is from Smith’s series of bundle sculptures.
I can definitely tell this piece was influenced by Andy Warhol, however, Kass made this one. How can we tell if it is a copy or just get influenced by Warhol?
Kass is inserting herself into iconic works from art history, so she is definitely referencing Warhol, but in a way that asserts her identity as a female artist into the Pop art reference.
Okay, I see. As an art history student, I was confused by these copy and reference issues. I'm glad to hear some opinions from professionals!
Oh, I see!
I intend to hear opinions from different people.
We like hearing your opinions too!
Well, so far this is the best $10 I've spent in the U.S. The exhibitions, galleries, and collections are amazing!
That makes us so happy! I'm glad you like the collections (and you have visited quite a few different galleries). 
How often do you tune the piano?
I wish I had a piano pun at the ready!! I don't know how often the piano is tuned, in truth. The piano is operated via a midi player and plays two arrangements of "Strange Fruit" every 26 minutes. I believe the artist tuned the piano to the liking before it was installed.
So is it the piano making the music or a recording?
The music you are hearing from "Blossom" comes from a recording arranged by the artist himself.
What is this?
El Anatsui's practice is centered around items that have been thrown away. It’s not recycling that interests him, it’s the idea that an item was touched by another human being.
Here he used discarded screw-top caps from thousands of bottles. He flattens and stretches the caps. Sometimes he uses the ring left on the bottle after the cap is twisted off. He wire stitches thousands of the mutated caps together into massive wall tapestries. 
Why are these paired?
I love the juxtaposition of those two works. Both have grid-like formats but the Terence Koh is so individual and emotional, filled with objects that have personal meaning for him, while the Sol LeWitt is purely conceptual and makes us think about space and volume in an almost mathematical way.
Who are the people in this ceiling painting?
Good question! We don't know who they are specifically. The artist, Kehinde Wiley, finds his models by walking around the streets and asking people to participate in his art. He first started this process while he was an Artist in Residence at the Studio Museum in 2001 and has since expanded this practice to projects in other countries as well.