21: Selections of Contemporary Art from the Brooklyn Museum
21: Selections of Contemporary Art from the Brooklyn Museum highlights recent acquisitions and presents them alongside notable works that entered the collection over the past four decades. As the title suggests, the Museum’s contemporary collecting focuses on art of the twentyfirst century, which has seen the rise of Brooklyn as one of the most vibrant centers of cultural production in the world. Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and Dumbo—now established artists’ enclaves—have given way to Red Hook, Bed Stuy, the Gowanus Canal, and Bushwick as frontiers that offer artists prospects for affordable studio spaces. While 21 features homegrown (and often internationally recognized) talent, it also represents a new twenty-first-century breed of globetrotting artists who travel to create work in cities around the world.
The exhibition opens with three iconic pieces by Mickalene Thomas, Kara Walker, and Nari Ward that engage with both history and contemporary culture. The figure continues as the subject of Amy Sillman’s 30 Drawings, a personal meditation on life and memory, and of Fred Wilson’s Grey Area and Hew Locke’s Koh-i-noor, polemic portraits with political dimensions.
Landscape, another major theme in the collection, dominates the next gallery. Roxy Paine’s boxed tree explores the tension between nature and the manmade environment. A similar notion of constructed and imaginary landscape is evident in Anthony Goicolea’s Ice Storm. Valerie Hegarty’s Fallen Bierstadt investigates the demise of the heroic tradition of American landscape painting, whereas Simon Norfolk’s large-scale photogravures capture geopolitical landscapes in different parts of the world. In his Cartographic Series, Olafur Eliasson surveys the Icelandic terrain and transforms landscape into almost an abstract sign, a quality emphasized by the gridlike organization of the individual images. Similar geometric constructs, purely formal or imbued with cultural significance, are explored nearby in Seher Shah’s architectural drawing, Terence Koh’s irregular grid, Do-ho Suh’s modular welcome mat, and the works by Sol LeWitt, Donald Judd, Rashid Johnson, and Mark Bradford.
Occupying its own room, the installation of Kehinde Wiley’s Passing/Posing paintings becomes a chapel, complete with an illusionistic ceiling, dedicated to the secular pursuit of basketball. Finally, in the adjoining room, Kiki Smith’s fantastic wallpaper Maiden and Moonflower envelops a gallery filled with art that examines domesticity, a theme that also refers to the Museum’s adjacent period rooms.
The Brooklyn Museum has collected contemporary art since the mid-nineteenth century, when a bequest from Augustus Graham, the Museum’s founding father, endowed a Gallery of Fine Arts and provided funds for the annual purchase of works of art by living American artists. In 1855 the initial commission went to Asher B. Durand, whose painting The First Harvest in the Wilderness inaugurated the Museum’s collection. 21: Selections of Contemporary Art from the Brooklyn Museum demonstrates this institution’s continuing commitment to living artists and to collecting distinctive art of our time.
John and Barbara Vogelstein Curator of Contemporary Art
Associate Curator of Photography