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Sanford Biggers: Sweet Funkā€”An Introspective

DATES September 23, 2011 through January 8, 2012
COLLECTIONS Contemporary Art
  • Sanford Biggers: Sweet Funk—An Instrospective
    Composed of a thick, gnarled tree that grows through and around a baby grand player piano, Blossom presides over the exhibition Sanford Biggers: Sweet Funk—An Introspective. Created in 2007, and recently acquired by the Brooklyn Museum, Blossom is here presented along with a selection of works made by the artist from 2002 to 2009 that have visual motifs and narrative threads in common. The exhibition traces the emergence and development of three significant components—the piano, the tree, and the cosmological diagram—in the artist’s production, their convergence in Blossom, and their trajectories in his subsequent works.

    The title Sweet Funk suggests how Biggers’ sculptures make their effect, for like them it holds multiple meanings in suspension. The word funk has several definitions that refer, variously, to an earthy kind of music, a pungent smell, or a depressed state of mind—anything but sweet. The artist likens these contrasting meanings to those in beat poetry. It is not surprising that Biggers, whose art invites richly layered readings, selected such a resonant word to be included in the title of the exhibition. In addition, the act of connecting funk, in any of its meanings, and sweet, two contradictory concepts, exemplifies his wish to see things in the dynamic, synthesizing terms of “both/and” rather than the more straightforward, categorical terms of “either/or.” From decisions about materials to imagery and ideas, the approach of both/and permeates his work.

    This exhibition occupies the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Gallery, a domed space whose floor plan—a circle inscribed within a square—resembles a cosmological diagram of the sort that can be found in a number of Biggers’ works. In light of this, perhaps the gallery can be regarded as a miniature universe in which each piece by the artist, a world unto itself, also plays a role in collectively creating a larger constellation of meanings around the central Blossom.

    Eugenie Tsai
    John and Barbara Vogelstein Curator of Contemporary Art
  • May 1, 2011: Sanford Biggers: Sweet Funk—An Introspective challenges and reinterprets symbols and legacies that inform contemporary America in a focused selection of eight installations and five additional artworks created by the New York-based artist. On view September 23, 2011, through January 8, 2012, this will be Biggers’ first museum presentation in New York, and it will mark the Brooklyn debut of his Blossom (2007), a large-scale multimedia installation.

    Sanford Biggers employs a variety of media, and his work incorporates references to a range of artistic and cultural traditions. The focal point of the Brooklyn Museum exhibition, Blossom is composed of a large tree that grows through, and uproots, a grand piano. At various intervals, the keys move as the piano plays the artist’s arrangement of “Strange Fruit,” a song first recorded in 1939 by the blues singer Billie Holiday. In Biggers’ work, the tree suggests multiple, divergent ideas and references, some of them horrifying, such as lynchings and other race crimes that the 1930s song movingly protested. But other references are positive, such as Buddha’s finding enlightenment while sitting under the bodhi tree. Addressing the historical and cultural landscape, Blossom, which was recently acquired by the Brooklyn Museum, also references the ideologically tinged landscapes by artists such as Alfred Bierstadt and Frederic Church.

    Blossom will occupy the center of the Museum’s fifth-floor Rotunda (the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Gallery), where it will be presented along with eight other, thematically related installations. One of Biggers’ earliest videos, Bittersweet the Fruit (2002) introduces the imagery of tree, piano, and black male subject. Cheshire (2008), a sculptural installation, alludes to the disembodied smile of the cat in Alice in Wonderland as well as to the caricatured wide grin associated with blackface minstrelsy. The video installation Cheshire (2007) presents a sequence of professionally attired African American men who each attempt to climb a large tree. The installation Kalimba II (2002), named after an African percussion instrument, incorporates a piano that has been cut in two by a wall; a bench invites the visitor to sit down and play half of the keyboard, initiating a dialogue/duet with an unseen visitor on the other side of the wall.

    Another related installation is a large glass disc, titled Lotus (2007) that refers to the Buddhist symbol but also to the slave trade: etched in glass, the filigree pattern contained in each petal of the lotus flower is made up of diagrams of the placement of human bodies in the cargo hold of an eighteenth-century slave ship.

    The remaining installations include Shuffle (2009), a video installation that explores the shifting identities of the main protagonist; Calenda (Big Ass Bang) (2004), a dance diagram affixed to the floor and walls that evokes both a cosmic explosion and codified dance forms; and Passage (2009), an altered portrait bust of Martin Luther King Jr. that casts a large shadow, a silhouette of Barack Obama, on the wall.

    Sanford Biggers has been creating installations and performances for more than fifteen years. He now works and lives in New York City. Originally from Los Angeles, he attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, earning his B.A., and then the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, completing his M.F.A. He was the recipient of a Creative Time Global Residency grant, which took him to Brazil in 2009. Biggers joined the faculty of Columbia University in January 2010. He was also part of the affiliate faculty at the Virginia Commonwealth University and spent a year as a visiting scholar and resident artist at Harvard University.

    Sanford Biggers: Sweet Funk—An Introspective is organized by Eugenie Tsai, John and Barbara Vogelstein Curator of Contemporary Art at the Brooklyn Museum. The exhibition will be accompanied by an illustrated catalogue with an introduction by Eugenie Tsai and an essay by the critic Gregory Volk. The Museum is coordinating this exhibition with the Sculpture Center, in Long Island City, Queens, which will host a concurrent exhibition of new work by Biggers.

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  • September 1, 2011: Media Preview Thursday, September 22, 2011

    Sanford Biggers: Sweet Funk—An Introspective challenges and reinterprets symbols and legacies that inform contemporary America in a focused selection of nine installations and additional artworks created by the New York-based artist. On view September 23, 2011, through January 8, 2012, this will be Biggers’ first museum presentation in New York, and it will mark the Brooklyn debut of Blossom (2007), a large-scale multimedia installation.

    Sanford Biggers employs a variety of media, and his work incorporates references to a range of artistic and cultural traditions. The focal point of the Brooklyn Museum exhibition, Blossom (2007) is composed of a large tree that grows through, and uproots, a grand piano. At various intervals, the keys move as the piano plays the artist’s arrangement of “Strange Fruit,” a song first recorded in 1939 by the blues singer Billie Holiday. In Biggers’ work, the tree suggests multiple, divergent ideas and references, some of them horrifying, such as lynchings and other race crimes that the 1930s song movingly protested. But other references are positive, such as Buddha’s finding enlightenment while sitting under the bodhi tree. Addressing the historical and cultural landscape, Blossom, which was recently acquired by the Brooklyn Museum, also references the ideologically tinged landscapes by artists such as Alfred Bierstadt and Frederic Church.

    Blossom will occupy the center of the Museum’s fifth-floor Rotunda (the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Gallery), where it will be presented along with eight other, thematically related installations. One of Biggers’ earliest videos, Bittersweet the Fruit (2002) introduces the imagery of tree, piano, and black male subject. Cheshire (2008), a sculptural installation, alludes to the disembodied smile of the cat in Alice in Wonderland as well as to the caricatured wide grin associated with blackface minstrelsy. The video installation Cheshire (2007) presents a sequence of professionally attired African American men who each attempt to climb a large tree. The installation Kalimba II (2002), named after an African percussion instrument, incorporates a piano that has been cut in two by a wall; a bench invites the visitor to sit down and play half of the keyboard, initiating a dialogue/duet with an unseen visitor on the other side of the wall.

    Another related installation is a large glass disc, titled Lotus (2007), that refers to the Buddhist symbol but also to the slave trade: etched in glass, the filigree pattern contained in each petal of the lotus flower is made up of diagrams of the placement of human bodies in the cargo hold of an eighteenth-century slave ship. The remaining installations include Shuffle (2009), a video installation that explores the shifting identities of the main protagonist; Calenda (Big Ass Bang!) (2004), a dance diagram affixed to the floor and walls that evokes both a cosmic explosion and codified dance forms; and Passage (2009), an altered portrait bust of Martin Luther King Jr. that casts a large shadow, a silhouette of Barack Obama, on the wall.

    Sanford Biggers has been creating installations and performances for more than fifteen years. Originally from Los Angeles, he attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, earning his B.A., and then the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, completing his M.F.A. He was the recipient of a Creative Time Global Residency grant, which took him to Brazil in 2009. Biggers joined the faculty of Columbia University in January 2010. He was also part of the affiliate faculty at the Virginia Commonwealth University and spent a year as a visiting scholar and resident artist at Harvard University.

    Sanford Biggers: Sweet Funk—An Introspective is organized by Eugenie Tsai, John and Barbara Vogelstein Curator of Contemporary Art at the Brooklyn Museum. The exhibition has been generously supported by Toby Devan Lewis, the FUNd, the Stephanie and Tim Ingrassia Contemporary Art Exhibition Fund, the Brooklyn Museum’s Contemporary Art Council, and other donors.

    The exhibition will be accompanied by an illustrated catalogue with an introduction by Eugenie Tsai and an essay by the critic Gregory Volk. The accompanying catalogue is supported by the Lambent Foundation and by a Brooklyn Museum publications endowment established by the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. There will be a concurrent exhibition of Sanford Biggers’ artwork, Cosmic Voodoo Circus, at the Sculpture Center, in Long Island City, Queens.

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Sanford Biggers: Sweet Funk—An Introspective