Spotlight Series

Spotlight: Contemptorary

Wrapping up our week with contemptorary, today we bring you Jared Sexton’s “critical overview of the conversations surrounding the 2017 Whitney Biennial.” Co-founders Eunsong Kim and Gelare Khoshgozaran note: “In ‘The Rage: Some Closing Comments on Open Casket,’ Sexton interrogates the complicated psycho-political motivations driving the often polarizing debate concerning artists and their objects, and offers questions that refuse to simplify or foreclose this difficult discourse.” This essay was originally published on May 21, 2017.

Image courtesy of Contemptorary.

Image courtesy of Contemptorary.

Emmett Till is dead. I don’t know why he can’t just stay dead. – Roy Bryant

This is what our dying looks like. – Jericho Brown

What can one say, in response to Dana Schutz’s Open Casket? To say even this, out loud, would sound, without further inquiry, like a reference to a funeral service, a wake, or a viewing. To say this loudly, while out and about, before the uninitiated or uninformed, would sound like a question about a eulogy for the artist. No color, no texture, no context, no points or lines or planes in the medium of the vast space-time continuum. What was the cause? They would ask that, among other things, because they would care about all of the above. They would care even if they only overheard the opening question: How to speak well of the dead?

Emmett Till, a fourteen-year old black boy from Chicago, was abducted, tortured, and killed in Money, Mississippi, on August 28, 1955, by two local White men. Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam (and perhaps others) murdered and mutilated him and attempted to disappear his body in the Tallahatchie River. The violence done to him was not unique, but its meaning and significance, its symbolic and material force, may be uniquely obscure. Till has been the subject of voluminous literary and artistic output among African Americans over the last half-century or so, much as an accompaniment to the Black freedom movement that Till’s martyrdom, as it came to be known, would help catalyze.

Read the full review here.

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