"Provocative Visions" features thirteen works by seven contemporary African-American artists: Chakaia Booker, Willie Cole, Glenn Ligon, Whitfield Lovell, Alison Saar, Lorna Simpson, and Kara Walker. The exhibition examines the ways these artists challenge accepted perceptions and assumptions about race, gender, and identity, and interject their own cultural heritage and personal histories into their imagery. It presents them at mid-career with signature images. All of the pieces were acquired by The Metropolitan Museum of Art within a year or two of their creation, and most are being displayed for the first time in this installation.
The seven artists in this exhibition were born in the 1950s or 1960s and were directly affected by the Civil Rights Movement, Feminism, and the Sexual Revolution. When they emerged on the art scene in the 1970s and 1980s these issues were strongly in the forefront of their art. Although they have chosen subjects that are primarily figurative, their meanings go beyond traditional likeness. Rather the figures and faces in these sculptures, drawings, and prints are emblems of societal concerns and metaphors for human experience and collective memory.
Of particular note are the artists' innovative use of materials and techniques, including photography. Chakaia Booker's tire sculpture is one of a number of pieces that utilizes found objects; others include Willie Cole's bicycle and shoe constructions, and Whitfield Lovell's wall tableau with metal implements. Multi-panel prints by Lorna Simpson are based on old photographs and printed on felt boards, while Glenn Ligon's compositions feature written texts, almost exclusively. The female protagonists in Alison Saar's and Kara Walker's works comment on the role of women in society. Questions about the past and the present, particularly as they relate to African Americans, resonate in these exhilarating, but disturbing works.