Mitchell Squire

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One Year Later Same as Fifty Years Before (when all I want is a boat): or, Tinsel Telos, 2010 Appropriated Print Media, Colored Pencil, Colored Tape, Ink 40" X 18" X 20" © Courtesy of the artist & CUE Art Foundation
Mitchell Squire
Curated by: Theaster Gates

137 West 25th Street
Ground Floor
New York, NY 10001
November 19th, 2011 - January 14th, 2012

Tue-Sat 10-5


Artist's Statement

no 'nother country

In a July 23, 1968 essay for LOOK magazine, James Baldwin wrote through a set of concerns about the creative career of the black artist, particularly that of the actor Sidney Poitier. His words illuminated a dangerous location in the life of the actor that was uncomfortable and difficult to navigate. It was the threshold on which he stood when called upon by Hollywood to fulfill his creative capacity as an artist (which I took to mean participating in more expansive, albeit culturally estranged and personally challenging, roles) while being buffeted by an insistent demand from the black community to fulfill his responsibilities as a citizen (which I took to mean the true keeping of the realities of black life). We owe much to Baldwin's capacious mind but more to his will to essay publicly before a mass audience that would likely never get, much less agree with, his rendering of a space only few would ever experience. He manifested the same truth, beauty, and vividness in his writing that he characterized in Sidney's craft and that he hoped would assist in providing his audience the necessary perceptual stays by which to view the actor's life and work, knowing all too well the irony of achievement and the need to escape the isolation imposed by a creative career; or as he stated precisely, "the difficulty to remain in touch with all that nourishes you when you think you have arrived at Sidney's eminence and are in the interesting, delicate and terrifying position of being part of a system that you have to change."

But that was 1968. It seems hardly necessary to consider the agency of that threshold today, given the varied cultural evolutions occurring since. Or so it seems. But what can often be affirmed as a non-necessity for some, can for a great many others be figured a trump. Set against the backdrop of Baldwin's rhetorical question regarding Sidney's presence in the film Guess Who's Coming to Dinner,[1] the exhibition of work under the title no 'nother country engages a notion of instrumentality more accurately perceived as a patient form of activism. As the exhibition's anchor, One Year Later Same as Fifty Years Before (when all I want is a boat) (2010), depicts an alternating cycle of anticipated destiny, this project expands a particular conversation about "from whence you came" as it questions a set of personal and cultural plots bounded by realness and fantasy, romance and estrangement, and the thrust and distrust of celebrity. It has as both subject and object a taking stock amidst difficult moments through acts of appropriation and the consideration of unlikely if not "strange instruments."

[1] Prompted by the occasion of meeting a cheerful English lady in a wine shop in London who had seen the movie and liked it and the actor, the full question and the writer's reflection on it reads, "Would the image projected by Sidney cause that English lady to be friendly to the next West Indian who walked into her shop? Would it cause her to think, in any real way, of the reality, the presence, the simple human fact of black people? Or was Sidney's black face simply, now, a part of a fantasy-the fantasy of her life, precisely-which she would never understand? This is a question posed by the communications media of the 20th century, and it is not a question anyone can answer with authority. One is gambling on the human potential of an inarticulate and unknown consciousness-that of the people. This consciousness has never been of such crucial importance in the world before. But one knows that the work of the world gets itself done in very strange ways, by means of very strange instruments, and takes a very long time. And I also thought that Guess Who's Coming to Dinner may prove, in some bizarre way, to be a milestone, because it is really quite impossible to go any further in that particular direction. The next time, the kissing will have to start." See Baldwin, James, "Sidney Poitier". LOOK magazine. Volume 32. Number 15 (1968): p 58. Des Moines: Cowles Communication, Inc. 



Curator's Statement

by Theaster Gates

Truth is in the water; thick, Mississippi water. For those who have not forgotten her, she offers a particular kind of reflection and when that water mixes with the challenges of the black contemporary, a work emerges that not only allows for transformative experiences, it creates a transformational practice. I have watched Mitchell Squire's practice invoke a depth of clarity that both informs his sense of self and allows him escape from all the formalisms that keep artists loaded with the burden of particular histories. Mitchell's desire to engage the black imaginary has been evident throughout his strident career as an architect and now, there's no need for hyphens. The ability to deliver questions around the American narrative and dig deeper into the things that have no name, need no representational admonitions and most certainly fight quietly, give us a great opportunity to see work that is not overly sympathetic to "THE CAUSE," but implicates us all, as viewers, as believers and skeptics.

In many ways, Mitchell's practice has informed the work that I make. While attending school at Iowa State University, Mitchell was the only Black faculty member in the College of Design. This is not uncommon in design programs, but this truth combined with the tremendous intellectual openness and shared interests were launching points for deep mentorship. Mitchell's keen sense of design, his thorough engagement with the history of Architecture and willingness to generate a dialog between Architecture and other forms of political engagement including race and space, made me question the my own disciplinary engagement, which at the time, was Urban Planning. Critical generosity deserves recompense!

This project has given Mitchell and I an opportunity to talk again as friends and artists who are both asking questions about what's at stake. To share a side of Mississippi that moves past cotton fields, casinos and heat into the waxing of thoughts and merging of belief systems alongside other more "formal" systems. From Annunciation of Jack Trice, a work that evokes the black athlete, fighting, not only for acceptance, but the right to be most excellent, alongside other works including Target, moving us back and forth from the anticipated narrative to the interrupted narrative, Mitchell moves comfortably through the world of story and makes harmonies from this country's disparities. Mitchell is willing to engage Power in ways that allow us into a conversation about the value of histories, the right to speak and the way we are.

Artist's Bio

Mitchell Squire is an installation artist, sculptor and performance artist based in Iowa. He is primarily known for his work that explores culture through collected artifacts. He historicizes the performative aspects of objects through strategies of association and the incorporation of provocative materials including human hair, candy, and athletic tape, in an attempt to tease out the presence of complex structures of desire. In 2010, Squire was the recipient of the Midwest Voices and Vision award, administered by the Alliance of Artists Communities and funded by The Joyce Foundation, and the Camille Hanks Cosby Fellowship to participate in the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. A nationally recognized educator in the field of architecture, his published works include the poetic treatise "Paris Done Burnt!" in White Papers, Black Marks: Architecture, Race and Culture (2000), and the object collection "cultureWARE: Implements of Desire; or EAT THIS!" in Eating Architecture (2004). He is currently an Associate Professor of Architecture and holds both Bachelor and Master of Architecture degrees from Iowa State University. Squire's exhibition at CUE Art Foundation marks his first solo show in New York City. 


Curator's Bio

Multidisciplinary artist Theaster Gates works to realize the potential of urban spaces through performance, installation, and engagement. His interventions in institutions and organizations, incubators and collectives, and around kitchen tables and stoops heighten our awareness of the simple and modest places in which culture and place making occur. As Gates creates convergences between the old and new and the formal and informal, he hopes to produce middle zones where the resources of large institutions can be activated alongside a community's own cultural capital. Formal training in urban planning, ceramics, fine art, and religious studies have given Gates insight into the poetics of production and its role in shaping culture, which allows him to gather seemingly disparate people, ideas, and entities toward mutual goals. Gates's commitment to cultural restoration in under-resourced communities is rooted in a belief that contemporary art practices do not have to be seen only in the rarified activity of major museums in order to contribute to a city's vibrant culture. This conviction allows him to focus on creating local centers for culture that make room for a neighborhood's traditions to thrive as new rituals are created.

Gates's work has been exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art; Seattle Art Museum; Kavi Gupta Gallery, Chicago, IL; Milwaukee Art Museum; Boots Contemporary, St. Louis, MO; and the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, St. Louis, MO, among others. Gates is Director of Arts and Public Life and Artist and Residence at the University of Chicago.