On October 16, 1968, twenty-four year old Tommie Smith won first place in the 200-meter men’s race at the Olympic Games in Mexico City despite sustaining an injury earlier in the day. During the award ceremony, Smith and John Carlos, a fellow member of the US Olympic team and the bronze medal winner, walked to the platform wearing only their Olympic uniforms, leather gloves and black socks—the first sign of a symbolic protest that would become even more powerful in the following minutes. While Smith and Carlos accepted their medals and the customary playing of the national anthem began, they raised their fists to give a salute and then bowed their heads in prayer. Australian silver medalist, Peter Norman, stood firmly with Smith and Carlos, displaying his solidarity by wearing an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge during the medal ceremony. The image of Smith, Carlos and Norman engaged in this powerful act has circulated beyond the time and context in which it came into being—becoming instead a symbol for a myriad of beliefs, ideas, and social causes.
For 19.83, Los Angeles–based artist Glenn Kaino debuts two recent artworks; Bridge (2013), a sculpture comprised of several gold painted casts of Tommie Smith’s arm and 19.83 (2013), a three-level platform reminiscent of the one used to honor the top competitors at the Olympics. Bridge functions as a site where the multiple temporalities, histories and memories in which Smith’s image exists are drawn from the individuals who possess them. The artist intends for the structure to resemble a golden path leading forward, a platform for continued discourse and an unfinished stage from which we may consider the future. The sculptural environment 19.83 materializes and loosely connects some of the ideas and concepts circulating around the image of this monumental gesture that functions as a site wherein the history, memory and the present compete for prominence, as if to earn a position on the winner’s podium as Smith and his competitors did many years ago.
Together, these works are an examination of the conditions from which symbolic moments such as the salute enter history, how these circumstances evolve over time and how memory and history compete for relevance in the present. Moreover, Kaino aims to examine the ways in which Smith’s action has been woven into a broader discourse that speaks of the power of collective action, the responsibilities we have to our fellow man and the idea that the rights we enjoy today were achieved because of the path laid for us by those who came before. Drawing its title from Smith’s world-record-breaking race time, this exhibition explores how a powerful historical moment can become an iconic symbol etched in collective memory and then dissipate into multiple stories and narratives—making the retelling of history and personal narrative possible. For Kaino, memory is as much of a process of forgetting as it is one of remembering; it is a process of accumulation through which moments in time attach themselves to objects, places, sounds and smells. Historian Pierre Norra has called this lieux de mémoire—physical environments in which history was made but that now allow memories and images to be revised or newly created from a contemporary perspective.
Glenn Kaino (b. 1972) lives and works in Los Angeles. His upcoming and recent solo exhibitions include Glenn Kaino, Kavi Gupta Chicago | Berlin (2014); Tank, Prospect3, New Orleans, (2014); Tank, Grand Arts, Kansas City, (2015); Bring Me The Hands of Piri Reis, Honor Fraser, Los Angeles (2012); In Every Grain, U.S. Pavilion, 13th International Cairo Biennale, Cairo, Egypt (2012-); The Space Between, A.Bandit, The Kitchen, New York (2011); Glenn Kaino: Safe | Vanish, LA><ART, Los Angeles (2011); Honor Among Thieves, Performa09, in collaboration with Creative Time, New York (2010); Transformer: The Work of Glenn Kaino, Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh (2008); The Burning Boards, Whitney Museum of American Art at Altria, New York (2007); Laws Were Made for Rogues, Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego (2006); and Bounce: Glenn Kaino and Mark Bradford, Gallery at REDCAT, Los Angeles (2004). Recent group exhibitions include 12th International Biennial de Lyon, Lyon, France (2013); In|Situ, Expo Chicago, Chicago, IL (2013); Role Model-Role Playing, Museum der Moderne Mochsberg, Salzburg, Germany (2011); The Artists’ Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2010); Blackbelt, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (2004); Whitney Biennial 2004, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2004), California Biennial, Orange County Museum of Art, California (2004); and One Planet Under a Groove, Brooklyn Museum, New York (2001). Public collections include Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles; the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany; and The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York.