New Bed: Sanford Biggers, Roderick Kiracofe, Karen & Malik Seneferu, Nicole Shaffer
New Bed: Site specific installations by Roderick Kiracofe, Karen and Malik Seneferu, Nicole Shaffer; video by Sanford Biggers
Robert Rauschenberg’s 1955 work Bed represents a watershed in the history of art, one cited as signifying the moment when the hegemony of Abstract Expressionism in America let go. But the piece is far more radical than simply an invisible line in the art continuum. The work hangs on a wall like any painting, yet its central element is a quilt. The eponymous bed is “made,” so to speak, with its corner turned invitingly down and a fluffed white pillow above; but the invitation is moot because the artist stained and closed off this opening with thick, brightly colored oil paint in drips and mottled strokes. Rauschenberg created a bed into which we, the viewers, cannot possibly climb, a bed in which we cannot lie.
And, yet, still, the artist has not made this great effort to bring the private into the public view only to thwart it. These lines are not so pure or clean as society (or the art world) often wants to believe, Rauschenberg posits. Bed alludes to his relationship with Jasper Johns, scandalous in the mid-century. Likewise, the use of the quilt, acquired in his native South, invokes gender, race, regionalism, and authorship, topics often omitted from polite (art) conversation at that moment. With this work, Rauschenberg begins to question and undo the fixed nature of the perception of all of them, showing them to be interconnected in art as in life. It is this great tension between attempts to share personal history in order to push public boundaries that unites the artists in this exhibition, New Bed.
In this present show, multi-media, multi-sensorial sculptural installations by artists Roderick Kiracofe, Karen and Malik Seneferu, and Nicole Shaffer, along with a provocative video by Sanford Biggers offer insight into these boundaries between the personal and the public, private and shared history, exploring the disparities between the rhythms, expectations, and emotions of each. When that line is breached, purposely or involuntarily, the bed, normally a site of safety and comfort, intimacy and privacy, instead becomes one of potential anxiety or fear. Dreaming is exposed to the possibility of nightmare. Control is lost. But it is only in this public breach that society’s expectations around the private, individual sphere can be shifted, and the implications for both history and future can start to be more comprehensively and honestly understood. As with the vulnerability that facilitates and makes possible any relationship, it is a risk, but it is also a chance.
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