Grief and Grievance
Art and Mourning in America
“It’s morning again in America,” Ronald Reagen famously proclaimed in 1984—while freezing minimum wages, cutting federal assistance, and launching a War on Drugs that would disproportionately target and disenfranchise the Black American population, injustices that reverberate to this day. Originally conceived of by the late curator Okwui Enwezor, who died in 2019, to coincide with this year’s presidential election, “Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America,” at the New Museum, is an intergenerational blockbuster exhibition of more than three dozen artists addressing mourning, commemoration, and loss collectively experienced by Black America in response to racial violence, as well its dark shadow of white grievance.
Each floor of this show, which will take up all three main exhibition galleries as well as the lobby gallery and public spaces, will take a seminal work as its cornerstone: Jack Whitten’s Birmingham (1964), Daniel LaRue Johnson’s Freedom Now, Number 1 (1963–64), and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Procession (1986). The exhibition commissions new work, such as by Kara Walker and Henry Taylor, and centers musical performances as platforms for communal mourning and remembrance. Julie Mehretu’s acrylic and oil on canvas “Black Monolith, for Okwui Enwezor (Charlottesville)” (2017–20) pays explicit homage to the curator, who saw the show as both one of his most personal and most political; Melvin Edward’s tortured welded steel sculptures are coded with layers of mourning and commemoration, including a sculpture of twisted debris entitled WTC NYC (2001) from his “Lynch Fragments” series; and Arthur Jafa’s Love Is The Message, The Message Is Death (2016), set to Kanye West’s “Ultralight Beam,” reverberates through the show.
Kerry James Marshall, Untitled (policeman), 2015. Acrylic on PVC panel with plexiglass frame, 60 x 60 inches, Gift of Mimi Haas in honor of Marie-Josée Kravis, Museum of Modern Art, New York.