Dreaming in Real Time/ I Can Make You Feel Good
The simple joy of raising your hands to the sun, of draping an arm over a lover on a park bench, of pushing off on a swing so hard that for a brief second you’re nearly upside down: held dually at Jack Shainman’s 20th and 24th street locations, Tyler Mitchell’s solo show probes, dreams, and synthesizes a vision of what home and peace might look like for Black people in America.
One exhibition, “Dreaming in Real Time,” projects a paradiscal vision of the American South. Set in a variety of regions and geographies, including Mitchell’s native Georgia, there are archetypal images of an Edenic United States: well-manicured lawns, rippling sand dunes, grassy plains, and blue skies. But there are also more intimate images of love, such as Connective Tissue (2021), which traces a silken thread of saliva stretching from a child’s mouth to their parent’s prone chest. Heaven, Mitchell suggests, isn’t just lounging on red picnic blankets—it’s also, as in Chalk (2021), sitting on a cheap folding chair in a parking lot beside a cooler with your friends.
The artist toggles expertly between paean and critique. Like all utopias, Mitchell’s belies a hidden cruelty. In Redlining (Diptych), the plaid red lines of a gingham picnic blanket reference the cruel practice of planning urban environments based on race—each as American as apple pie. This specter of redlining also haunts Mitchell’s Tangled (2021), in which a pair of toddlers are caught in the string of a sweetly oversized red balloon.
In his second exhibition, “I Can Make You Feel Good,” Mitchell’s images often merge with the contrived nostalgia of a Ralph Lauren ad—wheatfields, an aurora of sunlight haloing a body sliding through the water. And why not? Is dream-making the sole terrain of white America? The couple in All American Family Portrait (2018) oozes fashionableness and sex, cradling and kissing their babies as a ragged US flag whips behind them; while in Time for a New Sky (2020), a sharply dressed figure holds the corner of a sky-colored tarp, as if unfurling a new image of beauty. The best works in these exhibitions sit solidly within this intersection, where Mitchell creates new images and associations of the American pastoral. —Lisa Yin Zhang
Tyler Mitchell, Nap, 2021. Archival Pigment Print, 30 x 37.418 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery.