Post P.S.1 (and an almond macaroon from the museum’s cafe) we hopped a subway for the long ride to the Brooklyn Museum, where we met up with Ashley. I was at the museum last summer to see the Takashi Murakami mid-career retrospective; last summer was my first visit to the museum, and I left really impressed. The Brooklyn Museum is an encyclopedia museum, like the Met, but it is far more intimate and far less crowded. The collection is stellar, especially if you like decorative art, and the museum owns what is probably the most important work of feminist art ever made, Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party. I’m always really surprised and saddened that this museum doesn’t get more traffic. It is a fantastic institution and, in some ways, even more enjoyable than places like the Met.
This particular visit brought me to see the Yinka Shonibare show. Shonibare is a Nigerian-born, British-raised artist whose work deals primarily with post-colonial issues and discussions of race and identity. Also, a condition he developed when he was nineteen left him paralyzed on his right side (that’s why he had that cocksure “what” look in the photographs, Phil and Ashley, clearly I am not appropriately schooled in all contemporary artists, or maybe my professors subtracted that biographical information in their lectures).
Yinka Shonibare is probably best known for his installations of headless mannequins. The mannequins are all uniform non-specific “brownish” color, to screw with ideas of race, and they are purposefully headless to screw with ideas of identity. The mannequins are dressed in Dutch wax printed costume fabrics designed in a Victorian style. These Dutch wax printed fabrics are generally associated as “African” but, of course, they are made in Europe and therefore are merely a European’s notion of what “African” should look like. The Victorian period in Europe is also the period when Africa began to be carved up by the European nations, like a “magnificent African cake,” to quote a member of the 1884 Berlin conference held to divide said cake. This “scramble for Africa” is re-created in an installation of the same name.
The exhibition is divided across the museum. The first floor has this large installation, the entrance with the ocelots, a few wall pieces and two videos that play on ideas of identity, mask, and race. One is a masked ball based on an opera, and one is a really simple ballet piece based on “Swan Lake,” featuring a dancer at a “mirror.” The “mirror” is really another dancer mimicking the first’s movements precisely, but one dancer is black and the other is white.
The exhibit continues on the fourth floor, with one large area devoted to further installations and several site-specific installations that Shonibare has hidden within the period rooms of the museum. The site-specific installation is called Mother and Father Worked Hard so I May Play, and features a series of child-sized mannequins playing amongst the period rooms and decorations in the museum. This part of the exhibition is fun–sort of a scavenger hunt, because the museum has many period rooms and sometimes the mannequins are hidden in the corners.
The other part of the exhibit ont he 4th floor continues with the large installation theme but also has a lot of really wonderful photography depicting Shonibare himself in the manner of a British dandy or in scenarios drawn from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. His installations depict Enlightenment philosophers, plays upon the idea of the duel, and a scathing depiction of the of the European Grand Tour. Shonibare also installed a really stunning tableau based on Fragonard’s The Swing.
The next few photos are from the play on the European Grand Tour, and they are explicit. This is your warning to send any small children fleeing.
Well that was fun. Long story short: we all really enjoyed the Yinka Shonibare show. I know some critics dismiss his work as too stuck in the post-colonial theories of fifteen-twenty years ago or too obvious, but I find the works very humorous, very aware of both art history and actual history, and extremely interesting in terms of media and construction. I care not what they say, I found the show fascinating, the end.
We spent another half an hour or so looking at the feminist center, the Egyptian wing, and the contemporary art galleries before heading out a little before 6:00, when the museum closes.
Phil had to leave to go work on some songs in Midtown. Ashley and I hung around her neighborhood. I saw the adorable brownstone in which she lives. We wandered around. We ate some Mexican at a place on Flatbush–fairly nondescript, but we were both starving and craving lots of protein.
Then, more importantly, we went to the Blue Marble ice cream shop, highly toted by Serious Eats, creamy deliciousness with amazing hot fudge. Ashley and I split a mini-sundae with vanilla and dulce de leche ice cream and said amazing hot fudge. We were extremely pleased.
Post ice cream joy we went and sat in Prospect Park unti it got completely dark. Ashley headed off to a party near her house, I returned to the city because I was exhausted. That was Saturday–art, food, friends, goodness.