Several painters look particularly good. Laylah Ali's comic-book insanities are meticulously rendered nodules of narrative ambiguity, while Julie Mehretu continues to improve in drawings that show her injecting more figurative elements and thus more clarity into her work. Similarly, Trenton Doyle Hancock makes good on one of the works he contributed to last year's Whitney Biennial with Friends Indeed, a marvelous black-and-white tangle of words, shapes, and collaged elements. Surprisingly, the very conventional biomorphic, color-field abstractions of Jerald Ieans are also engaging. Kori Newkirk's curtainlike paintings made of plastic pony beads and artificial hair are gimmicky, but his giant pomade silhouette of a police helicopter is effective. Finally, Senam Okudzeto's wall of telephone bills covered with fighting women is decoratively impressive, even if the artist almost blunts the point in her catalog interview, claiming her art is "a Marxist critique of international market time as one of the greatest effects of global capitalism."

Which brings us to the weakness of "Freestyle." In addition to too many mediocre paintings involving hair products, geometric shapes on the floor, or pictures of superheroes, fairy tale figures, and teddy bears, there are too many undigested or otherwise unaltered photographic images on hand. In spite of Golden's claim that "Freestyle" is "post-conceptual," much of the work in it is nothing but hackneyed conceptualism. There are photos of fire, black men, airports, empty rooms, subways, high schools, and city streets that do nothing and take you nowhere. Any meaning ascribed to these pictures comes from outside the work. The essential act of imbedding thought in material hasn't taken place. There is enough of this kind of blandness to mar this otherwise pulsing and occasionally brash exhibition. In order to vie for curatorial excellence, Golden must add "post-academic" to her list of things to aspire to. If she gets there, her shows at the Studio Museum could get really interesting.

Kickass sculpture: Eric Wesley’s Kicking Ass is a full-scale model of a donkey who has knocked a hole in the museum wall.
Photograph by Robin Holland
Kickass sculpture: Eric Wesley’s Kicking Ass is a full-scale model of a donkey who has knocked a hole in the museum wall.


Studio Museum in Harlem
144 West 125th Street
Through June 24

Related article:

Greg Tate interviews Thelma Golden.

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