By Miriam Felton-Dansky
By Lilly Lampe
By R. C. Baker
By Tom Sellar
By Alexis Soloski
By Molly Grogan
By R. C. Baker
Like Chin and Newkirk, the Korean-born Nikki Lee is curious about the things we have to carry in order to gain access to certain places. For the past few years, she's been adopting the trappings of various communities, then having herself photographed as a participant in them. For The Hip Hop Project, Lee is born anew, browned and braided and cavorting with thugs. But two dimensions don't adequately capture something as layered and problematic as racial passing and, in this case, cultural passing. Membership is more than a series of poses.
Lee's ultimate accessory is the rapper Prodigy, of Mobb Deep, seen embracing her in one shot. Prodigy is one of many rappers who appear in the show. Ofili's works have dozens of them in small black-and-white photos. Erik Parker's pieces trace a bubbly hip-hop genealogy overflowing with names. Susan Smith-Pinelo makes them accomplices in her video installation Cake. Coreen Simpson's elegant late-'80s photos of Flavor Flav and Eric B portray their subjects, and their jewels, in loving detail.
And Tupac, Tupac, everywhere Tupac. The dead rapper is a ready-made avatar of transgression. Fortunately, those who opt to use him hereEdgar Arcenaux in the semantically witty Spock, Tuvac, Tupac; Ofili in Afrodizziadon't take his image in vain. Pac's turn in David Hammons's Out of Sequenceis even more compelling. In cribbed photos pasted onto the pages of a Christo catalog, Pac is in various states of wrap himselfstraitjacket, wheelchair, tattoos. In these pictures, the only things Pac's got going for him are his eyes, wide and expressive. But with In the Hood, a hollow, torn-off sweatshirt hood tacked to the wall, Hammons doesn't even allow for that, taking his comment on the elimination of the black malein art, in music, in societyto a tragic, lynched end.
It's the same thing Max King Cap is going for in the literal, but effective Counted, Tracked, Observed, three Carhartt jackets embroidered with those words. It's a visual double entendre of sorts: That's how the outside world sees young black men, dressed alike and easy to categorize, but that particular jacket is also a hip-hop staple. Next to Cap's piece is Sol Sax's photo of lifesize papier-mâché figures outfitted in their hip-hop best, posing outside a Bushwick J station in Warriors at the Gate.They're expressionless and foreboding, but they're also helpless and collapsible. What you see from a distance isn't what you get up close. Much the same can be said of this show. From afar, it appears to offer one method, one idea. But home in, and there's fantastic complexity hiding beneath the stereotypes, many grooves for this one planet.