Installation view of the Lauren Halsey exhibition at David Kordansky Gallery in New York.
Photo: Andy Romer, courtesy of David Kodanski Gallery
Stepping into Lauren Halsey’s New York debut was like stepping into a dizzying ark. David Kordansky’s Chelsea gallery fills the floor with boxy installations, collaged panels that look like giant mood boards. There are abstract barges crammed with things: clips from magazines, books, and the internet, as well as objects collected from around Halsey’s hometown in south-central Los Angeles. It’s a democratized art expressed in a dialect of love and obsession, a spaceship full of relics of the past, heading for a joyous future.
Halsey, 35, had dreams of becoming a professional basketball player. When she didn’t get hired, she switched to studying architecture, then earned her art degrees at CalArts and Yale University. She was a distinguished resident of the Studio Museum in Harlem from 2014 to 2015, before returning to the South Central community as her medium and muse. In 2018, she founded Crenshaw District Pictograph Project, There’s a walk-in cube made of plywood and plaster, with storefront signs, graffiti labels, and resident portraits etched inside and out, as if suggesting that the South Central was as venerable as ancient Egyptian civilization.
Supply Chain Issues Delayed East Side Pictograph Prototype Building (I) in South Central Los Angeles, According to Metropolitan Museum of Art director Max Hollein, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s rooftop committee will “guide the museum’s unparalleled collection of Egyptian art through an Afro-futuristic lens.” It is scheduled to land there next spring. However, the contraction of the pandemic presents other opportunities. She founded an organization, Summaeverythang, Distributes organic produce to residents of Watts and the South Central, where fresh food is hard to come by.Halsey Tell Los Angeles era She is “very committed to building a community hub in my community that supports all kinds of intelligence at a very high level for free.”
Community is actually the center of Halsey’s new show.Install my hope There are local businesses (including “Waz Up! Sportswear” and “Vanessa’s Positive Energy”), shops and other establishments (Summaeverythang featured), black and white and color decoupage photos, black Nefertiti, plastic palm trees, golden pyramids, along the forest Day-Glo muscle cars on the boulevard and more. Halsey reversed the poles, bringing the street into the gallery.
Halsey’s art sometimes looks like a collage broken down into pieces. Her sculptural forms are filled with imagery from black culture, while her acrylic and wood structures are covered in slogans. A white carbuncle, a misshapen heart, different rooms, a cantilever on the wall – although Halsey calls it a “funkmound,” it’s not officially named. It’s like a dancing planet with black kewpies, paper flowers, yellow toy school buses and a real mini waterfall, with a photo of a black model bathing in this imaginary life cave in the background. There are two huge collage walls crammed with faces and hand-painted signs, one of which reads “Florence,” a reference to the crossroads where the Rodney King protests erupted in April 1992. Elsewhere, there’s sporting Durag’s combined wraps, figurines, black churches, barbershops, beauty salons and logos for iridescent synthetic hair. The show is like a splendid flyover of a vibrant and dynamic landscape. Here I see the aesthetic conviction of an artist who will not stop trying anything in her grand vision.
Halsey’s 3D Rhapsody is reminiscent of what David Hammons called “Black Architecture”: “Nothing fits, but everything works,” he says. “It doesn’t have that neat, white way of putting things together.” Halsey’s art imposes the power of its own form on you; you feel the presence of an artistic light. There is also a sense that Halsey and a growing number of black artists are rejecting the restrictive ways in which much black art is codified today. Endless didactic museum labels, reviews, and essays reduce this art to an art of suffering, pain, and victimization.Black art is of course also relevant to these themes, but Halsey’s work, in its richness and overflow, is kiss Visual beats, showing that it’s much more than that, and that our restrictive discourse perpetuates stereotypes that limit deeper conversations about art’s mysteries, perversions, and other unmanageable qualities.
In Halsey, I found an artist about to have her work explode into massive, interconnected installations, Gaudi-style giant Gesamtkunstwerks. I see an artist sprite conjuring a modern Afro-futuristic city, a great geography of the living and the dead, a place of pain and joy. This goes beyond the old narrative of mourning and being damned. Halsey is in the cause of hope. She talks about “not diluting or flattening the subject and content”. She wants her art to be “a container for all these truly beautiful moments”, “a portrait of everyone from every angle”, a “complete experience of darkness”. She gave us a universe already contained in the South Central.