Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Yinka Shonibare MBE

The Yinka Shonibare retrospective opening at the Brooklyn Museum last week proved to be one of the most prolific Brooklyn events this summer thus far for Sarah and the Holograms (no one really calls my friends that but I've always secretly wanted to be Jem when I grow up and thought that maybe if I start referring to them as Holograms on my blog the trend will soon follow.)

Between Alison, Laura, Michael and I, we scored four VIP tickets to the opening and then four VIP tickets to the Femi Kuti concert in Prospect Park afterwards (post to follow.) I know we sound important, but its just because Cynthia didn't want to go and Alison joined the museum. Whatever, we're also Very Important People in our our right.

We arrived on the first real summer evening we've felt here in NY-- it was sunny and not humid but still warm and not rainy. Finally. We sipped cocktails in the atrium before being ushered to the special conference room for an intimate conversation with Yinka himself. (Intimate= him plus about 200 other people but whatev.)

He is quite pompous in person-- sorry, but he is. Two men in nineteenth century bustled drag ushered him onstage where he answered questions in slight exasperation and an air of 'you should know the answer to this question already' with a subtle eye roll. (Although ALL of the questions about 'why the mannequins didn't have heads' DESERVED eye rolls. Holy cow, people. Don't be dumb.)

It works, though. His attitude, his air... it is part of his art. He demands the 'MBE' after his name (Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) not because he is actually proud of it, but because he finds it slightly ridiculous. He holds the African part of his work nose to nose with the British portion. He mocks society yet he also yields to it.

Vivien asked me after the show why I liked it. She asked why I thought he was important. The most I could come up with in my champagne haze was his specific link to artists past and his intentional reference to not only history but political statement. He is a THINKER, a fully aware mind who crafts his art with such an incredible attention to detail that I'm sure his workshop growls in resentment each time he leaves the room.

The composition is flawless and the message obvious. We want to look at his work and we immediately understand what it's saying. He holds more in common with Lawrence Weiner than he does with Fragonard but his graceful lines and triangle poses trick us into admiration via beauty. It's his point and his humor.

The show itself was completely enjoyable, although perhaps done before. I did hear very audible gasps as we entered the Gallantry and Criminal Conversation room, proving that his one-two punch still works its determined magic. The installation is based on the Grand Tour and its underlying mischief. It's overtly sexual yet entirely playful. It isn't offensive and its politics reach the equivalent of Marilyn Monroe's version of Happy Birthday. It suggests (okay, screams) indiscretion but isn't quite pointing fingers.

The exhibition reached far beyond the famed Gallantry piece, it extended into his photography, painting, and orininal work for the decorative arts galleries that will BLOW YOUR MIND. Think Where's Waldo.

It was a pleasant night with pleasant art. All just blocks from my little apartment and the big park that we call home. AND there were free cocktails and chicken skewers. Awesome.

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