The "grief" part of this stunning new exhibition is what hits you first, the devastation and mourning of Black lives lost to racist violence in America. The "grievance" component is a bit more subtle: those imagined injustices, often politically orchestrated, of white America terrified of losing its power, frequently manifested in white nationalism. The two are intertwined, of course, both in the nation right now and in the works of the 37 Black artists at this exceptional show at the New Museum on Bowery, which opened last week and runs until early June.
The Grief and Grievance exhibition was set in motion by curator Okwui Enwezor back in 2018, and the initial plan was to present it during last year's presidential election. Enwezor's death in 2019--a team of four artists and advisors close to the project, Naomi Beckwith, Massimiliano Gioni, Glenn Ligon, and Mark Nash, took over the curatorial duties--and the pandemic in 2020 pushed back the opening, but it certainly still feels as urgent and vital today as it would have last year.
The show takes over almost the entire museum, filling all three main viewing floors as well as the lobby, the building's exterior (Ligon's "A Small Band", which reads "blues blood bruise"), and the South Gallery in the building next door, which you can access through the lobby. The piece in the latter should not be missed, a seven-and-a-half-minute long gut-punch of a sound and video collage by Arthur Jafa entitled "Love Is the Message, the Message Is Death."
Nari Ward recreates his tar-slathered hearse for the show, called "Peace Keeper" and embedded with peacock feathers. Carrie Mae Weems' "All the Boys" series is tucked away on the second floor, diptychs of redacted police reports from the killings of, for example, Trayvon Martin paired with redacted photographs of a young black male in a hoodie. And an excellent late-period Jean-Michael Basquiat, a parade of mourners chasing the dead called "Procession," greets you as the elevator opens on the third floor.
Also on three is Kevin Beasley's "Strange Fruit," a mobile of sorts with Air Jordans and sound equipment dripping with polyurethane and strung from the ceiling. One of Lorna Simpson's hypnotic "blue" paintings is here as well, inspired in part by the exploits of Matthew Henson, a Black man who made it to the North Pole alongside his far more famous white colleague, Robert Peary. The incomparable Kara Walker has a wall of visceral sketches and drawings that reward a long look; Diamond Stigley's trio of doors, baseball bats propped at the ready, is a powerful evocation of her childhood in Chicago; and LaToya Ruby Frazier contributes more than a dozen highly personal photographs from her "The Notion of Family" series.
The fourth floor gallery is dominated by Rashid Johnson's monumental installation "Antoine's Organ," its steel scaffolding packed with plants (and their grow lights), video monitors showing clips from Johnson's other works, a selection of books from Richard Wright's Native Son to the "Big Book" of Alcoholics Anonymous, and an upright piano perched about halfway up, at which Antoine Baldwin will perform at scheduled times. Spend some time taking this one in; it offers a full sensory experience.
Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning In America is now showing at the New Museum, 235 Bowery between Stanton and Rivington Streets, through June 6. Pandemic protocols such as temperature checks and timed entry tickets are in place.