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A (Columbia) Night at The Studio Museum in Harlem

Published on
December 5

Last Friday evening, the Studio Museum in Harlem opened its doors to the Columbia community for an Arts Initiative-hosted Columbia Night. The event focused on its current exhibitions Fore which featured artwork from two Columbia SOA graduates and was co-curated by a recent GSAS alum. The Studio Museum is a cultural gem situated just a 15-minute bus ride away from campus—much closer than the M4-accessible Met, Guggenheim, and typical 5th Avenue museum hotspots.

Taisha Paggett conducting her blindfolded gesture performanceThroughout the evening, curators led tours through Fore and the event culminated with a conversation with curators Naima J. Keith and Thomas J. Lax, a recent graduate of GSAS.Fore is a group showing in the Studio Museum’s series of emerging African American artist exhibitions featuring artists born between 1971-1987. The exhibit showcases several site-specific installations and performances that step away from the restrictions of the white walls of a traditional gallery or museum space. One particular standout is a piece by Taisha Paggett who, while blindfolded, repetitively performed a series of dance-like gestures while holding assorted color crayons. Paggett performed the piece at the opening of the exhibition so only the residual markings of her movements are left on the wall. These movements can be re-created by viewers by following the wall text explaining her movements.  The drawing itself demonstrates the individuality of each repeated movement and the trace of dance, which as a performance, is ephemeral and instantaneous.

Although the exhibit featured several installations and sculptures it was also heavy in painting. I loved the gorgeous mixed media paintings by Sienna Shields done to resemble topographic maps and the shimmering canvas covered in gold and a single shadowy figure by Noah Davis.

It’s an exhibit rich in personal narrative and dialogue on aspects of individual identity pertaining to race, gender, and sexuality. The experience of walking through the space was further enriched as curators vocalized the processes of each artist. They explain, for example, that Firelei Baez’s  wall of small collages of female silhouettes done in floral wallpaper, took her A piece by Firelei Baezimages from YouTube videos of women fighting in her exploration of the intersections of violence and entertainment. Yet the job of the curator is not just to show these narratives contained in each work, but to also put them in dialogue with each other so that the exhibit creates a larger statement.

I wasn’t able to stay for the final conversation, but I will be surely attending the second date of live performances of pieces in Fore in February. If you attend, look for artist Jamal Cryus who will be deep frying a saxophone while reciting a poem/recipe and and Paggett who will perform her gesture-drawing once more.

Interested in learning more? Read The New York Times’ review of Fore here and check out works by Columbia grads Valerie Piraino (’09SOA), Caitlin Cherry (’12SOA), and Thomas J. Lax (GSAS) at Fore continuing through March 10.

The Studio Museum is located off of the 125th street stop of the 2 and 3 and is open Thursday-Friday from 12-9PM, 10AM-6PM on Saturday.