Michael Rosenfeld Gallery is pleased to be participating in The Armory Show 2022 with a group exhibition encapsulating the gallery’s exciting and diverse program. Featuring an interdisciplinary selection of works dating from the interwar period through the present, our presentation offers a showcase of artists and movements central to the history of American art in the 20th and 21st centuries. The focus of the presentation is a wall-sized masterpiece by gallery artist William T. Williams (b.1942), Sister Puss (1968), which correlates to the artist’s solo exhibition at the gallery’s 19th Street space, William T. Williams: Tension to the Edge (September 8–November 5, 2022). Additional highlights include standout works by Benny Andrews (1930–2006), Robert Colescott (1925–2009), Joseph Cornell (1903–1972), and Agnes Pelton (1881–1961).
Williams’ Sister Puss (titled after a family member’s nickname that references the fairytale character Puss in Boots) belongs to a body of work that constitutes the genesis of the artist’s “diamond-in-a-box” motif, which became a formal and thematic continuum in his oeuvre. Williams has referred to this form as a “stabilizing force” that structures the chaos he sought to convey within these works as a reflection of the tumultuous conditions of the era. Such works embody “place as a specific type of poetry,” in Williams’ words, offering a composite of experiences and memories both personal and collective.
Williams’ historic painting will be complemented by a range of masterworks by artists consistently featured in gallery programming, including a standout collage painting from the same period by Benny Andrews. Liberty #6 (Study for Trash) (1971) is one of several finished paintings the artist referred to as a “study” for his monumental, multi-panel work Trash, also executed in 1971 and now in the collection of The Studio Museum in Harlem. Trash is the second work in Andrews’ Bicentennial Series (1969–1976), a cycle of six monumental paintings that convey, as the artist stated, “a Black artist’s expression of …his dreams, experiences, and hopes along with the despair, anger, and depression [felt in response] to so many other Americans’ actions.”
Carrying the torch of 20th-century figurative expressionism with a clear political message is Robert Colescott’s 1994 painting, Shakespeare's Africans (Suicide, Tragedy). Working in a distinct style characterized by cartoonish figuration, gestural brushwork, and dissonant color, Colescott’s satirical paintings contain razor-sharp critiques of American life and the Western cultural canon, often addressing the intertwined themes of race, sex, and class. Here the artist skewers the racism embedded in the Bard’s portrayal of Black figures through two of his best-known characters of African descent, Othello and Cleopatra, both of whom are fated to die by suicide in his plays.
A theatrical reimagining of a major artifact of European culture is also the basis for another highlight of the presentation, Joseph Cornell’s box construction Flemish Princess (c.1950). The diorama is exemplary of the artist’s surrealist assemblages, which juxtapose an array of symbolically loaded objects in arrangements that reflect his myriad interests, from astronomy and space exploration to ballet and opera. In Flemish Princess, Cornell positions printed reproductions of a Renaissance painting, Early Netherlandish painter Jean Hey’s portrait Suzanne de Bourbon (c.1492–93), behind wooden spheres resembling a child’s toy; the contents of the box are drenched in sepia tones, heightening the sense of nostalgia for past ages, both personal (i.e., childhood) and historical.