Noel W Anderson: Heavy is the Crown Exhibition Guide
The printed works, tapestries, and paperworks by American artist Noel W Anderson (b. 1981) on view consider the Black experience and its legacies between two eras of “Kings”–1963, when Martin Luther King Jr. presented his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, and 1992, with the brutal beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers and his ensuing plea, “Can we all just get along…?”
This exhibition furthers Anderson’s evolving exploration of Black sovereignty (and the symbolic implications of a “crown”) through the continuum of Black masculine (mis)representation in America. Critical to this inquiry are ghosts as subtext–spectral traces underpinning structural and systemic oppression. Sourced imagery from various media and archives are reprocessed by Anderson through manipulation and distortion. They raise questions about issues of race and gender, collectively exposing the haunting relationship between Black identity and structures of power. Pushing the boundaries of form and materiality, Heavy Is the Crown seeks to make real the immaterial.
Noel W Anderson received an MFA from Indiana University in Printmaking and an MFA from Yale University in Sculpture. He is also Area Head of Printmaking in NYU’s Steinhardt Department of Art and Art Professions. In 2018, Anderson was awarded the NYFA artist fellowship grant and the prestigious Jerome Prize. His solo exhibition Blak Origin Moment debuted at the Contemporary Arts Center (Cincinnati) in February 2017 and traveled to the Hunter Museum of American Art in October 2019. His first monograph, Blak Origin Moment, was published in 2019.
Anderson considers this doll to be a self-portrait. Pinned to the wall in a distressing manner, the doll is not meant to be comfortable to look at. Like several other items on display in the exhibition, this work is a found object that takes on new meanings when placed in the context of the exhibition. Through the doll, the artist includes his own body and experiences to address what it means to be Black today.
Tear Gas Canister, 2017–2020
Tear gas canister
The artist found this tear gas cannister from the early 1970s and positions it in this exhibition as an object for contemplation. Although the can is empty of its potent chemical, it is heavy with the weight of its past use and continued employment. Tear gas first was used in 1914 as a weapon of combat, and recent events of civil unrest have shown how law enforcement still deploys the powerful agent to incapacitate protestors. Anderson lets the stark black-and-red container speak for itself. Does it only offer pain, or can it be seen as a symbol of continued resistance?
Digital prints on erased Ebony pages
This trio of computer-generated portraits considers the ongoing legacies of police brutality by fusing the faces of three young Black men with the officers who killed them. Using the photographs most shown by media sources, the composites of Michael Brown and Darren Wilson, Eric Garner and Daniel Pantaleo, and Samuel DuBose and Ray Tensing remind the viewer about the loss of identity of victims of crime, especially of young Black men. They become inextricably linked to the agents of their death.
Cop 1, 2018–2019
Handmade paper object
Cop 2, 2018–2019
Handmade paper object
Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton’s killing by Chicago police in 1969 was a catalyst for a renewed call for change in the ongoing struggle for civil rights. His murder exposed the corruption of the Chicago police force and the FBI’s counterintelligence mission to disable the Black Panthers’ political power.
Anderson used an archival photograph from the night of the raid showing four officers carrying Hampton’s lifeless body. To distort the image, the artist reprocessed the original image, digitally altering the picture before having it woven, and subsequently distressed and stretched. The intentional undulation of the image partially cloaks understanding, physically and metaphorically denying easy comprehension of the artwork―emphasizing the lack of access to and understanding of the complexity of Black existence and identity.
Cop 3, 2018–2019
Handmade paper object
Cop 4, 2018–2019
Handmade paper object
Telfair Museums, Museum purchase with funds provided by
the Jack W. Lindsay Acquisition Endowment Fund, 2020.220
On view is a sourced photograph from 1970 of members of the New Orleans Black Panther Party held up against a chain link fence and surrounded by law enforcement. By choosing tapestry, Anderson calls attention to the history associated
with its materiality. He explains:
The use of cotton and its attendant vocabulary once woven is an intricate exchange with American history. The grain of images, the “nap of the weave,” the wavering borders suggest the margin creeps into the frame. Collapse is irresistible. Loose threads and the natural warp of the material represent a glitch that invites viewers to revisit their memories and notions. The Jacquard weave recalls analog while accompanying sound and video further develop the artist’s dialogue with how technological developments have changed our seeing. The digital artifact doesn’t glitch or slip. This trains a contemporary eye to trust the given image. The simultaneous familiarity and distortion of these ground images welcome viewers, while forcing them to physically shift in order to register the tapestries’ meanings. This is an exercise in perspective alteration.
The use of the Jacquard loom, a precursor to modern computer technology invented in the early 19th century, takes control of a tool traditionally reserved for wealthy elites to reclaim and locate black materialism and representation in the past and present.
FROM TOP LEFT TO BOTTOM RIGHT:
sly wink, 2010
Untitled, 2012-18 Woman There Is?, 2012-2018 Check the Skin, 2017
Escapism (ghost), 2017
Print on erased Ebony
Founded in 1945, Ebony magazine offered a positive vision of everyday life and achievement of Black Americans. Anderson strips the original magazine pages of ink through a chemical process, reducing the printed images to a ghostly trace. The superficiality of the image is emphasized by its evacuation and offers a hopeful reinterpretation of reality through the eyes of the viewer. The erasure of the Black body is an opportunity for the viewer to project promise back onto the empty space.
Grammatological I, 2014–2016
Epson transfer and collage on erased Ebony
Investigating the relationship between the written and spoken language, Grammatological I is a constellation of names, words, and phrases often associated with the Black experience. As evidenced by the books available for perusal in the adjacent gallery, Anderson’s practice is influenced by a variety of scholarly and literary texts including the seminal novel The Invisible Man (1952) by Ralph Ellison. Like the titular unnamed narrator in the book, the cutout letters emphasize anonymity and the disembodied experience of someone else telling your story. The blue background, like the walls of the gallery, recall the haint blue color traditionally used by the Gullah people in their homes to keep evil spirits from crossing their threshold, as it was believed that spirits could not cross over water.
Kings’ Speech, 2020–2021
Laser-cut basketball leather
This work splices together the text of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and Rodney King’s televised plea to end the riots in Los Angeles following the acquittal of the police officers involved in his beating. The letters are cut from basketball material and stand in as a metaphorical representation of a severance of skin from the Black body. While there is a violence in the separation, Anderson finds hope in the contradictory nature of needing to destroy oneself to renew or rewrite one’s history. Combining the past speeches together to create a new text, Anderson ushers in a hope for the future, the present moment, and urges reflection on the necessity of coming together today.
Photographs and birds
Like many of the works in this exhibition, Homecoming deals in contradictions. While representing independence of flight and mobility, the bird simultaneously symbolizes the inaccessibility of that freedom through its currently immobile state.
Taxidermy bird, bottle, police barricade
Made by a construction of glass, flammable liquid, and a fuel-soaked rag, the incendiary device known as a Molotov Cocktail is often associated with protests and riots. This version of the flammable weapon combines a taxidermy bird, a bottle of André Cold Duck sparkling wine, and a fragment of a police barricade. Without fuel, the device is useless and the dead bird and empty bottle represent its futility; the object emphasizes the hopelessness one can feel in forms of struggle pushing against the power of authority.
Distressed, stretched tapestry
The superimposed visages of Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968) and Rodney King (1965–2012) create a surreal portrait that synthesizes two time periods. By collapsing their lives and moments in time, Anderson draws attention to the continuous spectrum of Black experience and how it is often reduced and flattened to one moment. The strange quality of the visual serves to emphasize the surrealism of Black experience in a world built against that individuality and self-actualization.
Hampton’s Feet, 2018–2019
Handmade paper object
The disconcerting visual of the bare soles of Hampton’s feet are reframed here as an icon. His brutal murder inspired many who renewed their demands for justice. The emphasis on his body and the perspective that monumentalizes his feet and brings them close to the viewer heightens the emotional impact of his death and offers a compelling art historical parallel to Andrea Mantegna’s The Lamentation over the Dead Christ (c. 1480).
Haint Lens, 2021
Object encased in dirt
Here, Anderson obscures a piece of a light from a police vehicle by encasing it in layers of dirt. The artist is interested in how or if objects change meaning through interaction with time and the mutability of the earth. What is left of mankind when time and nature take over?
Foam, acrylic, glass slides, cord, conduit, dye, and wire on distressed tapestry
Hung heavily by a string from the wall, Prisoner is one of Anderson’s earliest investigations into collapsing the mediums of textiles, painting, sculpture, and photography. The original source image from a Fat Albert cartoon of a Black boy leading a white boy on a horse is purposefully obscured and covered with additional material, including glass slides of images that are often explicit in nature. Anderson seeks to repurpose images and stereotypes of Black existence and culture to question what it means to be a Black man today and how images shift meaning when the circumstances in which they are considered or displayed are changed.
Bleach, dye, laser-cut leather, starfish on distressed,
RIOT appropriates an image from the infamous video of Los Angeles police officers ruthlessly beating Rodney King in 1992. That video was broadcast across the nation and became one of the first documented and circulated videos of police brutality against a Black man. Anderson complicates the narrative by further separating the image from the actuality of the event by weaving it into a tapestry. The image is looped and rolled to mimic the technological glitch of a television screen. The extreme manipulation of the image through pulling, tearing, bleaching, and dyeing mirrors the abstraction of Black victims by the police and media.