Rashid Johnson's show "Rumble" at Hauser & Wirth is as culturally bland as a soda cracker. It's really hard to beleive that he is one of the six finalists for the 2012 Hugo Boss Prize.
Johnson born in 1977 is similar to contemporary artist Kara Walker in two ways: Both were raised by a parent who was in the academic world and both deal with race as seen from an African American perspective. One thing that sets the two apart though is that unlike
, Rashid Johnson has a direct connection to his subject matter which turns “the” black experience to “a” black experience. Walker
The only problem is that his experience floats on the surface of a far deeper pool.
Shea butter, incense and hip-hop mean about as much to white
as it does to any person of color…well maybe not the Shea butter, I’ll give him that. You see, Mr. Johnson is 35 years old which means he was coming of age in the mid to late 80's just when the great multicultural wave began to sweep over the collective mindset of this country. America
Take boxing for instance, a sport that Johnson references in the shows title. Johnson recalls going with his father to watch the fight between Mike Tyson and Michael Spinks in 1988 which means that by the time little Rashid was a mid teen, heavyweight boxing was fast moving from being an Afro-American thing to being a sport saturated by a flood of European fighters. In fact, the heavyweight boxing division has been dominated by the very white Klitschko brothers for the past 15 years or so. This reference is not simply an afro centric one anymore.
Leaning too heavily on race would seem to be a very perilous choice in this day and age (thankfully) but it seems that Johnson is squeaking by anyways.
I do not think history will be kind to this artist’s work unless he can stand on his own two feet and move the content closer to an experience that has more layers; one example would be his use of the CB radio, this is a not so obvious object that is tied into a more complex personal history. This could prove to be a much more interesting direction rather than traveling the well worn route of cultural cliches...I quote Funkadelic: Free Your Mind... and Your Ass Will Follow.