J’s Theater blog, 2013

Now Dig This! From LA to NY Symposium

by John K, 2013

As part of the Museum of Modern Art PS!’s current – and excellent – exhibition, Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960-1980, a day-long symposium took place on Friday, February 8, 2013, at MoMA’s Manhattan headquarters, in the Roy and Niuta Titus Theater 2.  The symposium’s aim included exploring the connections and parallels between the African American artistic communities in these two cities through an examination of the social and cultural atmospheres in both during the 1970s and early 1980s, in part by giving voice, literally, to some of the artists, gallerists, and critics featured in the show.  Now Dig This! originally ran in Los Angeles as part of a series of exhibitions gathered under the theme and title of Pacific Standard Time, and will continue at MoMA PS1 until March 11, 2013.  See it before it’s gone!

The first panel, which I was unable to attend, took up this thread directly, with organizer and scholar Kellie Jones, Cheryl Finley, Komozi Woodward, each delivering talks, moderated by curator Franklin Sirmans.  The first afternoon panel focused on the legendary Just Above Midtown Gallery, a black-owned space on Franklin Street

that served as a laboratory, launching pad, training ground, and “club house,” as its founder, filmmaker Linda Good Bryant put it, for a number of figures who have gone on to great fame, including David Hammons, Fred Wilson, Lorraine O’Grady, Senga Nengudi, and Ulysses Jenkins, the latter three of whom were present and all gave presentations or performances related to their experiences with and at JAM.  Naima Keith moderated the Q & A session that followed.

I’d heard of the gallery but knew little about it except that it had been a cynosure during its existence, but seeing Bryant’s film clips, and hearing her talk about how and why she started it, who passed through, and what the gallery meant and still means was illuminating.  One of the video clips showed Hammons urging artists to stay out of/away from the gallery world, an admonition it’s clear most of the younger generation, who can more easily and freely participate in a system that excluded their elders, have ignored.  As she spoke, she invited everyone in the room to tear pieces of newspaper into strips which she would later use as part of her vermiculture efforts at community gardens all over New York.  ( . . . )

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