Rico Gatson

RICO GATSON: Three Trips Around the Block was a 15-year retrospective of work by New York artist Rico Gatson. This exhibition was the third in Exit Art’s SOLO program, aimed at providing public visibility for under-recognized, mid-career artists through one person shows at Exit Art.

Brooklyn-based Gatson was born in 1966 in Augusta, Georgia and raised in Riverside, California. His work generates collective memory through the exploration of symbols and images culled from popular culture and the mass media, questioning issues of identity, racial intolerance, and the status quo.

Three Trips Around the Block was a survey of Gatson’s sculpture, painting, video, drawings, and installations, including several new pieces created for the exhibition. The title of the retrospective stemmed from a powerful experience Gatson had with his brother who, after spending fifteen years in prison, reconnected with the artist by taking a long walk around the block. The conversation that occurred during their “trips around the block” inspired Gatson to creatively explore their own disparate lives – a personal excavation made public in this poignant and provocative exhibition.

In Two Heads in a Box (1994), the earliest work included in the exhibition, Gatson inverts the racial stereotype made popular by the white American singer Al Jolson, who performed in blackface during the 1920s and ‘30s. The artist, in whiteface and adorned with a white smile and cardboard tie, tirelessly sings the lyrics to “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy” until his exhaustion is visible. A compelling and haunting endurance test, Two Heads in a Box marks the beginning of Gatson’s exploration of racial and identity rhetoric.

Merging history, current events, and mass culture, Gatson’s videos, paintings, and sculptures are politically and racially charged commentaries on American culture. His two- and three-dimensional works are as thought provoking as his videos—abstractions in black and white become politically loaded symbols, and sculptures turn to totems of racism and hate. In the newly commissioned work, Gatson creates landscapes that harness the power and energy of the 1965 Watts riots, which spawned the Black Panthers and other social organizations of the 1960s. Critic Ida Panicelli wrote in Artforum: “Gatson works with precision, exploring power symbols as elements of collective imagination and bringing to light their potential for manipulation.”

Rico Gatson received a BA in Studio Art from Bethel College, St. Paul, MN and an MFA from Yale University. His work has been shown at Prospect.1 Biennial, New Orleans, LA; New Museum, New York, NY; Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY; Cheekwood Museum, Nashville, TN; and in two seminal exhibitions at the Studio Museum in Harlem, NY that traveled to The Santa Monica Museum of Art: Black Belt and FREESTYLE. His work is included in numerous public and private collections: the Denver Art Museum, Norton Family Foundation, and The Studio Museum of Harlem, among others. He is represented by Ronald Feldman Fine Arts and teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and New York University.

Organized by Exit Art with Ronald Feldman Fine Arts.