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Gagosian, New York, Inaugurates Titus Kaphar Representation with New Show

Titus Kaphar, Twins (2020) (detail). Oil on canvas. 212.7 x 172.7 cm. © Titus Kaphar. Courtesy Gagosian. Photo: Alexander Harding.

A painter, sculptor, filmmaker, and installation artist, Kaphar reexamines American history by deconstructing existing representations and styles through his own formal innovations. His practice seeks to dislodge history from its status as ‘past’ in order to understand its continuing impact on the present. Using materials including tar, glass, and rusted nails—together with highly refined oil painting—and employing techniques such as cutting, shredding, stitching, binding, and erasing, he reworks canonical art historical codes and conventions. And by uncovering the conceptual and narrative underpinnings of certain source images, he explores the manipulation of cultural and personal identity as a central thematic concern while inventing new narratives.

While much of Kaphar’s work begins with an exhaustive study of pre-twentieth-century master painting techniques, From a Tropical Space sees him wield these various methods to create an emotionally saturated visual landscape that is entirely contemporary. Just as artists, through time, have translated the fraught and mercurial sociopolitical contexts in which they operate into new and often radical aesthetic modes, so do the pervasive social and cultural anxieties of the world in which we find ourselves resonate throughout Kaphar’s new work.

In From a Tropical Space, Kaphar presents a haunting narrative of Black motherhood wherein collective fear and trauma crescendo in the disappearance of children, literalised through the physical excision of their images from the canvases themselves. The absence of each juvenile figure—whether seated in a stroller or held in a woman’s arms—reveals only the blank gallery wall beneath. The intense coloration of the suburban environments in which the figures are set only heightens a pervasive tension—these are images for uncertain times. Demonstrating further the broader resonance of Kaphar’s recent work, Analagous Colors (2020) was featured on the cover of the June 15 issue of TIME magazine, which included a report on the protests sparked by George Floyd’s killing at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Kaphar’s work and practice reflect on the experience and perception of historically underrepresented and marginalised groups, including the African American community. Key to Gagosian’s representation of the artist is the gallery’s substantive ongoing support for NXTHVN (Next Haven), a new national arts model established by Titus Kaphar with cofounder and chairman of the board Jason Price and cofounder Jonathan Brand in 2015. Located in the Dixwell neighbourhood of New Haven, Connecticut, NXTHVN nurtures creative talent within and beyond the local community, offering fellowships, residencies, and other professional development opportunities to artists, curators, and local high school students. NXTHVN is housed in two repurposed factory buildings designed by Deborah Berke Partners, where it maintains exhibition and performance spaces in addition to studio and co-working facilities.

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