ArtForum Critics Picks, October 2019
Hunter Museum, Chattanooga, TN
Noel W. Anderson, die Leitung, 2016–17, cotton tapestry, 108 x 156″.
Noel W. Anderson has compiled a working archive of images and sounds that represent an American imagination of black masculinity. Looming behind his multilayered investigation is a question, addressed to all consumers of his imagery: How do you understand blackness?
Die Leitung, 2016–17, depicts a group of black men—stripped to their underwear, barefoot, and handcuffed—standing side by side in front of a brick wall. The presiding officer has his gun pointed toward the sky, a grin on his face. The image is haunting. The source photograph has been abstracted—the lower section is a blur of wavy legs and sidewalk—in its transformation into the distressed jacquard tapestry on view. Through their repetition in mass media, images such as these, portraying the other as a criminal, masquerade as truth in the collective imagination. Anderson’s distortions call to viewers to linger on the images, to attend to what else they might represent: criminal injustice, police brutality, the dissemination of similar spectacles.
An audio collage, The Archive Speaks, 2016–17, constitutes a different kind of archive, this one perhaps more personal, invoking the idea of roots and involving music that Anderson listens to in his studio. The sampled voices run the spectrum from angsty and exhausted all the way to joyful. The piece plays faintly from speakers installed high above, but attentive listeners can still make out horn virtuoso Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s brassy strut and the distinctive voice of James Baldwin. Richard Pryor fades in with an uproarious response to the police during a stand-up routine: “I am reaching into my pocket for my license . . . ’cause I don’t wanna be no motherfuckin’ accident!”
Anderson has juxtaposed sights and sounds that need each other. The textiles are cinematic appropriations of tools for controlling a narrative; the audio supplies first-person retorts to white power.