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Rashid Johnson: Broken Crowd

  • Date iconAugust 9 2023 - February 28 2024
  • Curator: Orly Rabi
  • Designer: Lia Tomashof
  • Rena (Fisch) and Robert Lewin Gallery

Rashid Johnson, an influential voice in contemporary art, addresses the issue of African-American individual and collective identity in the twenty-first century. Three of his works, presented in the exhibition, employ expressive body language to convey the physical and psychological experience of Black people in a racist, discriminatory environment.

In the painting Cosmic Slop “Grease, Johnson poured liquefied black soap mixed with wax on a board, making marks in the material before it solidified. The soap, originating in West Africa and used to treat sensitive skin, acts in Johnson's work as a kind of protective layer that symbolizes healing power. The vitality of the material and its spontaneous effusion echo the artist’s body movements while creating the painting, as in a performative dance.

The extroverted energy of the abstract action painting is also apparent in the facial expressions of the figures in the mosaic Untitled Broken Crowd. Rows of human beings, undifferentiated by race, sex, or nationality, emerge from the fragments of colored ceramic tiles, mirror, and wood. Their wide-open eyes and gaping mouths express anxiety, shock, or frustration with the human condition in the present day. They are witnesses to police brutality, violent political rhetoric, and the refugee crisis, or are protesters against these social ills.

Their figures, depicted in an abstract idiom, recall African masks, like those worn by the men in the video work The Hikers. Here, two Black dancers approach each other on a mountainside. As they meet, they pull off the anxious masks to reveal their faces, their intense convoluted movements becoming gestures of reciprocity and intimacy. The tension inherent in their motion illustrates the tremor accompanying the walk of the Black man as he becomes aware of the penetrating white gaze upon him.

The layers of paint on the wooden surface, the facial expressions and masks, and the skin protecting the body – all these depict the external covering and that which throbs beneath, the depths below the surface and the fear that’s been internalized.



Rashid Johnson, born USA 1977
Untitled Broken Crowd, 2019
Ceramic tile, mirror tile, branded red oak flooring, bronze, spray enamel, oil stick, black soap, wax, 240 x 326.3 x 7.6 cm
Gift of Nancy and Joseph Chetrit, New York; Sarah M. Millett and Dr. Peter J. Millett, Edwards, Colorado; and Daniella and Joshua Rogosnitzky, Monaco, with additional support from Sandy Heller, New York; Barbara and Richard S. Lane, New York, Shawn and Peter Leibowitz, New York, and Barbara and Richard Rothschild, Palm Beach, to American Friends of the Israel Museum
© Rashid Johnson
Photo courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth, by Martin Parsekian
Rashid Johnson, born USA 1977
The Hikers, 2019
16-mm film transferred to digital file with sound, 7:04 min
Gift of Florence and Ralph Kattan, Switzerland, to American Friends of the Israel Museum
© Rashid Johnson

A Conversation with Rashid Johnson