Late last year, after Donald Trump was elected President, Badlands Unlimited—the publishing house founded by the artist Paul Chan, which defies all labels except subversive and kickass—printed a poster with six incantatory stanzas of black-and-white text. It begins:
No to racists
No to fascists
No to taxes funding racists and fascists
In the wake of last Saturday’s act of domestic terrorism in Charlottesville, Virginia—and Trump’s shameful refusal to condemn the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who incited the violence—Badlands’ “New No’s” assumes a fresh, chilling resonance. A special edition of the poster, signed by Chan, is on sale at the Whitney (proceeds benefit Planned Parenthood and the A.C.L.U.) to accompany the exhibition “An Incomplete History of Protest: Selections from the Whitney’s Collection, 1940-2017,” which opens this Friday, August 18th.
In his new show, titled “Till, Lit,” the Jamaican-born, Harlem-based artist presents formally striking and politically charged sculptures made from surprising materials. The “till” of the title evokes both field labor and the reserves of a cash register. Compartments from the latter figure in a number of works here, as do delicate paper rectangles that are made from the excised edges of dollar bills. These shapes overlap in abstract compositions, such as the austere “Royal Alpha” and the shimmering “Providence Spirits (Silver),” which also incorporates cowrie shells (once valued as money). The legacy of slavery and its barbaric transactions suffuses the works on view. The powerful installation “Lit” uses buzzing floodlights and a concrete-submerged ladder to conflate antebellum slave patrolling with present-day police surveillance. The mixed-media work “Hanging Study” proposes a form of redress—it spells out the word “reparations.”