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‘Uptown’ at the Lenfest Center for the Arts Wallach Art Gallery

Art Scene

‘Uptown’ at the Lenfest Center for the Arts Wallach Art Gallery

A forward-thinking exhibition full of integrity can be found in Uptown, currently on view at Columbia University’s new Lenfest Center for the Arts. The center’s spacious 6th floor Wallach Art Gallery is part of the university’s new Manhattanville campus and offers floor to ceiling views of skyline and the Hudson River that break up any sense of being in a white cube. Located just past 125th street off Broadway, the exhibition is part of a larger initiative highlighting galleries, museums and presenters in the area, and features the work of artists who live or practice north of 99th street – in Harlem, El Barrio, Washington Heights or northern Manhattan.

Artwork by Miguel Luciano – Photo Anders Jones

Highly regarded and emerging artists alike are featured in Uptown, the space’s inaugural triennial exhibition. Works by art world luminaries like Julie Mehretu, Renee Cox, Ghada Amer, and Nari Ward among others share space with rising practitioners Miguel Luciano and Duhirwe Rushemeza. The most straightforward work in the exhibition comes from photographer, John Pinderhughes, a long time member of the African-American photography collective, Kamoinge, founded in 1963. His black and white portraits of African-American elders and Harlemites capture the everyday essence of a community rich in history. A variety of additional mediums can be found in the remainder of the space including sculpture, video, embroidery, painting, installation and mixed media works.

Artwork by Nari Ward (center) – Photo Anders Jones

Nari Ward’s sculptural installation of an embellished and repurposed neon liquor sign lays across the floor in the center of the gallery space. With several of the letters in the word “liquor” turned upside down, only a few letters actually lit up, and fake flowers and cut off tips of old shoes decorating the top of the long rectangular sign casing, the piece appears to be a memorial of sorts. The ramifications of alcohol on all types of communities, the proliferation of liquor stores and funeral homes in black communities like Harlem, and the relationship of these dynamics to class, race and power can be considered through the work.

Artwork by Duhirwe RushemezaPhoto Anders Jones

A number of abstract works in the show are both playful and deeply imbued with an exploration of the freedom of expression. Duhirwe Rushemeza, Miguel Luciano and Michael Kelly Williams are all innovative in their use of wide ranging materials. Rushemeza, working in cement, abstract geometric coloring and collage, manages to obscure the heft and weight of concrete; replacing it with a sense of painterly pleasure. Luciano’s customized vintage Schwinn bicycles commemorating Puerto Rican bike clubs in New York and explore Puerto Rican history also manage to play music, serve shaved ice, and radiate vibrant color and polished chrome. Williams’ airy sculptures mixing beading, old brass instruments, and metal objects speak beautifully to the intersection and creation of aesthetic legacies from the black diaspora.

Artwork by Michael Kelly Williams – Photo Anders Jones

Similar to many of the works of art in the exhibition, the elegant curation of the show favors political content that is treated with neither pop culture simplicity nor blatant aggression. Instead, conversations around class, race, immigration, gender and culture are elevated and left open for inspired contemplation.

Uptown is on view at the Lenfest Center for the Arts Wallach Art Gallery on Columbia University’s Manhattanville campus until August 20, 2017.