During his more than 40-year career, Chicago artist Pope.L has explored power disparities in language, gender, race, community and the environment across many mediums and disciplines. His exhibition with Modern Art centers on Skin Set, an ongoing project involving a number of text-inflected works that consider the construction of language, identity and stereotype as notation, holes and— frequently— humor.
Pope.L’s exhibition with Modern Art centers on his ongoing project, Skin Set, a constantly growing and shifting group of text-inflected works across many media that consider the construction of language, identity and stereotype as notation, hole and frequently absurdity and humour. The show, installed on both floors of the gallery, contains video, silkscreen, assemblage, floor pieces and paintings made between 2015 and 2021. On view are several medicine cabinets originally shown at the University of Chicago’s Neubauer Collegium earlier this year.
For a long time, if anyone ever asked for his contact details, Pope.L would produce a business card proclaiming him to be “The Friendliest Black Artist in America”. Sure enough, when he pops up on a video call from his ramshackle studio in Chicago, the performance artist and painter is amenable and thoughtful. In trucker cap and checked shirt, he shifts between smiles and pensive frowns as we track his journey from “difficult” childhood to one of America’s foremost artists, whose work deals with race, economics and language.
Down the street, in the posh, wood-paneled drawing room of the Neubauer Collegium gallery, Pope.L framed out a scrappy room-within-a-room to display five small paintings. The floor was covered in rolls of construction paper taped together at the seams; the walls and ceiling were made of two-by-fours; mirrored medicine cabinets, their doors hanging open, housed the canvases and still wore cling film, which quivered in the breeze generated by tower fans. Also fluttering were hundreds of disposable face masks dangling from the rafters, like festive paper banners—but not. The overall impression was of a medical construction project riskily abandoned halfway through.
After nearly a full year of closure, the University of Chicago’s Neubauer Collegium will reopen its gallery to the public—doing so with a new exhibition from acclaimed artist Pope.L.
On display through May 16, My Kingdom for a Title features recent work by Pope.L, a scholar in UChicago’s Department of Visual Arts. The show contains allusions to the COVID-19 crisis with a degree of directness that is unusual in Pope.L’s work, which is often elusive and ambiguous.
Artists Pope.L, Catherine Sullivan, and I work together at the University of Chicago where we have each spent many hours engaging with the artwork of our students. The following conversation grows from my great respect for their thinking as I have come to know them over the past nine years. Both allow themselves to be vulnerable as they orchestrate with affection and humility encounters with others in search of their subjects. I am moved by their bravery. In contrast to their training in theater, mine was focused on visual arts. This contrast, like dye added to cells in a petri dish, makes visible the ways in which our formative experiences influence the contours of our thinking.
My own work is heavily influenced by psychoanalytic theory and practice, in which I find openings to understand how meaning accumulates in flexible layers. I wondered if theater methodology provides a similar architecture for making sense of the complexity of human being. Perhaps all three of us are engaged in an effort to build a shared infrastructure that is in contrast to the rigidity of propaganda and our current polarized political situation.
Pope.L has worked in painting, performance, installation. An incisive cultural observer and artist of intervention, he may best be known for his performance pieces with people crawling on sidewalks and streets. His recent solo exhibitions include “member: Pope.: 1978-2001” at the Museum of Modern Art (2019), “Conquest” with the Public Art Fund in New York (2019), and “Choir” at the Whitney Museum of American Art (2019-20).
Pope.L’s I-Machine (2014–20) has a handmade, provisional appearance that conveys a sense of a thing in a state of ongoing and perhaps hopeless becoming. The artist describes the work as a “self-blinding contraption… self-blinding because its function is to encourage unknowledge or ignorance or, at best, reflection on ignorance and doubt. by encourage, i mean, when one is in the presence of this assembly, one should feel prodded toward opacity, uselessness, dumbness and incompleteness rather than transparency, smarty-pantsness and wholeness.”
POPE.L WALKS INTO A ROOM. Hair looks good. Everybody knows Pope.L’s hair be looking dry and wild but maybe Pope.L’s supposed to be unkempt. Pope.L walks right up to me, has something to say important, not conversational, not in a conversational tone he starts talking in an urgent manner. I do take note of people’s appearances, most everybody’s in the way when they come up to me to say something, I don’t pretend not to look. Pope.L starts talking to me like we’re familiar so I figured I forgot and knew Pope.L from before but I never forget a face even though since I gave birth I can’t remember shit I can’t recall words like I used to.
AMONG THE VIDEOS ON DISPLAY in “member: Pope.L, 1978–2001,” at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, many of which are grainy documents of Pope.L’s experimental theater works, is Egg Eating Contest (Basement version), 1990, a piece first performed in East Orange, New Jersey, in which the artist appears as a sort of emasculated black nationalist strutting around a cellar in a tattered black tunic.
Artists often adopt personas in their work — master painter, trickster, savant — and you can see this in the 13 performances of the maverick artist William Pope.L at the Museum of Modern Art. And he uses the characters in his show, “member: Pope.L, 1978-2001,” to critique race and class in the United States.
800 gallons of water is an abstract concept, until you see its volume cascade before your eyes into a cavernous holding tank. Then, that amount of water becomes visceral. It’s mesmerizing to sit before a specific amount of water, and contemplate the ways we use, exploit, and waste this most important of resources on a regular basis. This is the experience of witnessing Choir (2019), artist Pope.L’s gallery-filling installation currently on view at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
A pirate wench with the head of Martin Luther King Jr hangs upside-down from the ceiling, her bosom partially exposed, on the stand of Mitchell-Innes & Nash at Art Basel in Miami Beach. The ghostly figure also leaks a chocolate substance mixed with the paint thinner Floetrol. Altogether, the statue A Vessel in a Vessel in a Vessel and So On (2007), by the artist Pope.L, is a comment on the toxicity of black stereotypes. The technician who installed the eye-popping creation says that the dangerous-if-consumed liquid seeps out for three seconds at a time. Best to seek refreshments elsewhere.
“I got my own cultural anorexia,” the performance and visual artist Pope.L (formerly known as William Pope.L) wrote in his 1997 manifesto, “Notes on Crawling Piece,” declaring what he deemed a binge-and-purge relationship to modern art (despite the clinically inaccurate metaphor). “It’s kinda racy, / I get down on my belly and crawl till I’m reality.”
Pope.L has perfected crawling as his particular kind of disruption. He has traversed a substantial portion of New York City (and parts of Europe) on his hands, knees, stomach, and elbows, wearing everything from a Superman costume to a sports jersey and Nike sneakers. For his inaugural crawl, in 1978, the artist slowly made his way down Forty-second Street, passing Times Square, wearing a pin-striped suit with a yellow square stitched onto its back.
In 1978, Pope.L got on his hands and knees in a suit and safety vest, and made his way through the bustling crowds of Midtown Manhattan. Titled Times Square Crawl a.k.a. Meditation Square Piece, his performance combined a disturbance in public space with abjection and perverse humor, setting the tone for his subsequent experiments with what it means to make art and move through the world as a black man.
Pope.L deals in place, space, and traces. Since the 1970s, the artist has created provocative interventions in public spaces and work that experiments with language and material. With an affinity for the trope of the “trickster,” his work often provokes reconsiderations of societal conventions through an adjacency with the absurd.
Pope.L's absurdist exploits are the focus of an important new retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. The exhibition and accompanying catalogue are worthy testaments to the artist's unique talent, while also inspiring the viewer to consider how Pope.L's provocative interrogations of economic inequality and racial prejudice can be models for political engagement more broadly.
‘Black people are the window and the breaking of the window,’ reads Pope.L’s 2004 text drawing of the same title. ‘Purple people’, according to another work in his ‘Skin Set’ series (1997–2011), ‘are the end of orange people’, who elsewhere are defined as ‘god when She is shitting’. At Documenta 14 in Kassel, a selection of these works raised the dilemma (acute for the exhibition’s predominantly white European audience) of how to respond to the patent absurdity of such statements as White People Are the Cliffand What Comes After or Black People Are the Wet Grass at Morning (both 2001–02). The irresistible impulse to laugh is quickly overtaken by a commingled shame and anxiety. Isn’t it true, after a moment’s reflection, that historic injustices have been perpetrated in the name of racial definitions no less preposterous for having been supported by pseudosciences like phrenology or, let’s not forget, racist histories of art? And that equally imbecilic statements underpin the strain of identitarian politics that seems not only to persist in Europe and the United States but to be in the ascendant? And that people are dying as a consequence? So why was I laughing?
Since the late 1970s, Pope.L has worked in performance, video, drawing, installation, sculpture and teaching, troubling facile readings of the machinations that govern the relationships between race, labour, capitalism and materiality. His practice traverses genres in an attempt to reckon with everything from the tenuousness of Black masculinity in public space to the lingering economic effects of post-industrial America.
Chicago-based Pope.L participated in the 2017 Whitney Biennial and won that year’s Bucksbaum Award. Following his project focused on the water crisis in Flint, Mich., he has created a new installation that further explores the use of water. “Choir” is “inspired by the fountain, the public arena, and John Cage’s conception of music and sound.”
In New York, verticality is the definitive modus operandi. Both buildings and people perpetually strive skyward, driven by tenuous dreams of upward mobility. “But, let us imagine,” the American artist Pope.L proposed to fellow artist Martha Wilson in 1996, “a person who has a job, possesses the means to remain vertical, but chooses momentarily to give up that verticality?”
I lowered my blindfold and got on my hands and knees. Walkie talkies beeped and clipboards clacked. “We’ll be right here if you need anything,” a staffer assured me, stowing my belongings in a rolling cart. “We want to make sure you are safe and comfortable.” I did feel relatively comfortable, considering I was about to crawl along a New York City sidewalk—blindfolded, holding a flashlight, and wearing only one shoe.
Five men and women, each missing a shoe and encumbered with a flashlight in one hand, came belly down to the ground. They began to crawl along the gritty, unsavory New York City sidewalk, led by a marshal perfuming the air and sweeping the ground before them — and serenaded by a trumpeter playing melancholic riffs. The procession stopped traffic and drew people out of shops and restaurants, wondering what was going on.
The crawlers knew where to go by following the sound of a trumpet.
It was bright and early in New York at Corporal John A. Seravalli Playground when a group was congregating to kick off Conquest, artist Pope.L’s performance in which participants would drag themselves across a predetermined path. Organized by the Public Art Fund, this was a new work in a lineage of past “crawl” pieces by Pope.L, who was on hand on Saturday to tell the crowd that he hoped to cause a stir.
Conquest, Pope.L’s most recent performance project, engages his largest and most public cast to date. Commissioned by the Public Art Fund (PAF), the September 21st “crawl” is also more procedurally detailed, and more apparently and explicitly mocking, than previous crawls. When I spoke with Pope.L in late summer, he insisted he was not participating in the crawl, but just as soon acknowledged that he has never been able to keep himself from crawling, at least a little bit, alongside the participants.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever crawled in New York, but being that low to the ground, you experience all kinds of things,” says Pope.L. And he would know — the 64-year-old performance artist has decades of experience crawling at this point. For his latest piece, “Conquest,” the Newark native recruited some 140 strangers from various boroughs, walks of life, ages, and abilities to crawl, in a relay format, the 25 city blocks from the Corporal John A. Seravalli Playground in the West Village to Union Square.
As New York’s museums and galleries gear up for their fall and winter rosters, there’s a seasonal sense of anticipation that accompanies all these interlocking proceedings. You never know who or what will emerge from the flurry of offerings to produce something truly essential, and it’s clear that the Whitney Museum of American art, MoMA and the Public Art Fund are confident that “Instigation, Aspiration and Perspiration,” their collective exhibition with the interventionist performance artist Pope.L, will prove to be a deeply thoughtful project. Born in Newark, NJ, Pope.L has spent decades making art that interrogates what cities can produce and who metropolitan areas can disempower.
Pope.L: Instigation, Aspiration, Perspiration, an ambitious triumvirate of exhibitions by the Public Art Fund, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and The Museum of Modern Art, erupts Saturday with Conquest, his biggest group performance, involving some 140 to 160 people representing the city’s diversity in every manner from race and socioeconomics to range of mobility.
Jacolby Satterwhite: “You’re at Home” (Pioneer Works; 10/4–11/24) Promises a millennial-nostalgia house of horrors, or at least submerged longings. He’s building an immersive installation of video projections, virtual reality, and “a retail store styled to resemble a defunct Tower Records” to lose yourself in once you’ve made it all the way to Red Hook.
After winning the Whitney’s $100,000 Bucksbaum Award in 2017, Pope.L hits the New York institutional trifecta with an extravaganza of three upcoming shows. The Museum of Modern Art will mount a retrospective of the activist-sculptor-painter-provocateur’s work from 1978 to 2001 — including videos of the epic crawls he did on his belly through the streets of New York City dressed as an African-American superhero. Also stay tuned for a mass performance of over 100 volunteers of all races crawling together through the Washington Square arch to Union Square.
We’ve already put together guides to knockout institutional shows to see across the US this fall and what you need to check out in Europe, so now it’s time to take a look at what’s going on this season in museums in New York, where you’re never far from a great exhibition.
In 1991, the artist Pope.L dragged himself and a potted flower through Tompkins Square Park (Tompkins Square Crawl). The next year, while wearing a Santa hat, he spent three days trying to lift a bottle of laxatives with his mind (Levitating the Magnesia). In 2000, he gorged on copies of the Wall Street Journal and then puked them up (Eating the Wall Street Journal). In 2015, he raised a giant US flag in Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, where it flew until it began to fray (Trinket).
This fall, Manhattan’s most prestigious contemporary art spaces unite to celebrate the career-to-date of the renowned (and underappreciated) artist known as Pope.L.
In a little less than two months, you may see a squadron of New Yorkers slithering through the triumphal arch of Washington Square Park on their hands and knees.
Prepare yourself, because William Pope.L is coming to town.
The artist Pope.L, who has a trio of shows opening this autumn at three major New York Museums, will put out an open call this month for 100 volunteers to take part in a 1.5-mile performative crawl across the city, presented by the Public Art Fund on 21 September.
Pope.L and Adam Pendleton are two artists creating powerful, political works in very different media, but with shared goals and approaches. As a new show opens of their work, they tell us more about working together and why language is “both a mechanism of escape but also a trap”.
Since the 1970s, Pope.L (b. 1955 in Newark, New Jersey) has created a multidisciplinary oeuvre, including performance, installation, painting, drawing, sculpture, objects, and writing. Pope.L creates scenarios and poetics in order to address issues of category and identicalness usually parlayed via his interest in language, nation, gender, race, and class. In his “crawls,” one of his best-known performance sets, Pope.L literally crawls – alone or with other participants – through the hallways of buildings and city streets. In doing so, he draws attention to marginalized positions in society, and to the contradictions and double-binds through which we perceive ourselves and others. His performances often involve local citizens and thus build temporary communities who share the experience and struggle.
For almost four decades, Pope.L has challenged us to confront some of the most pressing questions about American society as well as about the very nature of art. Best known for enacting arduous and provocative interventions in public spaces, Pope.L addresses issues and themes ranging from language to gender, race, social struggle, and community. Adam Pendleton is a conceptual artist known for his multi-disciplinary practice, which moves fluidly. His work centers on an engagement with language, in both the figurative and literal senses, and the re-contextualization of history through appropriated imagery to establish alternative interpretations of the present.
The performance artist Pope.L is asking a lot of Art Institute audiences these days. His “experimental restaging” of a slavery narrative credited as the oldest surviving African-American play moves the few dozen attendees and performers from the bowels of the museum’s Rubloff Auditorium to its sound booth to, in one memorable, pungent moment, its women’s bathroom.
Earlier this month, the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh announced several new acquisitions, including “Fountain (reparations version)” (2016-17) by Chicago-based Pope.L. The sculpture is on view in the modern and contemporary galleries which have been re-hung to reflect the “depth, diversity, and eccentricities” of the Carnegie Museum’s collection.
The following interview—my second with Pope.L—was conducted through email correspondence over several months. His responses are written with the freewheeling, contradic- tory energy of his art, with both stuttered emotional reac- tions and carefully parsed explanations.
Flint Water Project, supported by the Knight Foundation as part of the Knight Arts Challenge and a Kickstarter campaign, came about when What Pipeline invited Pope.L to create a project in Detroit. The Kickstarter page states, “When Pope.L was asked by What Pipeline to do a commission for Detroit, he felt that whatever he did it should not re-victimize the city as had been done too often in the past. What if Detroit could be the hero and come to the rescue of another Midwest city in need?”
From his earliest works made as an undergraduate, which include fiction, plays, song lyrics, etc., that were retroactively organized under the title Communications Devices, Pope.L has wrestled with language as communication, while illustrating a profound understanding that language is not a transparent medium. Neither is race, however often it’s looked through. Instead, Pope.L makes the surfaces of his work murky and obdurate, highlighting their visibility while also obscuring them.
Chicago-based artist Pope.L, who recently won the 2017 Bucksbaum Award for his work in this year’s Whitney Biennial, is raising funds on Kickstarter for an interventionist installation and performance piece that calls attention to the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. For Flint Water Project, the artist will purchase and bottle 150 gallons of polluted water from Flint residents. He will then sell the bottles as limited edition artworks in Detroit.
“When Pope.L was asked by What Pipeline to do a commission for Detroit,” the Kickstarter proposal reads, “he felt that whatever he did it should not re-victimize the city as had been done too often in the past. What if Detroit could be the hero and come to the rescue of another midwest city in need?” It adds, at another point, “The goals for his work are several: joy, money, and uncertainty—not necessarily in that order.”
The esteemed multidisciplinary artist Pope.L is having a moment. His contribution to Documenta 14, the prestigious international exhibition in Kassel, Germany — and this year also in Athens — is the slyly subversive “Whispering Campaign,” featuring performers who walk the streets of both cities, confiding in strangers the artist’s elliptical yet biting aphorisms about race and color from his word- based “Skin Set” drawings. Last month, Pope.L’s “Claim (Whitney Version),” a beautiful vexing installation featuring an enormous pastel-colored room festooned with slices of baloney, received the Bucksbaum Award as a “boundary-breaking” work in the recent Whitney Biennial.
“It’s a really large enterprise, and this go-around it’s even more difficult to encompass,” Pope.L, who shows at Mitchell-Innes & Nash in New York, said while sitting next to me at L’Osteria’s zinc bar with free pistachios. “But I’ve been making works for the past ten years, maybe longer, where my intent is to make something that even I can’t encompass myself. So it felt perfectly within that agenda.
Pope.L wins 2017 Whitney Museum Bucksbaum Award | Chicago-based artist Pope.L is the 2017 winner of the Whitney Museum’s annual Bucksbaum Award. The $100,000 prize goes to Pope.L, also known as William Pope.L, for his contribution to this year’s Whitney Biennial: Claim (Whitney Version) (2017), an installation containing 2,755 slices of bologna.
“The Bucksbaum Award recognizes extraordinary artists whose works are inventive, urgent, and promise to be enduring,” Mary E. Bucksbaum Scanlan—the daughter of the prize’s namesake, Melva Bucksbaum, who died in 2015—said in a statement. “I am proud that this tradition continues with the first Biennial in the Whitney’s downtown home by honoring Pope.L, a singular artist in a class of his own.”
The multidisciplinary artist Pope.L (also known as William Pope.L) has been named the recipient of the 2017 Bucksbaum Award, which recognizes an artist whose work was featured in the recent Whitney Biennial. Previous winners include Sarah Michelson and Zoe Leonard.
Every two-and-a-half minutes exactly, Pope.L’s “Pedestal,” an upside-down water fountain bolted to the ceiling, releases a thin jet of water into a hole in the floor. It’s a disquieting meditation on the nature of time — endlessly replenished but endlessly fleeting — made more ominous by “Well (elh version),” a series of small ledges bearing water glasses that must be topped up with eyedroppers every day by gallery staff.
Best known for absurdist public performances, Pope.L has a history of dealing with the politics of race and identity—which the African-American artist doesn’t limit to black versus white: His installation at the 2017 Whitney Biennial, for instance, consists of a four-sided structure covered with rows of rotting bologna slices meant to represent the percentage of Jews in New York City. With a solo show opening in midtown, Pope.L talks about his fascination with the relationship between words and pictures, his fondness for quirky materials and the importance of truth in his art.
Generally made with pen and ink on graph paper, Pope.L’s Skin Set works from the late 1990s and into the 2010s offer sharp, sometimes witty critiques of the absurdity of racial stereotypes and references to skin color (i.e “Black People are the Window and the Breaking of the Window,” “Blue People Cannot Conceive of Themselves,” “White People Are Angles on Fire”). This exhibition of early works executed on local newspapers, billboards, and advertisements anticipates the artist’s Skin Set works. In a series of works dating from 1979-1994, Pope.L explores issues including race and masculinity and the function of language and materiality in his practice. The artist is also currently presenting work in the Whitney Biennial.
Written and signed by Pope.L himself, the text took on the absurd duty of explicating a work—titled Claim (Whitney Version), 2017—that is, among other things, about absurdity itself. The slices of bologna (2,755, to be exact) are said to correspond to a ratio relating to the number of Jewish citizens living in New York, and all the rest follows from that, from a methodical portrait-taking system to an ostensibly hyper-organized arrangement of objects in a grid with pencil lines to keep everything straight.
One of the show’s senior figures is the Chicago artist Pope.L — who facetiously called himself “the friendliest black artist in America,” and whose views on race and self are wildly unfixed. Here he reworks a 2014 installation in which hundreds of slices of bologna are fixed with small, hard-to-decipher photos. Mr. Pope.L suggests in an adjacent text that the photos represent Jewish people — but then again, the sitters may not be Jewish at all. Take the pungent bologna any way you like it. Ms. Locks put it this way: “I love the idea that it’s this perfect grid, this perfect system, with the most false, sloppy data points you’ve ever seen. Literally deteriorating.”
Ahead of his show at New York’s Drawing Center in 2018, the artist Pope.L held a workshop this summer with writers, curators and others to preview and discuss his staging of a play written by a former slave.
After five years in Chelsea, Independent—a younger alternative to the other main fairs this week, the Armory Show and the ADAA Art Show—migrated downtown for its 2016 edition. The fair’s opening on Thursday, on four floors of Spring Studios, a massive event space with high ceilings and large windows letting in light from the West Side of Manhattan, had a crowd lining up around the block to get inside.
Through March 5th, Andrea Rosen Gallery will feature a dual exhibition
of Pope.L andWill Boone. Both conceptual artists will occupy the three-room Chelsea
space with respective video installations, sculptures, and paintings.
At a preview last month, Pope.L discussed his ontological fascination with words by
divulging the inspiration behind some of his pieces, notably, Cone in a Forest and Cone for My Sister (Private Language Problem) (2015), a large cone installation made of wooden sculpted letters.
Following a powerful exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art this summer, the Chicago artist known as Pope.L, or just Pope.L, returns to Los Angeles with a show that sprawls across two galleries — Susanne Vielmetter in Culver City and Steve Turner in Hollywood — as well as the spaces in between.
The show at Vielmetter is titled “Forest.” At Turner, it's “Desert.” And Pope.L has created audio GPS tours for driving between the two. This emphasis on the space between is just one point of entry to an exhibition that includes drawings on Pop-Tarts, stuffed animals entombed in peanut butter and giant erasers. Throughout, Pope.L draws connections between interstitial spaces and our notions of blackness.
Pope.L has a prolific and polymorphous multi-media art
practice. In addition to his well-known performances, he creates
sculpture, installation, drawings, paintings, photography, video, and
writing. With seemingly inextinguishable curiosity and boundless
appetite, Pope.L absorbs every possible medium and explores the many
themes that are important to him with drollery, poetry, and a unique,
irreverent, inquisitive, and highly personal point of view. He once
described himself as “a fisherman of social absurdity.”
Chicago-based artist Pope.L works in a variety of mediums, including painting, spoken word, installation, and performance, to challenge ideas of race and social stereotypes. His practice questions society’s claims on identity and the body. Pope.L has famously crawled all over New York City: for his piece “Tompkins Square Crawl” (1991), he climbed through the gutters of Tompkins Square Park in a suit, and in “The Great White Way,” he crawled the entire 22 miles of Broadway over a period of five years wearing a superman suit with a skateboard slung over his back. He has eaten an issue of the Wall Street Journal while sitting on a toilet in his piece, “Eating the Wall Street Journal” (2000). He copyrighted his personal slogan: “The Friendliest Black Artist in America©.” His paintings and sculptures often use a variety of white foods: mayonnaise, flour, and milk. Pope.L is a master of, in his words, “genre-hopping”; he does not sit still, he’s constantly in motion challenging ideas of who we are, what we are, and what it means to be American.
Pope.L’s powerful exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Geffen Contemporary subtly replaces passive viewing with multisensory experience. The show teems with possibilities for heightened sensation—smell, touch, vision and hearing—and draws on Pope.L’s decades of performance and video work to evoke the kinds of physical and psychical shifts a performer might experience. At the center of this selection of nine mixed-medium pieces dating from 1992 to the present is Trinket (2008/2015), a 16-by-45-foot American flag blown by four large industrial fans of the type used to simulate tornadoes on movie sets.
“Twenty years ago all the ambitious young painters I knew in New York saw abstract art as the only way out.” This sentence, the start of Clement Greenberg’s 1962 essay “After Abstract Expressionism,” provides a particular way into Pope.L’s determined exhibition at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA. Those painters of the 1940s, to Greenberg at least, were trying to leave behind not so much representational art, given their relative commitment to the progressive aims of modernism, but more the visuality of illusion itself. Pope.L, like most of the critical artists of his generation, understood that those aims were just as oppressive of the potent interplay of abstraction, representation, and illusion that remains with us today, as they were of artists themselves. This exhibition presents a focused selection of key works of Pope.L’s that reinforce and reconfigure categories like painting, sculpture, performance, photography, and video in order, it seems, to maintain any way out of a category or situation as another way in, even if the entire show happens to be dominated by a work made with an enormous flag of the United States of America.
"Trinket" is a monumental 2008 installation sculpture by Newark-born, Chicago-based artist Pope.L, 59, that put the disheartening display of media-mad political theater into devastating perspective. Centered on Old Glory, its title references the lapel pin. [...]
"LOS ANGELES — It was a plaintive sight: a monumental American flag drooping so low on its pole that it would touch the ground were it not for a wood platform. The artist Pope.L was tending to the flag carefully. He lifted the tail end, where the stripes were separated at the seams, and spread them apart, the way you might separate a girl’s long hair before braiding it.
“This is just to make sure it catches properly and doesn’t tangle,” he said. An assistant switched on four large Ritter fans, the kind used by movie studios to whip up 40-mile-an-hour winds.
Soon the flag was flying high, a wild, hydra-like form. Only it was not flying in the open air but inside the belly of the Geffen Contemporary, a branch of the Museum of Contemporary Art here, where Mr. Pope.L was readying his largest museum show to date. [...]"
The largest-ever museum presentation of work by Pope.L could, quite literally, raise the roof. The centerpiece of the exhibition, Trinket, 2008, is a massive custom-made American flag—around 50 by 20 feet—which will be hung from a pole in the middle of the Geffen Contemporary gallery at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, and blown about by four industrial fans of such strength that the flag’s ends will start to fray. The wind force is such that the building’s ventilation system has been reconfigured to make sure the roof stays intact.
A mainstay of performance and installation art since the 1970s, Pope.L will open the largest museum show of his work to date at the Geffen Contemporary at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, on March 20, 2015. Trinket, 2008, the centerpiece work, and also the title of the show, is a large-scale American flag that will be blown continuously during the museum’s public hours by a bank of industrial fans. Here, Pope.L discusses the show, which runs until June 28, 2015.
“I have a very divided take about being on the cover of Artforum,” said Pope.L, who is black. “That’s something I’m supposed to want. All artist are supposed to want that. It’s really funny when you get what you want and you have no idea what it is. You have fantasies about these things, and you get drunk and you talk about these things. ‘Oh, my Guggenheim show, we’ll get drunk and we’ll be in the back with our friends.’ It’s never like that.”
Beginning in th elate '90s, Pope.L famously crawled along 22 miles of sidewalk, from the beginning to the end of Broadway - Manhattan's longest street - wearing a capeless Superman outfit with a skateboard strapped to his back.
In 1961, the artist Allan Kaprow, who coined the term happenings, created an installation in a small open-air courtyard behind the Martha Jackson Gallery at 32 East 69th Street. He wrapped several sculptures already there — a Giacometti and a Barbara Hepworth — in protective tar paper, then filled the space with hundreds of old automobile tires, tossing them around to make piles that visitors were invited to climb.
Pope.L lines the gallery with more than a hundred small drawings made in transit since 2003—on airplane napkins, newspaper photographs, hotel stationery, a Howard Johnson's shoe mitt, and so on. The images tend toward the humorously sexual, with plenty of bespectacled worms, volcanoes, and explosions.