Houston-based artist Rick Lowe joins the Menil’s Senior Curator Michelle White for a conversation on the occasion of the museum’s recent acquisition of Lowe’s 2020 work, Untitled. The artwork belongs to an ongoing group of paintings and drawings based on aerial views resembling maps of neighborhood communities made by urban planners along with domino games superimposed. Lowe and White discuss these compositions, poised between abstraction and topographic depictions and their relation to Lowe’s broader work anchored in community engagement.
Social Works considers the relationship between space—personal, public, institutional, and psychic—and Black social practice. With a wide range of material and theoretical approaches, the work on view is united by a conscious engagement with today’s cultural moment, in which numerous social factors have converged to produce a heightened urgency for Black artists to utilize space as a community-building tool and a means of empowerment.
Known for his masterful use of light, shadow, and space, as well as his integration of diverse forms, David Adjaye approaches architecture as a way to promote inclusive accessibility and to reflect upon the human legacies embedded in the built past. Asaase (2021), his first large-scale autonomous sculpture, is a maze of nested earthen walls that climb to a conical vertex, referencing historic works of West African architecture such as the Tiébélé royal complex in Burkina Faso and the walled city of Agadez in Niger.
Rick Lowe’s abstract paintings allude to a phenomenon that he terms “domino culture”: the social spark and unique joining of lives that comes about through the game. Lowe, who founded the art-based community platform Project Row Houses in the Third Ward of Houston, Texas, brings his approach to social commitment to a new series of canvases that memorialize the 1921 Tulsa, Oklahoma, massacre—where white supremacists razed the city’s Greenwood District, the prosperous neighborhood known as “Black Wall Street”—and commemorate the resilience of the survivors who rebuilt their hometown from the ground up. [...]
How have Black innovation and prosperity persisted in the face of economic exclusion and racial violence? How does innovation relate to self-determination for Black Americans? And what if safety and equity were guaranteed?
This conversation takes histories of Black invention and affluence as starting points to imagine new conditions for the present and future. It brings together architects, artists, and audience members around key questions raised in the exhibition Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America. The discussion is moderated by Tracie Hall, executive director of the American Library Association.
Tracie Hall is the tenth Executive Director of the nearly 150 year-old, 56,000 member American Library Association. Deeply invested in the intersection of arts, literacy, and economic access, Hall is the recipient of numerous awards for her creative and community work, and is Founding Curator of the experimental arts space Rootwork Gallery in Chicago.
Walter Hood is the creative director and founder of Hood Design Studio and is Professor of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning and Urban Design in the College of Environmental Design at the University of California, Berkeley. As a landscape and public artist he creates urban spaces that resonate with and enrich the lives of current residents while also honoring communal histories.
Rick Lowe is an artist who champions people and communities through social practice-based art projects. In 1993 Lowe co-founded Project Row Houses, an arts and cultural community located in Houston’s significant, historical Third Ward – one of the city’s oldest African American neighborhoods. He uses creativity as a catalyst for change and for empowering people across economic, social and political realms.
Amanda Williams is a visual artist who trained as an architect. Her creative practice employs color as a way to draw attention to the complexities of race, place and value in cities. The landscapes in which she operates are the visual residue of the invisible policies and forces that have misshapen most inner cities. Williams’ installations, paintings and works on paper seek to inspire new ways of looking at the familiar and in the process, raise questions about the state of urban space and citizenship in America.
In the early 1970s, when artist, filmmaker and curator Linda Goode Bryant first set out to lease Manhattan gallery space to show the work of Black artists, she typically received one of two responses from agents and landlords: a hung-up phone or a string of racist remarks followed by a hung-up phone. “It was nasty as a mofo,” says the 71-year-old. After countless calls, she eventually secured a 57th Street space and founded New York City’s first major Black-run art gallery, Just Above Midtown, where she showcased now-legendary artists like David Hammons and Lorraine O’Grady. “We didn’t just do painting,” Goode Bryant says. “We did performance art, we did film, we did music, we did everything.”
This summer, Goode Bryant is part of a cohort of Black artists featured in Social Works, an exhibition at Gagosian in New York curated by the newest of the gallery’s directors, 32-year-old Antwaun Sargent. On from June 24 to August 13, the show includes work by acclaimed talents like Titus Kaphar, Carrie Mae Weems and Theaster Gates as well as by lesser-known, younger names like the video artist Christie Neptune and the curator-artist Zalika Azim, all of whom investigate the experience of Black people moving through space—physically, psychically, temporally, institutionally and generationally. [...]
"In 1992, the Alabama-born artist Rick Lowe, then 31, had been living in Houston for seven years when a handful of high school students visited him at his studio. At the time, he was making large-scale paintings and sculptures inspired by the poverty and inequality he saw around him in the city’s Third Ward, but then one of the kids asked him a question he could not answer: If you’re an artist, why don’t you come up with a creative solution to the problem? That encounter sparked Project Row Houses, a now almost 30-year-long nonprofit enterprise that vividly examines the porosity between art and activism. Influenced by the German artist and agitator Joseph Beuys, the progenitor of “social sculpture,” and the work of John T. Biggers, who painted haunting, impressionistic scenes, Lowe and a group of collaborators raised money to buy 22 shotgun houses, and renovated them for artists’ residencies and community use. Maintaining their pier-and-beam structures was not cost effective, but Lowe felt it was important to celebrate the African-American vernacular, first erected in West Africa and brought eventually to New Orleans. Behind eight houses that to this day are occupied for up to five months by artists, Lowe and his collaborators renovated others for single mothers to use for up to two years. And over the decades, the project has expanded to include a series of low-to-moderate-income duplex residences and created almost a dozen local social programs. “We can approach our lives as artists, each and every one of us,” Lowe told The New York Times in 2006. “If you choose to, you can make every action a creative act.” — N.H.
When the social-practice conference Open Engagement came to New York in 2014, I remember being struck by how much vital work in reimagining art’s capacity for community involvement was happening elsewhere in the United States, and by how comparatively little of it was reflected in the city’s vaunted museums, venerable nonprofits, or myriad commercial galleries. That may now be changing. Two of the most influential figures in the field of social practice, Theaster Gates and Rick Lowe—the founders of the Rebuild Foundation in Chicago and Project Row Houses in Houston’s Third Ward, respectively—both made their Manhattan debuts last fall, albeit at markedly different scales. In Chelsea, Gates staged his first New York solo exhibition at Gagosian’s flagship space on West Twenty-Fourth Street. More modestly, but perhaps more consequentially, Lowe contributed a single painting to “Storage_”, the inaugural group show for Storage, a new space started by artist Onyedika Chuke. The underscore in the exhibition’s title evoked the file names in inventory databases while also nodding to Storage’s “underground” location, in the basement of a building on the Bowery [...]
AS A YOUNG ARTIST getting started in Houston, Rick Lowe sought to address in his paintings the violence and poverty he saw in the city where he lived, especially in those historically black neighborhoods like the Third Ward that had been buffeted by decades of policy neglect. But in 1990, during a visit to his studio by high school students, a young man approached Lowe. He wanted to know why, rather than making work that represented the daily reality of the inhabitants of the Third Ward, Lowe didn’t try to instead affect that reality.
The question spoke to the fundamental problem of political art, which had traditionally stayed inside the studio or gallery rather than becoming an active presence in the lives of the people it was meant to champion. For Lowe, now 54, it was also the question that led him to embark on a new way of creating art. And it would ultimately — though Lowe didn’t know it at the time — inspire two fellow artists and eventual friends, Theaster Gates and Mark Bradford, to think more expansively about their own art: what its purpose was, how it should be seen, even where it should live.
Lowe had long been preoccupied with the German artist Joseph Beuys, who in the 1970s proposed the concept of ‘‘social sculpture,’’ a more engaged form of political art in which the spectators themselves were the participants. He had also been spending time with Deloyd T. Parker, the director of a local organization called Self-Help for African People Through Education. [...]
Since its founding in 1993, PRH has served as a vital anchor for what had been a fast-eroding neighborhood, providing arts education programs for youth, exhibition spaces and studio residencies for emerging and established artists, a residential mentorship program for young mothers, an organic gardening program, and an incubator for historically appropriate designs for low-income housing on land surrounding the original row houses. While inviting constant collaboration with local residents, artists, church groups, architects, and urban planners, Lowe continues to provide the guiding vision for PRH as he pursues his overarching goal of animating the assets of a place and the creativity of its people. He is not only bringing visibility and pride to the Third Ward by celebrating the beauty of its iconic shotgun houses; he is also changing the lives of many PRH program graduates and expanding the PRH campus to cover a six-block area in an effort to preserve the historic district’s character in the face of encroaching gentrification.
Los Angeles Times - What Rick Lowe’s MacArthur Grant win means for art and social practice