Chris Ofili’s Glittering, Dung-Encrusted Paintings Return to New York
See the New Museum's brilliant tribute to his twenty-year career.
Chris Ofili, as you may remember, has not always had the smoothest relationship with New York City. In 1999, he tangled with Rudy Giuliani over The Holy Virgin Mary, the infamous work depicting a Black Madonna surrounded by elephant dung and cutouts from porn magazines. The piece was part of “Sensation,” a show at the Brooklyn Museum focusing on the work on Young British Artists. Despite never having visited the show, Giuliani attempted to browbeat the institution into taking down Ofili’s work with threats of cutting off funding. The painting was never removed, but the surrounding uproar remains a black mark on the mayor’s transcript as well as the reason for Ofili’s understandable reluctance to exhibit in New York museums.
But enough about ancient history.
“Chris Ofili: Night and Day,” opens this evening with a private reception at the New Museum and will available for public viewing tomorrow. The Turner Prize-winning artist’s first major US museum solo show will span his twenty-year career and numerous influences, which include the Bible, hip-hop culture, Zimbabwean cave paintings, Blaxploitation films, and the poetry of William Blake, to name just a few.
Several of the once feather-ruffling paintings from the 90’s, constructed of paint, resin, glitter, magazine cutouts, film stills, and yes, elephant dung, will be on display. As a YBA, these works helped him make painting cool (and perhaps more importantly, controversial) at a time when no one believed it could be anymore. But since moving from London to Trinidad in 2005, his aesthetic has shifted. In the tradition of Henri Matisse and Paul Gauguin, his colors have grown more fluid, his forms more sinewy, and his canvases less cluttered. He’s stopped mining popular culture for inspiration, and is instead focusing on lifting inspiration from his environment.
“Before, I was focusing on high impact, and what I wanted to find was a way of working that was less complex and maybe less visible,” he told the New Yorker in a recent profile. “I felt I was tapping into a process of looking that was slower.”
But, it was also in 2005 that he cast his first sculptures. A pair of figures squatting over coils of excrement, the Virgin Mary fornicating with a black-winged angel, and other similarly provocative sculptures debuted at David Zwirner in 2007 to heavy criticism, including claims by art critics that the works were “disgusting”. Just in case there were concerns, the provocateur certainly hasn’t lost his touch. Several of the sculptures will be on display at the New Museum—much to the chagrin, we assume, of any lingering Giuliani sympathizers.
“Chris Ofili: Night and Day” opens to the public on October 29, 2014 and will be on display until January 25, 2015.
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