Rashid Johnson - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Thursday, March 30, 2023 | Phillips

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  • To ruminate on themes as heavy and diverse as race, gender, sexuality and identity, one could do well to turn to the oeuvre of Rashid Johnson. His artistic practice is multifaceted, encompassing various forms such as painting, sculpture, large-scale installation, film, and mosaic, and producing works that reflect visual cosmologies which reference his upbringing in Chicago and African diasporic culture.



    Art Unbound by Race

    “My work has always had concerns around race, struggle, grief and grievance, but also joy and excitement around the tradition and opportunities of Blackness.”
    Rashid Johnson

    For Johnson, the act of creation is an act of bearing his soul to the world; as such, the indication of post-blackness is crucial to Johnson’s work. The term was coined by the director of the Studio Museum in Harlem, Thelma Golden, who included Johnson in an important show, Freestyle, in 2001. It describes a new generation of African American artists who were moving beyond the constraints of identity politics and making art that addressed broader cultural concerns. One of the defining characteristics of Johnson's work is his use of materials. He often incorporates everyday objects, such as shea butter, ceramic tiles, and books, into his works. These materials are imbued with cultural significance, and their inclusion in Johnson's work speaks to his interest in the ways in which objects can function as markers of identity and history. However, Johnson speaks with a certain degree of deference about an emphasis on artistic convergence: ‘At this point, I think we have become so invested in this idea of integration within the arts—this ambition to see art practices leave their singular intention and be joined in some ceremonious and harmonic engagement. My work doesn't ask for that, and it doesn't attempt to bring that to fruition. One of my goals is to create contradictory opportunities for exploration and the explosive agency born from those conjured collisions’ i.


    Anxiety, both as a symptom and a response to post-blackness, negotiates the tensions between celebrating blackness and rejecting its limitations. It permeates through much of Johnson’s works, and the present lot is no different. Walking through Untitled Escape Collage is traversing a welter of interests and collective apprehensions; these emotions are superimposed over a mosaic of ceramic tiles that are adorned with splashes of spray paint and contesting geometric patterns. Gliding through this visual kaleidoscope are obsidian titans, ominous figures that are not so much painted but daggered into existence with a thickness of line reminiscent of Dubuffet or Guston. Yet Johnson is not party to their childishness, nor seeks to allude to a kind of sardonic vision or lost history. These figures are abandoned, trapped in these ephemeral worlds - less humanoid as they are spectres, an absence of being rather than presence. As such we are reminded of mid-century texts like Herbert Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man, Saul Bellow’s Dangling Man, and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man – tomes of alienation that speak to a profound anomie that is essential to man; or in this case ‘man’, creatures analogous with wretchedness and castrated by their similitude. Eerie and ominous, the artist calls them ‘a stand-in for the human condition’ ii. They weep and wail through the composition, one that holds potent tension. Despite its immediate anarchy, Johnson compiles the image within lucid measures through this balance of (un)natural forms and mechanical patterns.

    "I am invisible. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids – and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me."
    — Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

    The subsequent production of a classical symphony is informed by Johnson’s literary inclinations, and in particular, that of poetry. The son and brother of poets, he details its importance as: ‘For critical engagement, and for discussion of the human condition, poetry is really the ultimate bridge for explanation.’ iii.



    The Brooklyn Brothers


    For its radical use of multimedia and its exploration of the diaspora experience in the USA, Untitled Escape Collage finds great kinship with Butterflies Drinking Crocodile Tears, by Angel Otero, also to be offered this season. Indeed the two artists are great friends, having both attended the School of Art Institute of Chicago, and have studios around the corner from each other in Brooklyn, New York City.



    Lot 22, Angel Otero, Butterflies Drinking Crocodile Tears, 2016
    Phillips Hong Kong Evening Sale, 30 March 2023
    Estimate: HK$1,200,000 - 1,800,000

    Apart from sharing a long-standing friendship, both Johnson and Otero hold a passion for using art as a means of exploring personal and cultural identity, and their work is marked by a deep emotional intensity that speaks to the power of the creative process. Together, they represent a dynamic and compelling vision of contemporary art, one that challenges us to look beyond the surface of things and to explore the depths of our shared humanity.





    Collector’s Digest

    • Rashid Johnson will be having a solo exhibition at Hauser and Wirth, Hong Kong, during Art Basel this year.

    • His first Asian solo museum show will open at the Long Museum, Shanghai, next year, from April to July 2024.

    • Johnson has become a leading voice of his generation, taking on board positions at the Guggenheim Museum, Performa and Ballroom Marfa

    • His first feature-length film, an adaptation of Richard Wright’s Native Son, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was released on HBO in 2019

    • Johnson has been the subject of solo exhibitions at institutions including Museo Tamayo, Mexico City (2019); Aspen Art Museum, Colorado (2019); Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City (2017); Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow (2016); and Drawing Center, New York (2015).

    • Notable group exhibitions include Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America, New Museum, New York (2021); The Stomach and the Port, Liverpool Biennial, England (2021); Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World, Museum of Modern Art, New York (2014); and ILLUMInations, International Pavilion, 54th Venice Biennale, Italy (2011).

    • His work is in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Guggenheim Museum, New York; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago



    i Rashid Johnson, quoted in Michael Rooks, ‘Rashid Johnson: Creating Agency Through Collision’, Ocula Magazine, 18 May 2022, online

    ii Rashid Johnson, quoted in Jackson Arn, ‘Rashid Johnson and the Age of Broken Men’, Art in America, 12 February 2020, online

    iii Rashid Johnson,  quoted in Jan Dalley, ‘Artist Rashid Johnson: “I still had more I wanted to know, I wasn’t ready”’, Financial Times, 11 June 2022, online

    • Condition Report

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    • Description

      View our Conditions of Sale.

    • Provenance

      David Kordansky Gallery
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2017

    • Exhibited

      Miami, De la Cruz Collection, A Possible Horizon, September 2020 - November 2021
      Miami, De la Cruz Collection, There is Always One Direction, 30 November 2021 - 1 November 2022

Ο ◆23

Untitled Escape Collage

ceramic tile, mirror tile, black soap, wax, vinyl, spray enamel
181.5 x 238 cm. (71 1/2 x 93 3/4 in.)
Executed in 2017.

Full Cataloguing

HK$5,000,000 - 7,000,000 

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Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2026
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 30 March 2023