Rashid Johnson - 20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Day Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Sunday, November 28, 2021 | Phillips

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  • “When I pour black soap and wax on to a surface, it’s performative, a dance experience. I have only a certain amount of time before it dries; the mark-making, the scratching, the digging-in has to take place within that window of time. [...] The black soap and wax also remind me of a landscape, of lava and volcanic eruptions that slowly solidify; what’s left is a new kind of landscape. It’s a kind of alchemical shift that you’ll see in Cosmic Slop: Hotter than July (2013).” — Rashid Johnson

    American ‘post-black’ conceptual artist Rashid Johnson has garnered international attention for his unique translation of the African-American experience into abstract art. Utilising unusual subject matter and inventive processes, Johnson works in a variety of media with independent artistic significance and symbolism but whose physical and visual attributes manifest special connections to black history.


    Johnson, who was born in Chicago and is now based in New York, first received acclaim for his work in Freestyle at the Harlem’s Studio Museum in 2001, in which debates about African-American art, identity and ‘post-blackness’ (attempts to reconcile the American understanding of race with the lived experiences of African Americans in the late 20th and early 21st centuries) and were revived by a new generation of practitioners. Drawing on the experience of other black artists – Glenn Ligon, Fred Wilson, Adam Pendleton - whose use of black in abstraction is never ‘without a narrative’, Johnson adopts black soap as an unconventional medium and surface for mark-making in his Cosmic Slop series.i


    Cosmic Slop “Hotter than July” is an example of Johnson’s unique ability to challenge normative notions of blackness, using ‘alchemy, divination, astronomy, and other sciences that combine the natural and spiritual worlds’ to augment black history. Knitting together multiple histories, Johnson speaks to black soap’s use in West Africa, its nurturing and healing properties, and transcends its utilitarian purposes through his creative process. Delighting in black soap’s tactile and visceral qualities, and the finite time he is able to work with the wax and soap as it melts and solidifies, Johnson imbues each gesture with meditative energy: 

    “Pouring the material, I walk around using full-body movements and gestures, moving and mark-making, and I consider it to be the remnants of that performative dance – and Jackson Pollock. I’ve always been drawn to improvisation, to jazz and avant-garde jazz, hip-hop.” — Rashid Johnson

    Johnson references the ritualistic practices of German conceptual artist Joseph Beuys, who similarly ‘alchemised’ so-called ‘poor’ materials into art. Beuys’ work with fat, felt and bandages embodied the artist’s experiences of war, fascism, nationhood, trauma and repair. It originated, according to an apocryphal story about the artist, from an incident where Beuys was shot down from his plane in the mountains during World War II, and subsequently saved by Tartar tribesmen, who wrapped him in insulating layers of felt and fat to keep him from freezing to death. Dogged by serious depression in the 1950s, Beuys’ use of humble, even abject, materials in sculptures and installations that resembled the ritual debris of a primitive culture was designed to trigger raw emotional responses in the viewer (fury was said to have particularly pleased him).


    Injustice and disappointment, Johnson once claimed, remain urgent issues for black artists, but there is also a ‘life lived outside of those concerns’, a life ‘after you leave the protest’.ii Speaking about the significance of the Cosmic Slop series, Johnson explained: iii

    “I think that there's an opportunity for truth there. And we don't have so many opportunities to be so authentic and so genuine and so true. And I think that this body of work in particular from me is very much truth.”  — Rashid Johnson

    Johnson’s work has been exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Detroit Institute of Arts; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; the Corcoran Museum of Art, Washington, DC; the Institute of Contemporary Photography, New York; the Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.



    i‘Rashid Johnson’, Flavorpill, 9 September 2008, online

    iiRashid Johnson, quoted in Lilly Wei, ‘Rashid Johnson: Magic Numbers’, Studio International, 14 August 2014, online

    iiiRashid Johnson, quoted in Rashid Johnson, ‘Rashid Johnson. Cosmic Slop "Black Orpheus". 2011’, The Museum of Modern Artonline

    • Provenance

      Hauser & Wirth
      The George Economou Collection, Athens
      Hauser & Wirth
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Athens, The George Economou Collection, Rashid Johnson: Magic Numbers, 20 June – 28 August 2014
      Athens, The George Economou Collection, Opening the Box: Unpacking Minimalism, 22 October 2015 - 1 April 2016


Cosmic Slop “Hotter than July”

black soap and wax
121.7 x 92.1 cm. (47 7/8 x 36 1/4 in.)
Executed in 2013.

Full Cataloguing

HK$500,000 - 700,000 

Sold for HK$630,000

Contact Specialist

Danielle So
Specialist, Head of Day Sale
+852 2318 2027

20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Day Sale in Association with Poly Auction

Hong Kong Auction 29 November 2021