Rashid Johnson - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session New York Thursday, May 19, 2022 | Phillips
  • Executed in 2013, Rashid Johnson’s Beyond was created the year following the artist’s first major solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Johnson’s multidisciplinary practice combines elements of collective history with personal experience and has earned him the inclusion in several permanent collections, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and others. The elements of childhood, memory and reckoning with the past are central to his body of work, and Beyond is a prime example of the artist’s ability to decontextualize and recontextualize familiar visual cues within a single visual narrative.


    Johnson’s choice to use three different media atop the wooden flooring, all of which are shades of black, creates a sense of harmony in the piece. Each of these media have multiple connotations, however, making room for interpretation and ambiguity. This ambiguous quality is a central tenant of post-Black art, a movement Rashid Johnson helped establish. Thelma Golden, who coined the term “post-Black art” with Glenn Ligon to describe work by artists such as Johnson, Sanford Biggers, Julie Mehretu, Mark Bradford and Laylah Ali, defined it as, “characterized by artists who were adamant about not being labeled as ‘black’ artists, though their work was steeped, in fact deeply interested in redefining complex notions of blackness,” elaborating, “to approach a conversation about ‘black art’ ultimately meant embracing and rejecting the notion of such a thing at the very same time.”i


    While outwardly abstract, Beyond negotiates with traumas of Black American history. Using a branding tool, Johnson burns his composition into assembled wood planks in the form of overlapping target symbols. Johnson has recalled being gifted a branding kit as a child, reflecting on its dual possibilities for artistry and violent documentation and identification.  As a result of branding, the charred portions of wood have slightly recessed, creating textural differentiation between black materials included in the work. This dialogue is especially apparent when viewing the work from the side, as raking light reflects differently across each medium. The black soap, a healing soap that is traditionally mixed with ash, appears broadly smeared across Beyond’s surface. Contrasting with the soap’s regenerative properties, Johnson’s gestures suggest violence and abruptness. 


    The soap and wax in Beyond, however, subtly suggest the shape of a palm tree, referencing the tree’s leitmotivs such as in the novel Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin. The tree, symbolizing pivotal spiritual moments for characters in the novel, stands as a moral checkpoint. “Mornings [Abraham] had mounted here and passed this tree, caught for a moment between sins committed and sins to be committed.”ii The tree stands at once as a symbol for the past, present and future, compelling us to envision morality.


    i Thelma Golden, Freestyle, exh. cat., Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, 2001, p. 14

    ii James Baldwin, Go Tell it On the Mountain, New York, 1952, p. 91

    • Provenance

      David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles
      Acquired from the above by the present owner



branded red oak flooring, black soap and wax
72 1/2 x 48 1/2 x 2 3/8 in. (184.2 x 123.2 x 6 cm)
Executed in 2013.

Full Cataloguing

$150,000 - 200,000 

Sold for $151,200

Contact Specialist

Patrizia Koenig
Specialist, Head of Day Sale, Afternoon Session
+1 212 940 1279

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session

New York Auction 19 May 2022