Rashid Johnson - New Now London Thursday, July 13, 2023 | Phillips
  • “These are the materials that I know. As an artist, you become accustomed to working with certain things. For some it’s oil paint; for me it’s black soap and shea butter. Those are the things that I know how to use, how to manipulate. They speak a language that I understand, a language that is able to do more than one thing at a time.”
    —Rashid Johnson

    A vanguard figure in the contemporary art world, Rashid Johnson employs a diverse range of media to explore the complexities and nuances of Black identity. First rising to prominence in the early 2000s, Johnson represents a pivotal chapter in the development of a new generation of Black artists, who in the recent years have finally become recognised and celebrated by institutions around the world. Johnson’s breakthrough came in 2001, when at the age of 24 he was the youngest artist included in the legendary Freestyle exhibition curated by Thelma Golden at the Studio Museum in Harlem. In the years since, Johnson has emerged as a leading voice among contemporary artists and one of the most respected cultural figures in the world. Seamlessly operating in between painting, sculpture, video, installation, and performance, Johnson’s conceptual practice continues to evolve and expand, just like the constantly shifting socio-political landscape his work reflects.


    One of the major through-lines across Johnson’s oeuvre is the presence of the body, whether through image, form, or gesture. Recent series focusing on the figure including his ‘Anxious Audiences’ and ‘Broken Men’, which explore historical depictions of Black subjects as well as a wider examination of universal human experiences. In mirror reliefs such as the present lot, the viewer becomes subject, our own reflection taking the place of Johnson’s anxious figures. The mirrored surface causes the audience to perceive their splintered reflection amid splashes of black soap and the melted wax, obscuring the viewer’s identity and rejecting any kind of straightforward interpretation. Within the diverse lexicon of signs and symbols that make up Johnson’s varied practice, these mirrored works invite the viewer to participate as a central reference point in his ever-expanding collection of cultural touchstones.


    Curator Thelma Golden’s concept of ‘post-Black’ culture, in which artists tackle issues of race from oblique angles instead of head-on, has become an important framework of Johnson’s practice. In fact, Johnson has come to define a generation of Black artists who similarly deal with complex issues of identity and race through subtle yet searing conceptual commentary. Explaining this concept of post-Blackness, Johnson says, ‘There's a generation of black artists before me who made work specifically about the black experience. But I think for my generation, having grown up in the age of hip-hop and Black Entertainment Television, there's less of a need to define the black experience so aggressively to a white audience. I think it gives us a different type of opportunity to have a more complex conversation around race and identity. It’s not a weapon for me, it’s more of an interest.’i Hence, Johnson is less interested in defining his Blackness than he is in communicating the experiences and complexities that come with his idenity. As a result, Johnon’s work simultaneously offers a space for reflection and recognition for Black audiences while also challenging non-Black viewers to think critically and enter a dialogue with the work. Johnson’s ability to straddle this line - exemplified in the present work, where the audience’s own idenity takes centre stage - is one of the key elements of Johnson’s practice that has vaulted him to the forefront of the contemrpary art world.


    As a leading artist of his generation, Johnson’s work has been exhibited at major institutions around the world, including recent solo presentations at the Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas; Storm King Art Centre, New Windsor; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville; MoMA PS1, Long Island City; Museo Tamayo, Mexico City; and the Aspen Art Museum, Aspen. 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. 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.



    i Katy Cowan, ‘Rashid Johnson mixes painting and ceramic tile mosaics to express the anxiety and escapism of ‘Broken Men’, Creative Boom, 18 September 2020, online.

    • Provenance

      David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2013

Property From A Distinguished Private Collection


The Funky Funktioneer

mirrored tile, black wax and soap mounted on panel
174.7 x 174.7 cm (68 3/4 x 68 3/4 in.)
Executed in 2013.

Full Cataloguing

£80,000 - 120,000 

Sold for £88,900

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Gibbs
Associate Specialist, Head of New Now
+44 20 7901 7993

New Now

London Auction 13 July 2023