In the 2001 show that launched his career, curator Thelma Golden defined the work of Chicago artist Rashid Johnson as “postblack,” a style that supposedly aligns race, racism and the rejection of their implications. A paradox, to be sure, but if his latest exhibit is any indication Johnson seems to have mastered the concept with humor and gusto. In “The New Escapist Promised Land Garden and Recreation Center,” his site-specific, third solo show at Monique Meloche gallery, Johnson transforms the gallery into a wood-paneled lounge, bedecked with spray paint, palm fronds and bamboo chairs. Johnson refers to his installation as a “creolized orgy,” and the South-Side-meets-Gold-Coast concept is laid on thick. This does not, however, detract from the sheer aesthetic marvelry of his work, especially the jarringly large “Self-portrait as the black Jimmy Connors in the finals of the New Negro Escapist Social and Athletic Club Summer Tennis Tournament.” The 60×48-inch lambda print looms over his faux living rooms, showcasing the artist in full tennis regalia, surrounded by foliage and being blasted with a jungle-like mist. The knife-twisting irony of a black man as a white prepster is painfully akin to work in his previous shows, which have featured works such as “The Brother with Knowledge of Other Planets,” a simple close-up portrait of an otherwise anonymous black man. Exhausting though his race-charged themes may be, they are ones that have proven successful in the past and do not fail here. Enigmatic, vibrant and just plain fun, “The New Escapist Promised Land Garden and Recreation Center” is one center worth visiting. (Jaime Calder)
Through October 11 at Monique Meloche Gallery, 118 N. Peoria
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