For anyone familiar with contemporary art, Rashid Johnson is a recognizable name.
His work, which crosses genre and media lines, defies easy definition. It addresses big topics, such as race and class, with an ambiguity that gives the work a unique poetics, which means that looking at Johnson’s art can be both a profound and an enjoyable experience. The new Black Yoga installationa video work by Johnson on display at the Dallas Museum of Art provides an excellent introduction to his art.
Visitors to the museum will find the piece hidden in a small gallery halfway down the museum’s main corridor. It’s set up as an immersive experience – the video projection takes up an entire wall, and visitors can sit or stand on a collection of Persian rugs that fill the room’s floor. The experience runs on a loop that lasts almost 11 minutes, which is enough time for the human brain – or at least mine – to slip into a meditative pause, watching the gestural flow of the men on the screen.
Five black men move across a beach performing yoga poses, dance moves, tai chi and martial arts. The video, which was originally shot on 16mm film, bounces through time, moving to different places and moments, all set to a pulsating beat, a singing voice and flute melodies. The men move through space – no other people in sight – and seem to be rehearsing for an unknown future event when these movements, balletic and militaristic, may be necessary. Their movements are gentle yet powerful. The experience doesn’t feel radical, but it doesn’t feel ordinary either.
Like much of Johnson’s work, this 2011 video piece contains a quiet revolution. The men move over carpets that look exactly like the ones the visitors are sitting on in the museum room. These carpets are foreign objects on a sandy beach, providing a limit to their movement, which takes place against the endless backdrop of the coastal sky. The video then becomes an exploration of bodies in space, specifically the bodies of black men.
This reading of the video illuminates a visual metaphor: the sand in the video and the carpets in the room are etched with crosshairs, evoking the ever-present danger of gun violence in America.
Johnson’s art is subtle and incisive, offering interpretive answers to questions plaguing American society. The 45-year-old artist is considered one of the most important voices in contemporary art, which is why he was the 2022 Two X Two gala honoree. (The annual event raises funds for the DMA and the Foundation for AIDS Research.) On for his part, Johnson donated this video to the DMA’s collection, meaning this will not be the last opportunity to see this work.
“Focus on: Rashid Johnson,” which features The new Black Yoga installation, runs through Sept. 9 at the Dallas Museum of Art, 1717 N. Harwood St. Tuesday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday from 11.00 to 21.00, and Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Entrance is free. . For more information, visit dma.org.