McArthur Binion’s multi-sensory solo exhibition DNA:Study/(Visual:Ear), at Lehmann Maupin in Seoul
Oct 14, 2022
McArthur Binion’s solo exhibition, DNA:Study/(Visual:Ear) at Lehmann Maupin’s newly expanded venue in Seoul (September 1 - October 22, 2022) is particularly significant for the presentation of the new Visual:Ear (2022) series for the first time alongside DNA:Study (2014 - ongoing). Although the new series has been developed as a recent body of work in the past couple of years, the idea of expressing music in the abstract language of painting goes back to Binion’s Cranbrook Academy of Art days in the early 1970s, where he first used the term in his graduate thesis.
The first visual impression of the exhibition upon entry is somewhat straightforward, especially for those new to Binion's work and his previous works. Blocks of colors are seen close to monochrome paintings by Korean artists from the Dansaekhwa movement; this may be owed to the fact that the exhibition is in Seoul and it is natural to experience it in the context of Korean art history. The body of works displayed in the exhibition could hastily be interpreted into minimalism - perhaps due to the “grids” on the top layer -, but Binion’s works are not a direct expropriation of the existing canon of the movement. On the contrary, it is closer to methodology of working rather than characteristics to describe his practice. The horizontal and vertical lines are marked with oil sticks with a certain pressure that reassembles labor work that requires a certain amount of muscular force.
Binion’s paintings offer different sensory experiences depending on where you are in relation to the works. Standing from afar, there are colors in various shades and intensity; then there is a sweet spot where the lines become very prominent; and when you get up really close, that’s when things get tremendously intimate. Behind these lines lies information from Binion’s address book - which the artist refers to as his social DNA - that he had from 1972 (with one of the last entries being Kerry James Marshall), passports, and birth certificates, as well as musical notes. For this reason alone, you must see the exhibition in person, as the images do not do the exhibition as a whole a justice; let alone, it is rather hard to make out all the elements in each work unless they are experienced in the space.
The most elaborate painting in the exhibition is pictured above with five by five multi-color squares with the “DNA” elements and the edges are composed with a commissioned musical score titled Brown Black X, by a Pulitzer Prize-winning jazz saxophonist Henry Threadgill. Evidently connected to jazz and music in general, the piece however does not seem like it is about music or influenced by music; maybe this is because music is one of the layers of Binion’s sophisticated story telling. Rather, music seems to have its own life, working in parallel with the artist. There is no involuntary hearing in the exhibition obviously, but with some dedicated time and a little bit of concentration, you can listen with your eyes. And if you can read music, well that is a bonus, as you will be able to play it in your ears, creating a very personal and private experience.
It is easy to prescribe Binion’s work to African American history, which of course the artist is part of, but it is also necessary to look at his work for art itself; the characteristics, medium, methodology, and the fact that he began his career as a writer and does not come from an art history background. We must go beyond framing an artist’s work based on their race and collective history as it is easiest to do, especially when Binion’s practice has been about his personal history with music and poetry, and growing abstraction from the very beginning of his artistic journey.
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Born in 1946 in Macon, Mississippi, McArthur Binion moved to New York in 1973 and then to Chicago in 1991, where he has been based for nearly two decades. The artist has established the Modern Ancient Brown Foundation in Detroit, where interdisciplinary work is encouraged, empowering the practice of black, indigenous and artists of color to tell their own stories.
McArthur Binion’s DNA:Study/(Visual:Ear) at Lehmann Maupin’s newly expanded space in Seoul closes on October 22, 2022. For more information, please click here.