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Freestyle Thelma Golden with Christie Y. Kim, Hamza Walker, et. al. The Studio Museum in Harlem, April 2001, ISBN 0-942-94921-8

If a picture can express a thousand words then out of the million or so available for use, how do we find those best able to recreate the unuttered artwork? For a writer to describe a work of art to the reader it takes the ability to deconstruct/decode and recreate what lies before him or her. This is also the perpetual dilemma faced by art exhibition catalogs: often too many images and too few words. For an exhibition as diverse as "Freestyle", it took a team of some twenty-eight writers to make an able attempt.

In the above epigraph, Lowery Sims, director of the Studio Museum in Harlem, sets-off what may be the most ambitious exhibition of contemporary art at this still early point in the new millennium. "Freestyle", as a concept can be best described in what the exhibition's curator, Thelma Golden, describes in the catalogue's introduction as "Post-Black" art--an art that steps beyond essentialist aesthetic notions of blackness and into a dialogue of globalism.

The catalog combines lucid visuals and the probing texts of twenty-eight emerging black visual artists and writers from the United States to flesh-out the media and theoretical approaches of a diverse generation of black artists who are concerned with notions of culture, sexuality and gender, among others.

Grasping the improvisational and communicative meanings embodied by the word "freestyle", these articles are as much about the writer's honed, incisive commentary and description of subject as they are about the visual artist and his or her evocation of style and enunciation of meaning. They often waver within a paradigm of morality and emotion. For example, toeing a thin line between the cartoonish whimsy of children's coloring books and the shear weight of nineteenth-century slave narratives, the painter John Bankton is described by writer Christine Kim as "playing a tug of war between language and imagery [that] leads the viewer to question his/her own morality" yet at the same time the artist "reminds us that symbioses and multiplicity are much more appealing" than the often regimented ways in which we receive information from the mass media. Or Franklin Sirmans who describes the nuanced memoir paintings of Deborah Grant as powerful enough to "give you the energy to get down, stand back up, take it all in, and wonder." The writer accentuates this kinetic tone by ending the article with an appropriate yet simple statement: "Move something."

If these visual artists are indeed the delineating force and breadth of a new generation of aesthetic values and concerns, then these writers who have contributed to the Freestyle catalogue adequately illuminate their visual strivings. The contributors do something more than invite us to the doorstep of interpretive understanding; they give us a vocabulary, the words with which to engender the visual rhyme.

LeRonn Brooks is a freelance writer pursuing a Ph.D. in art history at the City University of New York Graduate Center.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Brooks, LeRonn
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 2001
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