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LORRAINE O’GRADY: THE FIRST AND THE LAST OF THE MODERNISTS

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By RICKY TUCKER

Panel 1

Though reclining, he’s on his toes. He strikes us as a fit and formidable young man daring the viewer from across the way. Why are the young often those who’ve let their hair go long? Self-assurance radiates from the image.. His style is clean and fitted with the background to match and a multitude of notions pouring from his eyes. Something here is ominous, but it could easily be read as impending success, which is a concept full of gravitas and polarizing effect.

* * *

Sartre felt that Baudelaire was irrevocably close to his mother. More than your standard archetype dictates his mother was a symbol of warmth, safety, expectation, and self for young Baudelaire. His father had died early on in his childhood and she wouldn’t remarry until Charles’ most formidable years leaving him with a kind of coming of age timeline impressionistically bracketed by the male species. It went something like: Him, and then Us, and Him. Many events put distance between Baudelaire and his mother; time, the 1884 revolutions of France, his decadence and aesthetic, adulthood, etc.. Day went night, hope fell to despair, and certainty opened up to chaos. Whatever the events causing their extrication, Charles was sent on an ongoing trajectory parallel to the life inherently meant for him and barely managed to tap into self-actualization. Lulls took up most of his days, and we can closely correlate his moderate commercial success with personal peaks in his existence. What’s key is that at some time, on occasion, he managed to be what he was meant to be.

* * *
Poem 1
Scatter by me a prim bud of light
Through taught heels and air alone
I will never sleep again until desired
Bring me to the point where we will links notes

Far and away to points ever gold
Riding a spider’s crest to the ferris’ peak
And delivered from the moon and its whereabouts
Under parasol tufts we turn ever sequenced

The crest of angels that spared god a shutter
Effortlessly graze an elbow, blow us a secret
Revealing the Universe’ instructions
Divulging the way Saturn retained its rings

Whatever the setting, Time is the joke
Pain is a cripple on its last leg
Those apathetic chills are blindfolded and lame
Ado, and Godspeed; the last star on the right

Panel 2
We see a mature dandy with an ornate sensibility. His face is abstracted and not as easy to get to as before. Time has morphed some things. There really are several lifetimes in one. He's done up and serious. Captured for many but as solitary as can be.

* * *

Kathryn Jackson knew her children. She was on to the fact that even though Rebbie was prone to care taking, Latoya had it in her to become a firecracker. She knew that Michael was sensitive. His ability to project those things key to entertaining: dance, voice, glimmer; left him vulnerable and cripplingly introverted. His insides were miles long as far as they could tell. So when away from their mother, Kathryn asked that the girls keep an eye on Michael. Janet Jackson has related accounts of how it was her job to buy and polish his many penny loafers, and keep up with his uniform fit, tapered slacks. What eventually becomes evident is that his Mother with his siblings following suit propped Michael up, sturdy crutch for crutch, to minimize his everyday physical incidentals and make his sole responsibilities be to perform and ponder; to explore his own nature.
Now take that remote existence, snatch it from within itself and into the world.

* * *

Poem 2
Hipped out tiptoes, ceramic pipes
Glitter filled discos, a chest that's tight

Mocha shaded girls, velvet gold lace
Zuggernaut kingdoms, all things that are base

Streets paved of diamond, vacuum sage hole
Chugging synth riff, lineage of soul

Strut spin bounce, scream for your life
Talkative ravens, sex born strife

A Liberian's skirt, a Kept Haitian’s den
Unlock the speed of light to touch phenomenal men.

* * *

Panel 3
Baudelaire was exceptionally skilled; Not just in ushering in modernity, but highlighting discrepancies, sitting grounded in paradoxes, painting with dualities. He was always engaged by the dynamic between that of good and evil, spoke of the sun and death in the same breathe, and his insatiable sexuality was only outdone by his bouts of ambivalence, reclusive ways, and well, sexually transmitted disease. Even his greatest love, Jeanne Duval, was bi racial; the exotic resident and ruler of his thoughts but disregarded within 19th culture. It makes sense that he had the ability to cancel out the world’s classical conventions, because he had spent so much time consumed within himself and outside of them. His life was existentially led; his spirit was nihilistic. The well-off, opiate addict. A light chaser of a dark dwelling.

* * *
Poem 3
Step back, He’s about to explode
At any rate for many kind behind the scale of man
Below a tree steals the sun’s face
Each spring they’re born crawling from graves
Step back, he’s about to explode

An abundance within this tight load
What austerity has fraught, a mouse of a crowned prince
Who bled across the desert from the knees
A fractured façade tapped, the innards set free
There’s an abundance within this tight load

You’re right to smell what they bode
From the start the gilded corpse sached through our thoughts
And rang like the crier, a keg sparked dazzle
The mob sniffed and licked at each lit up panel
You’re right to smell what this bodes

* * *

Panel 4
He's been crushed and it's written all over. That solemn grasp is him plainly him holding on. He's saying, "Here I am" with all the brutality of the viewer being right there, face-to-face. His eyes are pleading.

* * *

Sailing a wave of perfect pitch and funked out nods, Michael Jackson created a language keen and true enough for the world to become innately fluent in the script. So astute was his translation of pure melody, our senses would yield, relate, and spark immediately. He created then saw syncopation so wholly, plus inside out, that when he sketched it for himself and let us glimpse the results we were stunned, frantic, and taken away on stretchers. Bouncing rubber bass lines, tempo keeping cha’s, and relentless maracas kept his dance meter rolling and persona relevant through decades of star dwindling incidents. Michael’s creations were non-stop rapture inducers. Before his voice ever stepped in, the tangibility of his notes was a dead giveaway for whom they were coming from. The growth of his performance was uncanny and unheard of; allotting for the fact that each interim between albums was accounted for in light years. We were all pulled forward into music’s present and blown away by the human condition that we felt there.

* * *

spark

POP

fade


Whitney Museum of American Art
The Whitney Museum's Biennial page for Lorraine O’Grady

"Lorraine O’Grady: The First and the Last of the Modernists" is on view as part of the 2010 Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art, located at 945 Madison Ave. and 75th St. in New York.

All images are courtesy of the Whitney Museum of American Art and Alexander Gray Associates, New York.


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