Sam Gilliam’s inaugural exhibition with the gallery, Existed Existing debuts new works and artist-led installations that reflect the culmination of his six-decade-long career with color.
The exhibition features three new bodies of work that include large-scale paintings, some titled as tributes to influential Black contemporary and historical figures; a series of geometric color-drenched wood objects; and monochromatic paintings on Japanese washi paper. Accompanying Existed Existing is a fully illustrated monograph that includes a new interview between the artist and curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, as well as commissioned essays by art historian and curator Courtney J. Martin and scholar and poet Fred Moten.
Gilliam’s new sculptural works take the form of geometric objects—pyramids, parallelograms, and circles made from stacked and stained plywood and aluminum. These new sculptures developed following Gilliam’s extended stay in Basel, Switzerland, for the installation of his exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Basel in 2018, where he noticed that the city’s population had grown more international through an influx of immigrants, primarily from Africa. Inspired by this urban change and African influence, Gilliam returned to his studio and began to revisit the elemental forms of ancient African architecture.
At the center of the exhibition is a series of new large-scale paintings, measuring from six-by-eight feet to eight-by-twenty feet, that further meditate on the physicality of color. Several of these works pay homage to Gilliam’s Black heroes, from singer-songwriter Beyoncé and tennis player Serena Williams to Senator John Lewis, the late civil rights leader who passed away this year. Densely layered and mixed with sawdust and other detritus from the studio, Gilliam flings, spatters, and throws paint to create fields of color interrupted by impressions of the artist’s hand, the mark of a palette knife, or the traces of a garden rake dragged across the wet surface. Continuing his series of signature beveled-edge paintings, which began in the 1960s, these canvases at first appear to emerge from the wall toward the viewer. The density of the paintings at first disguises the depth of the canvas’s bevel, giving the illusion of flatness. As if offering an infinite space in their depth, each painting seems to oscillate between liquid and solid when viewed from different distances.