Color possesses a cross-cultural, psychological, and political power beyond the surface qualities of hue and shade. The historic and social coding of colors infiltrates how we see, process, and understand the complex categories of identity. These underlying messages have spread with the emergence of globalization, making color as much a culturally-specific language as internationally-shared and misunderstood sign. Following the Gund Gallery’s 2014 exhibition entitled Color I: Structures and Theories, which traced the use of color through a formalist lens, Color II turns attention to the social meaning of color and its impact on identity politics.
The works in Color II challenge associations ascribed to color by introducing a wealth of subtlety in shade, cultural reference and material meaning. Through this, artists such as Robert Colescott and Ellen Gallagher complicate the black-white dichotomy of race. Aminah Robinson discovers and reconciles African sources and “family treasure” from her Columbus, Ohio home. Mickalene Thomas’ Romare Bearden-inspired self-possessed woman, Jordan Casteel’s blue-skinned “Jerome,” and Titus Kaphar’s “whitewashed” African-American Civil War soldier knowingly gaze back at us, insisting on reconsideration. Yinka Shonibare’s globe-headed figure, clad in faux-African Dutch fabrics, climbs a ladder of knowledge. JeongMee Yoon’s child portraits overwhelm us with the pink and blue gendering of color and Larry McNeil’s American Indians sardonically undermine their stereotypes. Each artist exposes previous or prevailing conceptions of identity and examines the implications of color as a force of cultural classification, historical fact and instrument of critique.