The estate of the late artist Robert Colescott, whose irreverent, incisive, and discomfiting paintings gamely engage the tumultuous histories and politics of both art and the United States, is now represented worldwide by Blum & Poe, the international heavyweight gallery with branches in Los Angeles, New York, and Tokyo.
Blum & Poe will host a Colescott show at its Los Angeles headquarters in March, and a three-person affair, “Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas,” is on tap at the Seattle Art Museum in February. A museum retrospective, curated by Lowery Stokes Sims, is also on the calendar for 2019 at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, which hosted an earlier one in 1987.
“He is such a major figure who, for a variety of reasons, hasn’t had the attention that he deserves,” Matt Bangser, a partner at Blum & Poe, said in a phone interview. Though Colescott represented the United States at the Venice Biennale in 1997, becoming the first black artist to have a solo show in the U.S. pavilion, “there was never even a significant monograph or hardcover catalogue made for him in his lifetime,” Bangser added.
Colescott died in 2009 at the age of 83, and his work continues to stun for its absolutely fearless handling—and, often, skewering—of racial caricatures, ribald sexual imagery, and other potentially controversial topics. It also shrugs off easy categorization—it’s frequently composed of intricately interlocked, fractured picture planes, in which comedy, violence, and sex rub together and throw off sparks.
The unsettled political environment in the United States, where fervent debates and activism are taking place around issues of racial justice, sexual violence, and inequality, also makes Colescott’s work feel uniquely prescient. “It feels very current and vital to look at the work again right now in this climate,” Bangser said.
The influence of Colescott can be seen far and wide across the contemporary art landscape, figuring in various ways in the work of artists like Carroll Dunham, Tschabalala Self, and Jamian Juliano-Villani, who all appeared alongside the artist in “A Shape That Stands Up,” a group show organized by Jamillah James at Art+Practice in Los Angeles in conjunction with the Hammer Museum.
Those in New York seeking a dose of Colescott before the big outings next year can head over to the Museum of Modern Art, where his extremely disturbing 1989 painting Emergency Room is on view in a permanent collection show called “The Long Run,” or Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, where 1988’s Pac-Man (The Consumers Consumed), a rollicking, unhinged satire of the consumption habits of Americans, hangs through January 20 in a group show called “Figuratively Speaking.”