It will have been hard to miss the work of Rashid Johnson this year if you have even a passing interest in art. The unique output of this Chicago-raised artist, who became a hit almost the moment he entered the scene in his early twenties in 2000, has gone solo on the walls of the Museum of Contemporary Art of Chicago, New York’s Hauser & Wirth, L.A.’s David Kordansky Gallery, the upcoming London Frieze art fair and, starting next week, here in Miami at MAM (a Knight Arts grantee). “Message to Our Folks” is the first major survey of the last 15 years of work from Johnson, combining his photography and fusion “painting,” which incorporates cultural references from black historical figures such as W.E.B. Du Bois to musical pioneers such as Funkadelic, Miles Davis and Sun Ra.
The exhibit, named after a 1969 avant-garde jazz album, highlights Johnson’s particular style, which includes manipulating what he calls “cosmic slop” and turning it into incredible abstract artworks, using materials such as shea butter, glass, soap and record albums. In fact, while they hang on walls, his work is really sculpture. However you want to describe it, Johnson’s work has become part of the lexicon of the contemporary art dictionary. Along with infusing a heavy dose of African-American cultural identifiers, Johnson also likes to give a nod to sports – his father was an amateur boxer.
The exhibit includes examples of his photography, such as his fictional “The New Negro Escapist Social and Athletic Club,” and his series of found-object bookshelves. But whether or not you care if some of the works are crafted from wax or animal skins, Johnson’s art will likely be some of the best and brightest you’ll encounter this fall. It’s also a fine way for MAM to say goodbye to its space, as it is one of the last shows before the museum moves on to its new digs on Biscayne Bay.
“Rashid Johnson: Message to Our Folks” opens on Sept. 7 and runs through Nov. 4 at MAM, 101 W. Flagler St., Miami; 305-375-3000; www.miamiartmuseum.org.