Walking into the Sanford Biggers exhibition entitled Cosmic Voodoo Circus was both jaw dropping and underwhelming. The exhibitions title promises a dazzling festival for all of the senses, but in truth Biggers work, at The Sculpture Center, feels more like a poorly attended cirque funeral.The centers capacious interior is a work in itself, and is a massive undertaking for an artist to compete against. Biggers sculptures are a commendable stab at filling this tall order but fall short in completing the task and living up to the exhibitions own given title. Furthermore considering the very serious racial background of the work, one may feel it equal to blasphemy to contemplate criticizing the mouthful of content at play.
The exhibition is made up of three massive works and a trio of smaller pieces. Upon entering the institutions stark gravel filled courtyard, you encounter one of the trio; a decaying tree made of grey foam entitled “Barren”, which also happened to be the state of my reaction. Losing hope quickly I forged on into The Sculpture Center’s main gallery space, all at once I was delighted to be met with some of the stimulating imagery that Sanford Biggers has filled his career with.
His signature smile “Cheshire (On Tilt)” greets you as you enter the space, this time, printed on a enormous vinyl billboard hanging from a precarious angle. The enormity of this giant blackface grin pulls towards an uncomfortable humor that is absent from the rest of the show. The next awe inspiring work entitled “A Jóia Do Orixá” (The Orisha Jewelry) is a hyper sexual candy red deity, which towers over the viewer like a goddess from a long forgotten religion. She is wearing a grass skirt and raffia veil over her face and encased in a shimmering transparent circus tent. The most involved and time consuming of the works is a video entitled “Shake”, the video is projected onto a large free standing screen. The surreal video follows Ricardo Castillo (a Brazilian-born, Germany based, choreographer, clown, stuntman and DJ) out of the Brazilian ocean and through shanty towns during a metamorphic costume change steeped in circus regalia and African-American urban culture.
After taking in the enormity and boldness of the three monumental pieces, the large masses of stale space in the gallery became more apparent. In the search for more, ones eye finally stumbles upon the last two works. The first titled “Backend Trick” consisting of a empty trapeze hanging high from the ceiling and two spot lit aluminum ladders on the coinciding walls. From time to time the trapeze jerks spastically, but offers little information to form an opinion or thought with. The final work called “Constellation 6.0” is scattered amongst two areas of the gallery floor and introduces shattered mirrors in the shapes of stars, reflecting whimsical beams of light around the gallery space.
“Constellation 6.0” is another work full of extremely playful visual stimuli but is literal in its illustration of broken hopes and dreams. Thus, furthers my questioning of Sanford’s ability to articulate and provoke concepts that equal the amount of time, effort, money and space being poured into the work. All of the reference points in Cosmic Voodoo Circus point towards a commentary on contemporary black culture. Yet one can hardly pull enough information out of the works to compose a profile of a single being.
Turning to The Sculpture Centers supporting texts, for help understanding Biggers’ intention, we are thrown back to the promise of a circus, that we entered the exhibition with. Along with circus exploitation, a long list of topics are proclaimed. These vary from “profound issues of identity”, to religious/culture transmigration. Each of these exceptional topics are rich enough to cultivate completely independent shows. Once again the references to these points given by Biggers work are far too minute to equal a greater understanding of the issues proclaimed. Leaving one struggling to make connections amongst the work that simply don’t exist.
It is rare that one gets to experience sculpture on this scale. Each work is engaging of it’s own, but combined together under the lofty ceiling of The Sculpture Center they fall short of the grandeur they deserve and appear repressed. Biggers work has a great amount of potential and hopefully will continue to grow and finally face the visual languages it is referencing head on, rather than dancing around the subject.
“Cosmic Voodoo Circus” is far from being a bad exhibition to say the least. If anything, the space reduced the work to forlorn theater props in a warehouse. But Biggers must take a stand and choose his language with the pride and the bravado this show lacked. The recycled imagery, feels premature in the worlds relationship with Biggers. However, great potential is present in what I feel is the star of the show, and also the most recent work constructed by Biggers. “A Jóia Do Orixá”, the attention demanding red goddess claims space and dazzles the viewer with her strange aura. She speaks to the rich African American background but does not feel worn out like the recurring imagery of the blackface grin billboard.