Rashid Johnson’s use of tropical flora and fauna provides an aesthetically refreshing escape from the concrete life of New York City. Through the use of carefully selected materials, Johnson’s work has serious undertones that address racial injustices and the instability of social structures.
While the work is aesthetically pleasing, it is impossible to ignore the issues and questions that Johnson poses in his work. The works high contrast, simplicity and scale are beautiful to see. As viewers enter the gallery they are immediately confronted with a series of faces made of black soap that are sculpted in low relief on white tiles. These faces have an eerie quality to them and dominate the large space.
Navigating the next two rooms is a much different atmosphere. The wallpaper cutouts of tropical plants employs heavy use of rich and bold colors. These bright greens, blues and yellows, along with the use of real plants on a huge metal framed cube sculpture, provide a window into what seems to be a warm tropical paradise. There is a strong sense of escape that comes up, a sort of departing from the city that happens while you sit with the work. By juxtaposing materials such as black soap with white bathroom tiles, a dialogue of absurdity and the grotesque is raised. Overall, Johnson’s use of materials is wittily done and the scale of the pieces fit perfectly into the large rooms of the venue.