Rick Lowe, whose work makes local communities a top priority, will now be represented by the Gagosian Gallery. The artist will have his first solo exhibition with the gallery in September 2022 in New York, and his work will also be on display at his booth at Art Basel in Switzerland this week. Additionally, a new work by Lowe will premiere on September 29 as part of Gagosian’s “Artist Spotlight” online series.
Gagosian’s portrayal of Lowe follows his inclusion in this summer’s acclaimed “Social Works” exhibition, the first exhibition curated by Antwaun Sargent, who was appointed gallery director earlier this year. Lowe’s work will also appear in the second half of the show, which opens next month in one of Gagosian’s London spaces.
“Social Works” showcased the work of artists with community practices. Lowe’s art has often been classified as a social practice, which refers to work formulated in long-term engagement with a specific group of people. In an interview, Sargent said Lowe “had a real and profound impact” on how the art of social practice was defined.
In 1993, along with a Houston-based artist collective, Lowe founded Project Row Houses, which involved purchasing a group of shotgun houses in Texas City’s Third Ward, a historically black neighborhood. For nearly three decades, Project Row Houses has brought renowned artists from Charles Gaines to Coco Fusco to the town to work with community members, transforming the people of the surrounding neighborhood. Project Row Houses also perform functions less explicitly related to art, such as providing housing for young mothers.
Lowe began to think about what would become Project Row Houses around 1990, when a group of high school students visited his studio. After seeing the kind of politically inclined paintings Lowe was doing, one of the students told him that paintings like this don’t really help the community. The student asked, “If you are an artist and you are creative, why can’t you create a solution? Lowe recently recalled. “It changed my life. With Joseph Beuys’ idea of social sculpture in mind, Lowe began to think about how he could change the community he’s long been a part of.
Lowe’s practice has spread beyond Houston, however. Past initiatives have included the Transforma (2005-10) projects in New Orleans, which were created in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina; and the ongoing Victoria Square project (2016–), a collaboration with artist Maria Papadimitriou who made her Documenta 14 debut in 2017 and involves the creation of a community center in Athens. Along the way, Lowe has won major awards, including a MacArthur “genius” scholarship in 2014.
In early 2018, the 1921 Tulsa Running Massacre Centenary Commission contacted Lowe to discuss an art project marking the 100th anniversary of a massacre that rocked the city’s black community, resulting in the fire. of 35 blocks and 300 dead, and forever changed the black wall. Street, the shopping center of the Greenwood district. Rather than a monument to those who were killed, Lowe, working with artist William Cordova, assembled a team that would search for the memorabilia of Tulsa residents whose families had direct links to the massacre. “Anyone with a story to tell, we wanted to hear what their story was and see if there was a way to help them tell that story,” Lowe said.
When Lowe first visited Tulsa, he noticed that a building in Greenwood on the outside had a construction date of 1922, the year after the massacre. That people came back to rebuild struck a chord with him. “You never hear of the courage, the will, the spirit, the strength, the resilience of the people in this community who came back and rebuilt themselves right away,” Lowe said. “The resilience and survival spirit of black people since arriving here has been a long journey. It’s been a journey of battle after battle, but we never stopped, and there are many heroic moments in the situations there. “
Still, Lowe wants the world to see this initiative, known as the Greenwood Art Project, so that “the hyper-local becomes national and international as a framework for these conversations to happen,” as the artist put it. . To begin with, he presents an exhibition of research-oriented work related to the Greenwood Art Project at the Smart Museum of Art in Chicago. The exhibit “speaks to the bright side or the bright side of the black economy,” Lowe said.
Lowe’s work in Tulsa also led him to return to painting. He first started painting at university, only to abandon it in favor of collaborative work that he said would have a more direct impact on communities. His new abstract paintings are layered compositions that use dominoes as starting points and overlap with his other works from the past 30 years to create a visual archive. These paintings, he said, “took me away from the work that seeks answers to problems.” He called this new body of work “a quest for understanding”.
According to Sargent, Gagosian is also seeking to question his role in the larger world. “The job of the 21st Century Art Gallery is to ensure that it can be part of – and help support and expand – the conversations that exist outside their walls,” he said. “Rick is one of those artists who has been trying for a long time – over 30 years – to suggest that we move forward in a different way.”