William Pope.L: Art After White People: Time, Trees, & Celluloid…

Main Gallery Sep 8–Dec 23, 2007

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William Pope.L: Art After White People: Time, Trees, & Celluloid…
Sep 8–Dec 23, 2007





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William Pope.L—Art After White People: Time, Trees, and Celluloid..., 2007

Art After White People: Time, Trees, & Celluloid… was the first major West Coast museum exhibition by William Pope.L, the self-dubbed ”friendliest black artist in America,” who, throughout his thirty-year career, has challenged social inequity with dark humor and biting critique. For the Santa Monica Museum of Art, Pope.L created an installation in three parts–The Grove, APHOV (A Personal History of Videography),and The Semen Pictures–that confronted and examined ritual, human will, and political ego. Pope.L’s interest in ritual layering as an artistic process was evident; all of his ”interventions” featured objects or characters transformed by layers and veils made from such materials as paint and blood, or a simple latex mask. Art After White People brought Pope.L back to his roots in experimental theater with installations resembling stage sets.

The Grove was a spectral forest of potted palm trees, hand- and spray-painted in many coats of white. Close up, their painted skin appeared spotty, even wart-like–a commentary on the social, psychological, and environmental consequences of man’s will to bend nature. Pope.L chose the palm trees for this installation as ”local scenery,” and in his noir vision of Los Angeles, the city’s most prevalent icons of tropical paradise wore a toxic costume that would eventually destroy them.

Past The Grove, viewers saw a free-standing screening wall reminiscent of old-fashioned drive-in theaters or highway billboards. On screen, APHOV featured as its protagonist a masked man resembling former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, weeping streams of artificial blood. The blood pooled on the floor of the man’s ”lair,” a makeshift archive piled high with cardboard storage boxes of videotapes organized by date. The rest of the on-screen clutter expanded into the real space of the museum, including furniture and the mysterious, locked industrial doors through which one could only peek at an endless warren of boxes and blood.

Beyond the dark and disorder of the first two works, The Semen Pictures were bathed in light. Pope.L’s final intervention consisted of digital scans of magazine collages covered with organic substances within light boxes. These ”portraits,” altered by the addition of semen, hair, milk, coffee grounds, urine, and blood, balanced readymade pop culture with the natural and handmade, and exemplified Pope.L’s artistic drive to create complex layers of image and meaning.