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"The Dirty South Comes to Denver" Hyperallergic Review

Spanning generations and genres from the past 100 years, the MCA Denver’s iteration of the traveling exhibition resonates as its only non-Southern venue.

Stacy J, Platt - January 12, 2020

DENVER — The Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture, and the Sonic Impulse is finishing its four-city exhibition run in its only non-Southern venue, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver, showcasing over 100 works by 60 artists and spanning generations and genres from the past 100 years.

Organized thematically, the show begins with issues of and connections to land. Arguably the most affecting work in this section is Allison Janae Hamilton’s video “Wacissa” (2019), whose gurgling, aquatic sonic impact finds viewers before its intentionally disorienting camerawork does. Dragging a camera on top of and underwater in the Wacissa River — originally a slave canal in North Florida and now used as a run-off site for turpentine disposal — the vertiginous video references water as a point of entry for Black people crossing the Atlantic. Aaron Douglas’s delicate, ghostly 1934 gouache painting and Minnie Evans’s mid-century colored pencil works are in dialogue with visually and intellectually demanding contemporary works like Nathaniel Donnett’s reconstructed shotgun house in “I looked over Jordan and what did I see; a band of angels coming after me” (2017–19), and Kaneem Smith’s “The Past is Perpetual/Weighted Fleet” (2012), consisting of a reclaimed bale of cotton and the iron measuring and weighing tools used as markers of commodities made from Black peoples’ labor.

On the ground floor, a glass case shows objects that hold cultural and talismanic resonance like Ornette Coleman’s white lacquered Selmer alto saxophone; a sequined blue concert vest worn by James Brown, a full-body floral suit donned by CeeLo Green, and Robert Pruitt’s “Glass Slippers” made from Schlitz bottles. Felandus Thames’s absorbing “Just Hangin” (2018), a sculptural web of fatlace shoestrings and sneakers whose spidery construction was meant to evoke Black men caught in the US prison industrial complex.


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