American Dreamers at Palazzo Strozzi

American Dreamers in Florence: Part I

Does the American dream still exist? Last year my entire body of work revolved around the question of the American Dream’s existence and futility as it applies to Black Americans. As I continue to research and develop the vocabulary for this concept, Bartholomew F. Bland has curated an exhibition titled, American Dreamers: Reality and Imagination in Contemporary American Art currently showing at Palazzo Strozzi in Florence (Firenze), Italy. Damn, he beat me to the punch! Bland opens the exhibition with the following questions: Does the American dream still exist? What future does it have in an age in which the promise of happiness and economic prosperity seems to have fallen foul of an increasingly complex and harsh reality? As the basis for Bland’s exhibition, he has chosen eleven contemporary artists from all walks of life who utilize their imagination and dreams as alternatives to the cookie cutter idea that encompasses the American Dream.

Adam Cvijanovic, Exurbia (section) 2001-2002. Courtesy of Palazzo Stozzina

American Dreamers is a well-organized exhibition with little quirks and questions that only an artist would dare to ask. For instance, Adams Cvijanovic’s installation tilted Exurbia(New City) is a large acrylic panorama painting that portrays the development of a suburban housing community. Exurbia is installed in a somewhat circular gallery that requires the viewer to enter and exit in a specific route. The perspective of Exurbia, as well as the shadows and depth of space, are all aligned with the entrance of the space to enable the viewer to feel that they have suddenly happened upon a developing community. With weeds and high grass in the foreground, residential development in the middle ground as well as hills along the background, Cvijanovic is successful in creating the illusion that the viewer has actually entered Exurbia. Walking in a clockwise fashion, the viewer is walking among the continuing connotations and ideal associated with the American Dream and are literally a part of Exurbia. Now… Cvijanovic’s execution of the painting is somewhat…. Questionable: 1) The surface on which it is painted ( “a synthetic material” )works in favor for the acrylic paint however it does not work in favor of the installation. Air bubbles from attempts to make the painting adhere to the wall, peeling corners and unaligned panels are very evident and just plain ol’ distracting. 2) Furthermore it seems that Cvijanovic was so concerned about the precision of the perspective that he forgot to paint! Now, I say that not in the sense that there are literally untouched surfaces but more so in terms of a painterly feel. Exurbia is tight like an Amber Rose dress. The painting is so accurate that there is no sense of intuition … it’s as if Exurbia is painted by number. Does this align with the idea of perfection and the American Dreams cookie cutter ideals?? Possibly.

will Cotton. Consuming Folly, 2009-2010, oil on linen, 72 x 96 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Mary Boone Galler

Once the viewer exits Cvijanovic’s installation, he or she is beckoned by the unfortunate stupidity and lack of talent that is known as Katy Perry’s 2012 song, California Girls. Damn, was that mean? Directed by artist Will cotton, the overly sexual candy land, board game video, plays on a loop in the next room. Unable to escape, the viewer is drawn into the small gallery that houses 4 paintings of Cotton’s fairy tale land of candy with nude figures (one being Katy Perry) that seem to float along like angels. The rendering of Cotton’s paintings are beautiful. His ability to paint cake icing, cotton candy and candy canes with the likeness and texture of the actual object is superb. In two of the paintings it is obvious where he spent the most time developing the figures skin tones or facial expressions. In rendering photo realistic cinnamon buns, candy canes, and breasts there are underdeveloped areas that are possibly only obvious to an art critic or artist. Lack of shadows to develop volumetric, fleshy qualities, hasty brushtrokes and dirty, dirty edges of the canvas are a tad distracting…but maybe I’m nit-picking…  The only aspect of the show that I question greatly, is the inclusion of the Katy Perry video. Why oh Why was it necessary? “Icing” spurting from phallic attachments to candy covered breasts, awful singing and the Snoop Dogg’s awful rap (oh how he has become a sell out….)was all just so unnecessary!   And only one question comes to mind: Why?!? And I ask that because the video, the song and Cotton’s involvement as artistic director, do not compliment his paintings in this setting!  California Girls is not an extension of his paintings because it is simply what it is: A pop video.

That is all for now. I know that the Writing Art guide dished out at Universities says to focus on one or two aspects of a group exhibition, but that would be no fun. So over the next few days, I plan to upload a few thoughts on a few more artists that I found most interesting in American Dreamers.


Plegaria Muda: Doris Salcedo Installation at the MAXXI

A few days ago I was in desperate need of a Contemporary Art “fix”. Italians literally live and walk among ruins older than the founding of North America and you cannot seem to see it all, no matter how long you stay. After a long long long day at the Vatican, several traveling buddies split a 40,00 Euro cab ride, and enjoyed the 30 minutes of air condition as we rode to North Rome. To our surprise (after several discouraging opinions about the MAXXI) we embarked upon a Doris Salcedo Installation that satisfied our “fix”.


Doris Salcedo’s work testifies on behalf of the lives silenced by unnecessary deaths in areas populated by marginalized people. Elements such as past, present, conflict and triumph are evident in the lives affected by unnecessary violence and thusly are the driving forces behind Salcedo’s work. In 2004- 2009, Salcedo traveled throughout ghettos of South East Los Angeles in response to an official report which stated that over 10,000 young people had died violent deaths over a twenty-one year period. During this same time in South America, the Colombian army lured young men from poor and marginalized neighborhoods with false promises of job opportunities into wooded areas, dressed them in rebel uniforms and slaughtered them in “combat”.  The death of these young men allowed the Colombian army to fabricate results in order to claim financial rewards offered by the government for killed guerrillas.

“Plegaria Muda” by Colombian artist Doris Salcedo at the Maxxi museum on March 14, 2012. (Courtesy Getty Images)

Disturbed and inspired by the commonalities in Los Angeles and Colombian deaths, Salcedo created Plegaria Muda, an installation consisting of over 120 pairs of tables, one stacked upside down on top of the other and merged with moist soil. The massive amount of rustic tables fill the gallery and have an eternal presence very much like a graveyard. In an eerily quiet, crescent shaped gallery, the viewer winds through the seemingly endless arrangements of stacked tables toward the opposite end of the gallery as if moving among headstones.

Although the driving force behind Plegaria Muda stems from unnecessary deaths, Salcedo’s installation is very much about the continuance of life and the elements that embody the lives affected by violence.  The tables vary in textures and shades of gray, yet remain consistent in size, thusly appearing weathered and heavily used. Those that connect to the ground, with the soil resting on top, represent the past, the dead or the missing. They also function as representations of conflict that have been laid to rest underneath the moist soil of the earth. The tables on top are in an unnatural state, upside down, with their legs facing the sky. They function as the present lives of the parents and loved ones that buried children as a result to Los Angeles and Colombian gang violence, crime or corruption. In an unnatural state, they are forever connected to the dead through the continuance of life. The soil that binds the living to the dead embodies a root system that enables green grass to grow through the wood of the table resting on top. The ability for life to continue after so much heart ache is triumphant. Salcedo’s installation not only acts as a testimony on behalf of marginalized people killed in society’s wars but also testifies to the lives that have continued to thrive within these societies regardless of Plegaria Muda, Muted Prayers.

‘Plegaria Muda’ by Doris Salcedo, 2012
all images courtesy MAXXI
images by p. tocci

A to Z in Italy

A: Afro-Americana in Italy … I like that term

B: “Helloooo, Brown Sugar! I have good deal for you!”

C: Can I touch your hair, ciccolatta?

D: David. I love a man with a sling shot and determination.

E: Euro (pronounced eh- oo-ROH) is the same as 1.3 American Dollars

F: Fettuccine Alfredo doesn’t exist but fettuccine con funghi exists everywhere and it is so much better!

G:Gold Ornamentation and Gelato flavors as far as the eye can see… paradise?

H: Imagine a pope running for his life to Hadrian’s Mausoleum as the crowd shouts “Down with him!!!!”

    (In Italian of course).

I: insalata mista (mixed green salad with grape tomatoes, carrots, corn and a squeeze of lemon)

J: “Jamm Ja” Trattoria with rum cakes and tortellini pasta with a cream sauce, pears and pistachios.

K: kilos; kilometers; kilograms

L: Luca Signorelli

M: Michaelanglo and the smell of the Sistine Chapel.


N: Nutella!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

O: L’ Olivia grow like weeds and are included in every meal

P: Prego; Pizza; Pierro Della Francesca; Pesto; Perugia; Poppolo;

Q: Quando Costo?

R: Red is a color of passion. Red is the color of my nails. Red is the color of my eyes by the end of the day

S: Sienna; Sizes (even) 32-46 are readily available for skinny Italian Women

T: Toretellini with Pomodoro, Mozarella y Spinach

U: Umbria and their white wine

V: vino dolce, vino della casa, vino banco etc etc; Vespas are speed demons!

W: Can you wash it [your hair]?

X: X, XI, XII, XIII, XIV, XV, XVI, XVII, XVIII, XVIIII, XX…… Know your ROMAN numerals in Rome

Y: Giallo is Italian for the color Yellow and oh how I love my yellow!

Z: lo zoo… I have yet to see a zoo but I’m sure they exist somewhere….

I’m in Italy

It is always a little difficult to know how you will be perceived in another country especially as a Black person.  The emotions and questions range from fear to excitement and throw in a little arrogance while you’re at it: Will the men think I’m fine?  I hear they like Black women….I can work it! Do they think I’m a sex worker? African?  American? Gypsy?? Do they think this is my real hair or do they know its fake? Why are they staring at me, I’m not stealing anything! Shit, is that the police?? What are they staring?

For the last 3 weeks I have been traveling throughout Italy. I have been to Rome, Siena, Florence, Arezzo and Castiglion Fiorentino. Over the course of the next 4 weeks, I will be traveling to Orvieto, Rome (for 4 days), Venice, and Florence again and I can’t help but wonder how people perceive me. As the only Black person among 30 other students, I wonder what would happen if I wandered away from the pack?

1 Week Later

Well. I’m no longer wondering what people think of me by myself anymore. Mostly because once I traveled to Rome people STOPPED STARING AT ME. In the little towns of Siena, Arezzo and Castiglion Fiorentino the black population is slim…. or none. Then here I am walking around with an afro, brightly colored tops and scarves, butchering the Italian language while ordering a meal. I stuck out like a sore thumb. But I got over it rather quickly. The only people that haven’t so far, are the old Italian men that point at me and say thing in Italian…. And I can’t decipher a single world. However once I made it to Rome, no one gave 2 shits. Seriously. They couldn’t care less if I were, African, Black, BRITISH ( side note: someone thought I was British and I started to feel like I had a shot at dating Idris Elba), they don’t care.They want money. Its alot like New York City, actually. Mean Green runs the city and nobody really cares as long as you pay the piper.

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