Museum Admission: Brenna Youngblood at the Seattle Art Museum
When I walked into Brenna Youngblood’s (NAP #103) abstracted realities, at the Seattle Art Museum, I thought this would be a show about its painted subjects. The eight works’ contents—an oversized “x”, a confetti of dollar-bill signs, a dripping map, a Chuck Taylor sole atop a pyramid—held so much depth on their own. Knowing her also to be an artist whose practice extends to mediums rooted in physical objects, including sculpture, collage, assemblage, and photography, objects at first seemed to be the heart of the matters here. — Erin Langner, Seattle Contributor
Chuck Taylor, 2015, Brenna Youngblood, American, b. 1979, color photograph and acrylic on canvas, 72 x 60 in. Courtesy of the artist and Honor Fraser Gallery.
Wintergreen, 2015, Brenna Youngblood, American, b. 1979, marker and acrylic on canvas with artist’s frame, 72 x 60 1⁄4 in. Courtesy of the artist and Honor Fraser Gallery.
The loneliness of Youngblood’s painting, Wintergreen, held my gaze so tightly I found it hard to keep walking through the show. Showing a wheelchair enshrouded in a pasty, green wash of color, it looked like someone’s life that had been forgotten. In it, I kept seeing the face of a man from Spike Lee’s Hurricane Katrina documentary, When the Levees Broke, who told the camera of how his mother passed away in her wheelchair outside the New Orleans convention center while awaiting the evacuation buses that never made it in time. In the painting’s opaqueness, all I could see was the abandonment—of desolate hospitals, of neglected services, of schools left behind. The similarly institutional shade of bleach-pink the artist selected for the gallery’s walls went on to heighten the affect. Together, these elements made a reality so easily forgotten become tangibly present once more.
Map of the World, 2015, Brenna Youngblood, American, b. 1979, map, acrylic, and construction paper on canvas, 60 x 60 in. Courtesy of the artist and Honor Fraser Gallery.
X, 2015, Brenna Youngblood, American, b. 1979, paper and acrylic on canvas, 72 x 60 in. Courtesy of the artist and Honor Fraser Gallery.
Evocative as subjects like the wheelchair and a nearby, floating Chuck Taylor soul were, the works’ surfaces had even more to say. Crunched and creased, like worn paper bags, Youngblood’s textures pushed back against the permanence normally implied by paintings’ larger scale and rich hues. A sense that these works could be thrown away, or lost in the wind, inhabits the shiny, black top layer of X and the graffiti of Wild. The seeming remoteness of such a fate for paintings while standing in a museum make this possibility seem absurd, but women artists and artists of color are still forgotten and overlooked so easily, the metaphor can’t be ignored. As Youngblood’s paintings remind us, the distance between abstracted realities and actual realities continues to be startlingly smaller than we would like to think.
Wild, 2015, Brenna Youngblood, American, b. 1979, paper, cardboard, tape, and acrylic on canvas with artist’s frame, 79 x 66 3⁄4 in. Courtesy of the artist and Honor Fraser Gallery.
Domestic, 2015, Brenna Youngblood, American, b. 1979, wall paper, found vent, and acrylic on canvas, 72 x 60 in. Courtesy of the artist and Honor Fraser Gallery.
Brenna Youngblood: abstracted realities is on view at the Seattle Art Museum through April 17. Brenna Youngblood lives and works in Los Angeles, California. She earned her BFA at California State University and her MFA from the University of California, Los Angles. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, including shows at the Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis; Nathalie Obadia Gallery (Paris) and Honor Fraser Gallery (Los Angeles), among many others. Youngblood is the recipient of the Seattle Art Museum’s 2015 Gwendolyn Knight/Jacob Lawrence Prize.
Erin Langner is an arts writer and a program associate at Seattle Arts & Lectures.