Barkley L. Hendricks
Through July 7. Jack Shainman, jackshainman.com.
As the Black Lives Matter movement sweeps across the country, calls have risen up to acknowledge the historical contributions of black visual artists. One who has long achieved recognition is Barkley L. Hendricks (1945-2017), a master of figurative painting whose aesthetic influence can be seen in people like Kehinde Wiley (who created Barack Obama’s official portrait). A show of Mr. Hendricks’s early nonfigurative paintings devoted to basketball, titled “In the Paint,” are on view — virtually, for now — at Jack Shainman.
Mr. Hendricks, who was born in Philadelphia, studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and did his graduate work at the Yale School of Art, which has produced a number of important black figurative artists (including Mr. Wiley, Tschabalala Self and Titus Kaphar). The paintings on view here were created from 1967 to 1970, between his undergraduate and graduate-school years, while Mr. Hendricks was working for Philadelphia’s recreation department, where he would draw studies for these minimal, stripped-down paintings by observing the basketball courts outside his window.
A celebration of both sport and community, paintings like “Still Life #5” (1968), with an isolated orange basketball against a white backboard, or the backboard-triptych “Father, Son, and …” (1969) also contain a sly humor, playing against the geometric abstraction of Western modernism and Christian religious paintings. “I Want to Take You Higher” (1970), a composition inspired by the lines and curves of a basketball court, is especially perfect for 2020. Mr. Hendricks consciously employs the red, black and green of the black liberation flag, later adopted by the artist David Hammons for his “African American Flag” (1990), which has gone viral in the last two weeks. The painting’s title offers hope and inspiration, as well as the reminder that brilliant, resilient ancestor-artists paved the way for this explosive but frequently ebullient moment.
The pioneers of reproductive imagery in the 1830s called their pictures by many names — heliographs, calotypes, daguerreotypes — but the word that stuck was photograph: a “drawing with light.” The bond between photography and drawing is more than an accident of etymology, as the New York photo dealer Hans P. Kraus Jr. demonstrates in this edifying exhibition of image making just before the invention of the camera.
The Enlightenment brought with it a vogue for drawing machines that aimed to capture human likenesses, like Gilles-Louis Chrétien’s physiognotrace: a large wooden frame with an attached stylus that could be dragged along the contour of a sitter’s head and face. By the early 19th century, Louis Daguerre was experimenting with a technique he called dessin-fumée, or “smoke drawing”: to make this show’s mottled image of a Moorish arch, he used the smoke from a candle to smudge an impression on what was probably a glass plate. Eugène Delacroix turned to the cliché-verre, an etching-photography hybrid that printed images on light-sensitive paper, to make a print of a snarling tiger.
In 1839, Daguerre in Paris and William Henry Fox Talbot in London separately debuted their photographic processes: Daguerre on silver-coated plates, Talbot on paper. Daguerre insisted on a place for photography within French art — and Talbot, who called photography “the pencil of nature,” did the same in England. An 1841 photogram of a fallen leaf, its dozens of needles each seared into the paper, testifies to Talbot’s ambition to document nature better than any artist. But just two years later, he took his camera to Oxford, produced a salt plate of one of the colleges, and overlaid the print with watercolor to produce a hybrid of photograph and painting.
The exhibition’s brochure contains an enjoyable essay by Maria Antonella Pelizzari, a professor of photographic history at Hunter College and the CUNY Graduate Center, that introduces the mechanics of these pre-photographic technologies. Its cross-media approach has lessons not only for history buffs but also for contemporary artists, now that the boundary between photography and other media feels as hazy as a long-exposure seascape.