"Midground 19" in 41 Cooper Square Gallery

POSTED ON: December 5, 2017


“Midground 19,” an exhibition of work by Cooper students and alumni of African descent, opens in the 41 Cooper Gallery on Tuesday, December 5 at 6 PM. It is the second in a series of three shows being curated by art senior Alfred Dudley III, “Background 19,” from this past fall, and “Foreground 19” to open in Spring 2018. It’s important, he notes, to see all three as interrelated. “I wanted to represent the collective experience of being at The Cooper Union, specifically for students of African descent, with the language of perspective points as a point of departure,” he says.

“Midground 19,” like the other two exhibitions, considers how the conditions of producing art —including limited material and intellectual support—has an impact on what a Black artist makes. Seen as a group, the works offer a portrait of various responses to those conditions. “This work never gets a chance to be seen in conversation with each other.” Of course, all Cooper students exhibit their work, but often individually or in collaboration with only one other artist, which, Mr. Dudley says, “loses the idea of the collective condition.”

"There's a pedagogical influence on the production of work in this school that is high pressure and high-output demanding," he says, but there is little support for shows that present any one group's experience. He took on the curation of these three exhibitions as a way to address that problem, though he stresses that the work isn't supposed to represent a unified voice. On the contrary, he wants to demonstrate multiple solutions to boundaries imposed by racism, direct and structural.

The exhibition will include art work by Ta-Shea Brown, Jermaine Carter, Christ Coryat, Jhakai Deshong, Mr. Dudley, Evan Hall, Braden Hollis, Emily Manwaring, Gilberto Mena, Looney Santana, Rachel Eulena Williams, Omar Wiseman, and others.

Mr. Dudley’s decision to curate the three shows was inspired by the F shows at the Studio Museum of Harlem as well as by a show organized by Professor William Villalongo when he was a student in the School of Art. Entitled, “Shaded Voices,” Professor Villalongo’s exhibition spanned a 20-year period and included work from alumni, among others, Marina Gutierrez, Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, Juan Sánchez, Sol’Sax, John Bright, Erica Mapp, Colin Chase, and Tony Gonzalez.

“Midground 19” emphasizes the connections between established and emerging artists, an idea that speaks to a question raised by Professor Villalongo, who asked his students to consider their “art family tree” and to articulate who were their “parents.” The three shows are conceived of in a similar familial spirit, with “Background 19” repositioning Professor Villalongo as an alumnus of Cooper (as opposed to his role as student curator of “Shaded Voices"), while next spring’s show will, in part, look at the work of students about to graduate. “’Foreground 19’ will be where the connections among Black Cooper artists will be seen, though all three are in dialogue.”

The opening includes performances by Whyzman and ECW. The exhibition runs from December 5–10, 11 AM to 6 PM.

  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.