A wide action is not a width

Melissa Joseph

In Residence: Feb 5 – Mar 29, 2024

Exhibition: Mar 28 – May 19, 2024


Melissa Joseph’s Artpace exhibition, A wide action is not a width, is a love letter to San Antonio, and a meditation on the selective permeability of our interfaces with others and the environment. The title comes from Gertrude Stein’s linguistic experiment, Tender Buttons, in which she repurposes words and shifts our perspectives toward them, which is how Joseph uses found objects and archival imagery. This installation honors her family and the city of San Antonio, where the river is a central vein that both divides the city and flows beneath its foundation. Through found objects and felt paintings, Joseph highlights untold stories and their forgotten relics.  

As visitors step into the space, they find themselves between embedded clay pipes. These pipes were used widely throughout San Antonio, but their porous nature has rendered them obsolete. They are now vestiges of the past, replaced with materials like PVC and other plastics. Melissa reclaims these old clay relics as frames for small felt paintings. The images are moments captured from Joseph’s time in San Antonio, where she has spent two months as an Artpace resident.  

The centerpiece of this installation is Texas Jali, a truck bed from a local scrap yard with a custom-made headache rack recalling the Indian ornamental screens that filter heat and light. The surface of the truck has a blue-green patina that could be viewed as a painting itself, with a small rectangular space cut out by the previous owner. Although it is a mass-produced, manufactured object, Joseph is drawn to the personalization and care of its original handler. Embedded in the center is a small felt painting depicting a set of fingers wearing a golden ring with a pink stone; her brother’s hand wearing the ring their late father once loved. Like an altarpiece, Joseph transforms the object, celebrating it and the memories it possesses.  

On the south wall is a large felt painting, Indian Dirty Dancing, from an archival image portraying her parents dancing in someone’s backyard. It presents many unanswered questions surrounding the circumstances of the event for both the artist and the viewer. Joseph repurposes the fragmented moment, leaning on the viewer’s imagination to create the rest of the story. A wide action is not a width exists on a continuum with Joseph’s previous work, which also deals with familial archives, although this scale is a new direction for her.   

Melissa’s process is intuitive, working with materials she connects with, which may have been significant to others like her in the past. She listens and responds to objects that she feels drawn to. This is a superpower of discovery, a thread to be welcomed, pulled, and reworked by new hands. Through world-building, Melissa Joseph taps into the essence of objects as much as she does of the people who wielded them.  

Ada Smith Genitempo, Residencies and Exhibitions Manager

Artist

Melissa Joseph

Brooklyn, New York, USA

Melissa Joseph is a New York based artist and independent curator. Her work examines themes of memory, family history, and the politics of how we occupy spaces. Joseph acutely surveys the labors of women, as well as her own experiences as a second generation American, and the unique juxtapositions of diasporic life. Joseph’s work has been shown at the Delaware Contemporary, Woodmere Art Museum, Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, Brattleboro Museum and Art Center, Jeffrey Deitch Projects, MOCA Arlington and List Gallery at Swarthmore College. Joseph has been featured in BOMB Magazine, Hyperallergic, Artnet, New American Paintings, Le Monde, CNN, and Architectural Digest. Joseph has participated in residencies including Dieu Donné, Fountainhead, the Archie Bray Foundation for Ceramic Arts, the Museum of Arts and Design and at Greenwich House Pottery in 2023. Melissa Joseph will be the National Artist for Artpace’s spring 2024 residency. https://www.melissajoseph.net

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Curator

Larry Ossei-Mensah

Larry Ossei-Mensah uses art as a forum to redefine how we see ourselves and the world
around us. The Ghanaian-American curator has launched numerous exhibitions and programs
featuring artists such as Firelei Baez, Steve McQueen, Catherine Opie, Nick Cave, Guadalupe
Maravilla, Ebony G. Patterson, Judy Chicago, Stanley Whitney, and many more. As a global
collaborator, Ossei-Mensah has worked with renowned venues around the world such as; The
MCA Denver, Ben Brown Fine Arts in Hong Kong & London, the 7th Athen Biennale in Athens,
Greece, (co-curated with OSMK Social Club), and MASS MoCA (co-curated with Susan Cross
and Allison Janae Hamilton in 2018-2019). He’s been a partner on several Web3-related
projects with creatives such as Derrick Adams x Jay-Z, Marco Brambilla, and Mikael Owunna.

Following his critically acclaimed exhibition in Spring 2022, Ghost of Empires, at Ben Brown
Fine Art in Hong Kong, Ossei-Mensah recently opened his second exhibition in Asia, Sounds of
Blackness, at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila in the Philippines. This is the first group
exhibition featuring an ensemble of all Black visual artists from the African Diaspora in South
East Asia. The exhibition explores how the participating artists utilize their practices as a forum
to articulate a diversity of ideas and perspectives through various mediums and is on view until
June 17th featuring Artists such as; Rashid Johnson, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Vaughn Spann,
Tschabalala Self, and Hank Willis Thomas. Ossei-Mensah has also worked alongside Ghanaian
painter, Amoako Boafo, curating his first museum solo exhibition, Soul of Black Folks, exhibited
at the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) in 2021, San Francisco, and the Contemporary
Art Museum Houston in 2022 with upcoming iterations on view summer & fall ‘23 at the Seattle
Art Museum and Denver Art Museum.’


A native of The Bronx, Ossei-Mensah co-founded ARTNOIR, a nonprofit whose mission is to
drive racial equity in the art world by centering creatives, curators, collectors, and communities
of color. Through ARTNOIR, he has worked with brands like UBS, Twitter, Coca-Cola, 1stDibs,
and Mailchimp on projects that were the intersection of art and culture. Ossei-Mensah has been
profiled in publications, including the New York Times, Artsy, WWD, Frieze, Dazed, Robb
Report, The Financial Times, and Cultured Magazine. He has participated in numerous panels
and conversations alongside Art Basel Miami Beach, The Earn Your Leisure Podcast, and The
Fog Art Fair. Formerly the Susanne Feld Hilberry Senior Curator at the Museum of
Contemporary Art (MOCAD), Detroit, Ossei-Mensah currently serves as Curator-at-Large at the
Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM

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