Knowing That We God-like

Robert Pruitt

Exhibition: Mar 8 – May 13, 2007

Pruitt’s Artpace installation exemplifies his renegotiation of stereotypes of black identity, and he considers this body of work one of his most tightly conceived to date. Included are the artist’s prints made from pencil drawings depicting African-Americans marked by diverse temporal and cultural signifiers. In one, Self-portrait As A Great Benin Emperor In The 23rd Century (2007), Pruitt depicts himself in jeans, sunglasses, a jersey emblazoned with the #23 of basketball greats Michael Jordan and LeBron James, and a West African woven crown that cloaks the neck of this urban representation with ancestral rings.

Pruitt’s photographs have an even greater degree of factuality and demonstrate the artist’s diverse array of interests—ancestral homelands, recent politics, and the future of race relations—all of which carry the potential to positively define 21st-century black culture, resisting the negative and superficial stereotypes circulated in the mass media. In one of the more than two-foot wide images, a woman wearing the leather uniform of a Black Panther works in a study, surrounded by a telescope and books about Black Nationalism, hairstyles, and superheroes. She channels the confidence of a politicized perspective, directing science in a racially conscious manner.

A pair of photographic portraits explores the commanding role that the media’s gaze plays in shaping perceptions. They feature action figures of Muhammad Ali and Michael Jackson, two African-Americans whose celebrity has achieved global proportions. Though their reputations have occasionally been tarnished by their own sensational behavior, their unquestionable popularity is evidenced by the continued market viability of the dolls bearing their likenesses. Pruitt’s photographic portraits deify these personalities and underscore the seminal place such celebrities have in the constant renegotiation of identity.

Philosopher Michel Foucault has suggested that revolutions are not the result of sudden uprisings, but the accumulated tension created by many small moments of opposition. Robert Pruitt’s most recent works oppose the persistent simplification of black culture in the mass media by reflecting the richly hybrid reality of his African-American community. His drawings, photographs, and sculptures fight through a succession of tightly formed points of resistance.

– Kate Green


Robert Pruitt

Houston, Texas, USA

Robert Pruitt’s installations and sculptures deconstruct culturally charged material to explore the traditions that give them power. His works appropriate and transform disparate objects, such as Norman Rockwell prints, crack vials, and hair extensions, to raise questions about representations of African-American identity. Highlighting, and perhaps bridging, the gap between dissimilar realms, Pruitt draws upon black popular culture as he employs strategies of conceptual art and conventions of art history.
Robert Pruitt lives and works in Houston, TX, where he was born in 1975. He received his MFA from The University of Texas at Austin, TX, in 2003. He has had solo exhibitions at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, TX (2006); Clementine, New York, NY (2006, 2004); and Project Row Houses, Houston, TX (2003). Group exhibitions showing his work include the Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY (2006); Frequency, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY (2005); and Double Consciousness: Black Conceptual Art since 1970, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, TX (2005).

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Debra Singer

New York, New York, USA

In 2004 Debra Singer was appointed Executive Director and Chief Curator of The Kitchen, and has since organized performances and exhibitions, including the first New York exhibition of Walid Raad/The Atlas Group. Singer had previously served as a Curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY since 1997. While there she organized solo exhibitions with Helen Mirra, Paul Pfeiffer, Paul Sietsema, and Sarah Sze, the sound and performance components of the2002 Whitney Biennial, and was a co-organizer of the 2004 Whitney Biennial. Her writings have been included in Artforum, as well as other publications.

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