November 18, 2023 - January 13, 2024
Vielmetter Los Angeles is pleased to announce Todd Gray’s solo exhibition Rome Work, featuring Gray’s photographic works based on his recent six-month residency as a 2022-23 Rome Prize Fellow. Best known for photography, performance, and sculpture that address race, class, and power, Gray explores the legacies of colonialism in Africa and strives to dismantle the visual conditions that pervade art and culture today.
Gray’s three-dimensional photocollages contest anti-Black narratives through the artist’s deconstruction of images from his archive. Compiled over the past fifty years and including pictures of individuals, historic sites, rural scenes, and slave fortresses and trails in West Africa and Ghana (where he has a studio); formal gardens of imperial Europe; stars and galaxies; images of musicians (taken by Gray as a professional photographer for album covers and international magazines), his work aims to rupture the traditions of photography.
In Rome Work, Gray has furthered his research to examine the Catholic Church’s mission in West Africa and how that enriched both the Church and powerful imperial elites. He merges images of himself with photographs of churches and villas in Rome and Sicily that expand on his archive of photographs to create a new visual dialogue. Gray combines these photographs, frames them, and reconfigures them, stacked on top of one another, in sculptural constructions that both illuminate and obscure their subjects. For example, in Stairway to Heaven’s Hell (St. Anthony Slave Castle / Santa Maria Basilica) (2023), the circular frame encapsulating the stairway entrance to Saint Anthony Fortress in Ghana echoes the central oculus in the dome of Rome’s Basilica Santa Maria, creating a visual puzzle that suggests a transcendent portal to heaven. Likewise, in When we opened our eyes we had the Bible and they had the land, #2 (2023) Gray places a 2005 self-portrait from his Shaman / Conjur Man series in the center of a detail of the ceiling of the Church of the Gesù in Palermo; the baroque sweeps of shaving cream on the artist’s face contrasting the painterly and sculptural embellishments of the ornate frescoes. The florid trimmings obscure the reality to which the title refers—a Desmond Tutu quote regarding missionaries that invaded South Africa. The visually seductive artworks function as both a conceptual critique of art and mass media and a powerful social and political commentary.
Gray’s visual language serves to build and rebuild identity while highlighting a multiplicity of perspectives as seen in the stratified images. His photographs shift between different conceptual iterations, defying historical specificity or literal translation and refusing erasure as the racialized and gendered critiques remain open-ended. The frames in his work also multiply, building upon the surfaces of those preceding. Through the work, he hopes to question “normative models of representation, binary thinking, and either/or solutions.” Ultimately, Gray urges the viewer to be more aware of how we are active partners in constructing meaning—the complex layering of images provides multiple lenses through which one can explore and create such new perspectives.
Todd Gray received both his B.F.A and M.F.A from California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, CA, in 1979 and 1989, respectively. Solo exhibitions of his work have been organized at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, Kalamazoo, MI (2021); Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT (2021); David Lewis, New York (2021); Pomona College Museum of Art, Claremont, CA (2019-20); Palm Springs Art Museum, Palm Springs, CA (2018); Meliksetian | Briggs, Los Angeles (2018); Museum of the African Diaspora, San Francisco (2017); Gallery Momo, Johannesburg, South Africa (2017); Lightwork, Syracuse, NY (2016); Samson Projects, Boston, MA (2015); California State University, Los Angeles (2004); Pasadena City College, Pasadena, CA (2003); and Cal Poly Pomona, State University, Pomona, CA (2002). Select group exhibitions of his work include NGV Triennial, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia (2023); Inheritance, Whitney Museum, New York (2023); Afro-Atlantic Histories, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Los Angeles (2022); Claiming the Narrative, Visual Arts Center of New Jersey, NJ (2022); Black American Portraits, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Los Angeles (2021); Photo Flux: Unshuttering LA, The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, Los Angeles (2021); TELL ME YOUR STORY: Storytelling in African American Art, From the Harlem Renaissance to the Present, Kunsthal KAdE, Amersfoort, the Netherlands (2020); Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2019); Mapping Black Identities, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis, MN (2019); A Brilliant Spectrum: Recent Gifts of Color Photography, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, CA (2019); Michael Jackson: On the Wall, National Portrait Gallery, London; Paris, France; Bonn, Germany; and Espoo, Finland (2018); a, the, though, only, Made in LA 2016, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA (2016); Go Tell It on the Mountain, California African American Museum, Los Angeles (2013); The Bearden Project, Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (2011); Black Is Black Ain’t, Detroit Museum of Art, Detroit, MI (2009); Oz, New Offerings From Los Angeles, Instituto Cultural Cabaña, Guadalajara, Mexico (2009); Black Is Black Ain’t, Renaissance Society, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL (2008); Framing the Triangle, Goethe Institute, Accra, Ghana (2005); and Committed to the Image, Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York, NY (2001).
Gray’s work is held in numerous public and private collections, including the Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College, Claremont, CA; California Community Foundation, Los Angeles; Getty Center, Los Angeles; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, Kalamazoo, MI; Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Los Angeles; Los Angeles International Airport, Los Angeles; Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis, MN; Montclair Art Museum, Montclair, NJ; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Los Angeles; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Canada; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia; Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, CA; Studio Museum in Harlem, NY; University of Connecticut, Hartford, CT; University of Parma, Parma, Italy; Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
He is the recipient of several awards and fellowships, including the Rome Prize Fellowship, Visual Arts, American Academy in Rome, Rome, Italy (2022-23); John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship for Fine Arts (2018); Bellagio Creative Arts Fellowship, The Rockefeller Foundation (2016); and the Hermitage Artist Retreat Fellowship, Englewood, FL (2015). In 2018 LA Metro commissioned Gray to create artwork for the Wilshire/La Cienega station and in 2007, Gray was commissioned to create a public artwork for the Los Angeles International Airport.