Learning Together

Since the Studio Museum in Harlem’s founding in 1968, more than 100 artists have participated in yearlong residencies, producing some of the most renowned contemporary artists exhibiting today, including Kehinde Wiley, Sanford Biggers, David Hammons, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas, Wangechi Mutu, and Julie Mehretu, among others. For the past year, three emerging artists—Sadie Barnette, Lauren Halsey, and Eric Mack—have worked side by side in studio spaces above the museum’s exhibition galleries to produce individual works that will be presented in the group showcase “Everything, Everyday,” which opens today, July 16.

Exploring painting, photography, and sculpture, the works are diverse in medium and in subject. Barnette’s Untitled (Great Granddaughter), for example, tracks the artist’s personal history through a six-piece series of pencil name drawings. “It’s my deconstructed family tree,” says the artist, who studied at California Institute of Art. “The name drawings reference me but there isn’t a narrative behind them, so people can project their own histories or imagine what the time was like for generations since 1850.”

Then there are Mack’s fabric paintings, Avonte and Oquendo. Together, they explore the materiality of the clothing worn by Avonte Oquendo—a young autistic African-American boy who wandered out of school in New York and went missing—that washed up on the shore of the East River. “People were looking for these descriptive fragments that described who he was in a effort to locate him,” says Mack, who received his MFA from Yale before the residency. “What really was important for me was his lack of speech and how he would be found based on descriptive surfaces. I tried to locate that in the fabric collages.”

Halsey, on the other hand, built an architectural work out of 16 concrete slabs that reflects growing up in South Central Los Angeles in the 1990s. On one square, the artist etched hieroglyphic images of Michael Jordan, Malcolm X, and street signs that represent ephemera that highlight the cultural history of young black millennials. “I was inspired by the myth making that happens with Ancient Egypt from all cultures,” says Halsey, who will have solo show at Michelle Joan Papillion gallery in Los Angeles later this year.  “Growing up the way I did, and now working in Harlem, I like how people freestyle it and propose these imagined pasts.”

Although each artist has his or her own vision, having worked side by side for a year, there are clear overlapping themes that bind “Everything, Everyday” into one cohesive show. Memory and visibility serve as a point of departure, later revealing personal and material histories of the artstis’ respective cultures.

“I think about how Eric uses flat surfaces to push paint and making paintings, and how Sadie uses archival images to tell stories, and how they connect to my hieroglyphs,” explains Halsey. Barnette quickly adds, “I think there’s something in our work about transcendence.” Mack, sitting on a couch with Barnette and Halsey on either side, continues: “We’re believers. We use everyday space and idle moments in life, take them into the studio, and think about them with a kind of poetry.”