Rashid Johnson: Hail We Now Sing Joy

Rashid Johnson: Hail We Now Sing Joy

June 23–September 17, 2017

“One of the four or five most important contemporary American artists.” —Forbes

The Exhibition

Hail We Now Sing Joy is an exhibition of new paintings and sculptures by acclaimed Chicago native Rashid Johnson. Using his signature materials of white ceramic tile, red oak flooring, shea butter, black soap, and wax, Johnson examines themes of race, history, yearning, anxiety, and escape and investigates the relationship between art, society, and personal identity. Fourteen of the artist’s large-scale works will fill the Museum’s entire feature exhibition space; their impact is as monumental as their size.

Antoine’s Organ

Visitors to the exhibition will immediately encounter Antoine’s Organ. The monumental sculptural installation, inspired by the African diaspora, is filled with signifying objects including books, mounds of shea butter, and hundreds of live plants in ceramic vessels that Johnson hand-built and decorated. Local musicians will play the piano hidden within at scheduled times throughout the run of the exhibition. The work, named for classically trained pianist and music producer Antoine Baldwin, is the largest of the artist’s architectural grid works ever shown in the United States.


Anxious Audience

Other works featured in the exhibition include Johnson’s series Anxious Audience. The large-scale panels of white ceramic tile are covered with dozens of agitated faces that Johnson created in black soap and wax. Each painting contains a few empty spaces, compelling viewers to consider who is “missing.” During the current climate of violence, injustice, racial conflict, and economic and political instability, these works could be read as history paintings for our times.

Falling Man

Falling Man

In the Falling Man paintings, Johnson used his signature materials of white ceramic tile, red oak flooring, mirror fragments, and black soap and wax to depict inverted figures. Each sticklike man is rendered as a series of white squares, recalling the pixelated animations from video games that Johnson played as a youth. They can be read as flying heroes or chalk outlines from crime scenes.


Escape Collage

With the Escape Collage series, “escape”—notably to tropical getaways—counterbalances the anxiety present in many of the works in the exhibition. The paintings are some of Johnson’s most complexly layered and colorful works. For these, Johnson collaged vividly hued custom-made wallpaper of stock tropical images over multicolored ceramic tile. He splattered and marked the works with bright spray paint and coated them with black soap and wax. For Johnson, as a child in Chicago, the image of a palm tree invited daydreams about success and manhood: “As a kid I remember thinking that if you could actually live in a place with palm trees, if you could get away from the city and the cold, that meant you’d definitely made it.”

Presenting Sponsor:

Bader Philanthropies, Inc.


Presenting Sponsor of Public Programs:

Supporting Sponsors:
Greater Milwaukee Foundation
Keith Mardak and Mary Vandenberg
Milwaukee Art Museum’s African American Art Alliance and Friends of Art
Steinway Piano Gallery
88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Rashid Johnson: Hail We Now Sing Joy travels to the Milwaukee Art Museum from the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Missouri.