Fondazione Prada presents “The Black Image Corporation”, an exhibition curated by the artist Theaster Gates, from 20 September 2018 to 14 January 2019 in the Observatory spaces, in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan
The project explores the fundamental heritage contained in the archives of the Johnson Publishing Company, a collection of over four million images that has helped define the aesthetic-cultural codes of contemporary Afro-American identity.
Founded by John H. Johnson in 1942, the publishing house of the same name created two essential publications for the black community of the United States: the monthly Ebony and the weekly Jet, whose circulation began in 1945 and 1951 respectively.
Both magazines celebrated the positive situations of daily life and portrayed the complex realities experienced by the black population of the United States in the post-war period.
Quickly become two of the major platforms of representation and discussion of the “black” culture, Ebony and Jet have hosted a wide range of events and characters, from historical events such as the 1963 March on Washington and the first expedition of an astronaut African American, sports icons and celebrities from the entertainment world.
For Fondazione Prada Osservatorio Theaster Gates has created a choral and participatory exhibition focusing on the work of two photographers: Moneta Sleet Jr. and Isaac Sutton.
As Gates states, “with this project, I intend to present the creation by Sleet and Sutton of some iconic moments of female identity and, at the same time, propose rapid raids in the life of ordinary people through unpublished images selected by the Johnson Collection. archives investigate the themes of beauty and black female power, and I believe that today is the right time to dig into the visual lexicon of American history and unveil an iconography that, outside of my community, enjoys poor visibility. women of all kinds, with particular attention to African-American women “.
The images of Sleet and Sutton, which give an overview of the African-American social elite and a glossy chronicle of topics such as politics, self-help, sport, beauty and sexuality, are housed in a structure conceived from Gates to the second floor of the Observatory.
Most of the frames contain portraits of women, actresses and models, while others have the back of the photographs with annotations on the place, the date and the author of the shot. The public is invited to freely explore this vast visual archive by extracting the frames from the structure to observe the individual images, or by leaning them on the outside to make them visible to other visitors.
The exhibition is completed by a series of large format photographs created by Sleet and Sutton and selected by Theaster Gates.
On the first floor of the Observatory, the artist presents original furniture and design elements designed by Arthur Elrod for the JPC offices, located in the center of Chicago. Known as the Ebony / Jet Building, the publishing house’s headquarters was designed by John M. Moutoussamy and is now part of the city’s architectural heritage.
Within this environment visitors can read and browse the original copies of Ebony and Jet, while a video produced by Gates and exhibited in the exhibition documents the architectural spaces that housed the offices.
The exhibition “The Black Image Corporation” is accompanied by a volume published by Fondazione Prada and containing more than 300 images created by Moneta Sleet Jr. and Isaac Sutton. The publication also includes a notebook that collects the dialogue between Theaster Gates and Linda Johnson Rice, President of the Johnson Publishing Company.
“The Black Image Corporation” is connected to the “A Johnson Publishing Story” exhibition, organized by the Rebuild Foundation and running until September 30, 2018 at the Stony Island Arts Bank in Chicago.