Petit PalaisNovember 14, 2019–January 11, 2020 East Gallery
White Columns is pleased to announce ‘Petit Palais’ the debut solo exhibition by the New York-based artist Esteban Jefferson.
Jefferson’s exhibition, presented as a mise-en-scene staged on a faux marble floor, comprises four recent paintings and a two-channel video work. The exhibition centers around Jefferson’s ongoing consideration of the Beaux Arts-style rotunda of the Petit Palais museum in Paris.
Working from his own photographic sources and video footage – shot during repeated visits to the museum – Jefferson has created a complex body of work centered around issues of race, identity and the legacies of colonialism, whilst simultaneously interrogating the methodologies of display and the institutional narratives within the museum itself.
Jefferson’s paintings describe the liminal space of the museum’s lobby with all of its institutional ‘clutter’: video screens, computer terminals, reception desks, public signage, and visitor stanchions. His paintings focus upon and privilege the serendipitous visual ‘encounters’ between the museum’s employees and visitors and two sculptural busts of African subjects that are on permanent display at the margins of the rotunda. (The museum’s wall labels for the busts identify neither their maker nor their date of creation, suggesting only a generic title ‘Buste d’Africaine’ and that they are possibly from the late 19th Century.)
Formally Jefferson’s paintings oscillate between areas of provisional mark-making and areas of intense, almost hyper-realistic focus. The process of their making remains fully evident. This aesthetic ‘push-pull’, a sense of being simultaneously in- and out-of-focus is echoed and amplified in the hand-held, ambient documentary video footage Jefferson presents alongside the paintings. About ‘Petit Palais’ Jefferson has stated that one of his intentions is:
“ … to open up a dialogue with the museum, to rethink the way the busts are presented, moving them into a more central space, with updated and more fully-researched labels … As it is now, the busts occupy the position they always have: kind of art, kind of decor, valuable but not treated as having the same value as everything else in the museum. The irony to me is that the busts are, in my opinion, the most interesting works on display in the Petit Palais.”
Working both within and around the established histories of painting Jefferson has embarked on a highly ambitious and rigorous project, one that simultaneously explores and expands the limits of the medium, in turn creating a truly idiosyncratic and aestheticized form of institutional critique.
Esteban Jefferson (b. 1989) received his MFA in 2019 and his BA in 2011, both from Columbia University, New York. His work has been included in numerous group shows, most recently in the 2019 exhibition ‘Vernacular Interior’ at Hales Gallery, New York (curated by Adeze Wilford.)
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