Gavlak Los Angeles is pleased to present, $LANG: Short language in Soul, a solo exhibition of new sculptures by the Pittsburgh-based artist, poet, performer, and social activist, Vanessa German. $LANG is German’s first solo exhibition in Los Angeles, the artist’s native city, and her first with Gavlak. The exhibition features a body of work created by German during her recent month long residency at Aguacate in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Though assembled in Mexico, many of the found objects incorporated in the sculptures were sourced from the artist’s current neighborhood of Homewood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania - the historic black neighborhood whose residents are often faced with systemic, institutionalized racism, and violence in their daily lives.
A self-trained “citizen artist,” German explores the power of art and love as a transformative force in the dynamic cultural ecosystem of communities and neighborhoods. As the founder of the ARThouse, a community arts initiative in her own neighborhood ravaged by gun violence, German’s art extends to helping local children heal through art making. Recently recognized as the 2018 recipient of the Don Tyson Prize, the majority of German’s $200,000 grant is going toward opening a M useum of Resilience to honor the neighborhood's large population of black single m others. Her spoken-word performance art, influenced heavily by hip-hop, opera and the long tradition of Negro spirituals, calls attention to the epidemic of racially charged violence and advocates for compassion and empathy in daily life. Similarly, German’s sculptural work blends spirituality, beauty, and femininity to focus on empowering black women and girls. In a transformative way, the artist hopes that her work gives a space for positive and inclusive manifestations of love and awareness.
Born in Wisconsin, German moved to Mid-City Los Angeles at seven months old along with her five siblings and mother, Sandra German, a fiber artist and quilter. “We were makers as a way of life. We were raised by making something,” German explains about her formative years. The multi-media works assembled for $LANG explore her lived experience growing up black in Los Angeles and how the power of art kept her alive. German writes:
As a strange, dirty, round, nappy black girl in Los Angeles, never really smelling good, or looking hair-combed & pressed, i was always inventing things that i deeply, profoundly believed had power. People made fun of me for this. i wrote poems to cure cancer. i drew and drew and drew and drew and refused to pick my pencil up from the paper until i’d driven any thought of disbelief from my mind. i was furious with these thoughts of creativity and power; that i was alive
and could make things that had the power to do something. i believed this like a deep, deep fire. It kept me alive.
On view in the gallery are a series of 17 mixed-media assemblage sculptures using vintage tennis rackets, titled from the specific branding text on each. German’s use of rackets stems from Intermediate axis theorem, or tennis racket theorem, an effect in classical mechanics defining the movement of a rigid body with three distinct principal moments of inertia. German explains: “Here in this work is the rigid body (black femaleness) reckoning with three distinct principal moments of inertia: Americanness; the aesthetics of femininity (body and sex and identity), Blackness and the value in the striations of the known and unknown, and Love & Creative Power.” German utilizes historically black found objects such as hair weave and cowrie shells to adorn her hand painted portraits of black women, creating majestic and empowered presentations of a community so commonly subjected to violence and oppression in American society.
Also on view are five of German’s signature sculptures of which she refers to as “power figures,” or “tar babies.” Created by sculpting and hand painting large figures, adding a wide range of materials from feathers, glitter, seashells, plastic toys, bottle caps, vintage products, and fabric found from both Homewood and her travels. These female figures are based on traditional Congolese Nkisi Power Figure sculptures, which create protection, fend off evil spirits, and punish wrongdoers. German’s rococo meets folk power figures confront the violence of white supremacy and racism. German describes her process of assembling these sculptures as wholly spiritual.
Vanessa German (b.1976) is a self-taught artist. She is the recipient of the 2018 Don Tyson Prize from Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the 2018 United States Artist Grant, the 2017 Jacob Lawrence Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the 2015 Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Grant. Her work is in many private and public collections, including Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Everson Museum of Art, Figge Art Museum, Flint Institute of Arts, David C. Driskell Center, Snite Museum of Art, and Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, among others. German’s work has been exhibited widely and is currently on view at the Flint Institute of Arts and The Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia.
A reception for the artist will be held on Friday, March 22, from 6-8pm at Gavlak Los Angeles (1034 North Highland Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90038).
This exhibition is presented in partnership with Pavel Zoubok Fine Art, New York, NY.