The Venice Biennale, among the most prestigious contemporary art events known the world over, is underway through November 2017. More than 120 artists representing 51 nations are participating in the 57th International Art Exhibition, titled “VIVE ART VIVE” and curated by Christine Macel, chief curator at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Among the works on display is a painting recently purchased by NOMA, DNA, Black Painting V, by Chicago-based artist McAthur Binion who is participating in the Biennale for the first time. A recent review by the New York Times singled out Binion’s work as among the most impressive.
Upon the Biennale’s opening, Macel said this year’s exhibition “is an exclamation, a passionate outcry for art and the state of the artist. VIVA ARTE VIVA is a Biennale designed with artists, by artists and for artists.” She continued, “Today, in a world full of conflicts and shocks, art bears witness to the most precious part of what makes us human. Art is the ultimate ground for reflection, individual expression, freedom, and for fundamental questions. Art is the last bastion, a garden to cultivate above and beyond trends and personal interests. It stands as an unequivocal alternative to individualism and indifference.”
DNA, Black Painting V, was purchased by NOMA in 2016 from the Leah Chase Acquisition Fund, established in honor of New Orleans’ renowned Creole chef, activist, and art collector. The painting incorporates copies of Binion’s 1946 birth certificate woven into crosshatched oil-stick grids that form two ovals. Binion, born in Macon, Mississippi, in 1946, describes himself as a “Rural Modernist.” He was the first African American to earn an MFA from the Cranbrook Academy of Art. In 1973 he moved to New York where he became part of an emerging group of black artists exploring Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism. He relocated to Chicago in the 1990s. His deeply autobiographical abstract collage compositions are noted for his use of personal ephemera, notably his birth certificate, passport, and his New York address book, forming a unique blend of personal narrative and geometry.
In an interview with Katie Pfohl, NOMA’s Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Binion said of his DNA series, “It was very scary for me to start using my birth certificate in my paintings. Have you seen the picture of my birth house in Mississippi? You see this house, you see my whole story. Do you know that I am one of eleven children, nine of which were born in that two-room house? The South is where all the original black outsiders came from, and I was born in the real South. My brain just has that imprint, and it is still a part of me. One day I was painting, and I just kept coming back to that birth certificate, how under race it said colored, but because my birth certificate was a copy, colored was written in white on black. My next series of paintings, half are going to have my birth certificate, and half are going to have a photograph of a lynched man, but you are going to have to look really hard to see it under the paint. This is not about race, this is about history and images, about saying more with a lot less.”