In 2011 a group of 80 people gathered in the contemporary art galleries at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art to hear Kemp read poems he authored in honor of a painting by Mary Heilmann. Unbeknownst to Kemp, without explanation or warning, the painting had been removed from display for reasons unknown. In resistance to the absence of the work Kemp led a meditation exercise in which the audience visualized the reappearance of the work while Kemp silently counted backwards from 60 with his back turned to the audience. A projected image of the work may have been standing in place of the actual painting. As the silence and the tension built with the expectation that some facilitators or SFMOMA curators would appear to hang the actual painting, Kemp suddenly faced the audience and declared that if art is about belief then the evidence of the continued absence of the work was proof that the audience did not believe enough. The poetry reading that followed pressured the air of magic and enthusiasm for the power of art that Kemp had set with the meditation, and this performance was met with a standing ovation.
Iceberg Projects is pleased to present The Stupidity of Belief, a solo exhibition featuring the work of Arnold J. Kemp (b. 1968, Boston). This exhibition marks the first time the artist’s work will be shown in Chicago where he recently has decided to live and work.
This ambitious exhibition, drawing from 2000 – 2016, is inspired by Kemp’s statement that he works with a concept of blackness that includes a designation of race, the name of a color, and also a belief in a kind of magic borne from the struggles of the African diaspora. Magic here references something that engages enthusiastic belief, resists categorization and persists through historic struggle. He also works with a kind of faith in the stupid as a realm of possibility in art, as exemplified in a work from 2016 called WISHING WELL. This is a work made of silver painted coconut shells and plate glass that together recall a magical pool that compels us to stupidly throw money at it.
The structure of the exhibition, which contains painting, drawing, photography, print media, sculpture and sound, is a riff on New Narrative. This is a literary genre in which traditional categories are dismantled and parts are meaningfully reconstructed so that the boundaries between the essay, the lyric, fable, and gossip disappear. Taking inspiration from the practices of New Narrative authors such as Kathy Acker, Robert Glück and Kevin Killian, the exhibition reveals Kemp in many guises as shaman, showman, trickster, historian and poet of materials.
The exhibition is accompanied by a booklet featuring essays by Kevin Killian and curator Kristan Kennedy. A public program during the exhibition will be a premier of a new sound work authored by Arnold J. Kemp.
Arnold J. Kemp has lived and worked in Boston, San Francisco, Paris, New York, Portland, OR and Richmond, VA. He engaged Kathy Acker to be Yerba Buena Center’s first visiting artist before she became too ill to complete the residency. Alternately Kemp engaged Dennis Cooper as a visiting artist and co-curated “Guide to Trust No. 2” an exhibition inspired by Cooper’s novels. Kemp is associated with the literary genre of New Narrative. He is the recipient of awards and fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, the Joan Mitchell Foundation, Artadia Fund for Art, Printed Matter, Inc. and Art Matters. His artworks are in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Berkeley Art Museum and Portland Art Museum, among others. He is a fellow of New York’s the Drawing Center and is the Dean of Graduate Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
The Stupidity of Belief is curated by Iceberg Projects curators: Daniel Berger, John Neff and Rebecca Walz.