Whitehot Magazine

Lorenzo Pace: African Animism, A Cycle of Life at WhiteBox

The Future is Africa, mixed media


By CATHERINE S. AMIDON February 14, 2024

Lorenzo Pace at WhiteBox
Through February 28, 2024

Lorenzo Pace collects, manipulates, marks, and composes, fragments of urban life into rhythmic two and three-dimensional work to convey his family's, the nation’s, story of bondage and redemption.

Eschewing the framed image, his ten-foot-long rectangular piece We Will Always Be in the Sun (2023) is bordered by painter’s tape and gold trim on the wall. The acid-green background is true to Pace’s love of intensely bright colors, one of his many tributes to his motherland and her textiles. Geometric and biomorphic marks and forms create optical illusions of perpetual motion. There is a passing reference to abstract expressionist formal language, but Pace ruptures that relationship, and its legacy, with his use of urban detritus and effervescent color.

To the left of that collage, The Future is Africa is equally vibrant with ripple effects peeling across the surface like the waves to the dark shores of Gore Island. Rhythm and spirit are deeply rooted in Pace’s affinity to Senegal and worked into forms in unceasing motion. The composition is both iconic - with the centered symbolism of a mandorla-like white shell - and eternally alive - in seeking balance as thrusting orange, pink, and yellow forms push at the boundaries of the support. 

Our Black Statue of Liberty, 2021

Opening night, saxophone legend David Murray improved a solo to Pace’s neon-lite assemblage Bro X our Principal Warrior (1995); he also riffed with Pace and Kevin Nathaniel. The gallery became a painted set as defined by the rhythm of the art as much as the music. Both artists befriended Pace in the 1970’s. David and Lorenzo played in a trio in Greenwich Village and Kevin knew him from 120 Wooster Street. Their playing and casual presence in the gallery rooted the exhibition in their early years when the intertwining music, literature, drama, and visual arts defined the Black Art Movement.

In Our Black Statue of Liberty (2021), lady Liberty is represented by a seven-foot molded image of the iconic New York greeter, precariously balancing on a pedestal. The strand of Christmas lights strewn around her neck is wrapped around the base several times. The colorful, lite-base energizes the area below the sculpture emphasizing the balancing act of the black figure welcoming new arrivals. 

Jalani hanging in South Texas, 2020

The flame she holds as much ‘This World Almost Done’ ‘Brudder, keep your lamp trimmin’ and a- burnin,’ lyrics of a 19th century Negro spiritual as Liberty Enlightening the World.

She is flanked on either side by painted cardboard and mixed-media Liberty Towers. Stripped of their mass, buildings are provocatively transformed into ephemeral constructions. These are not New York skyscrapers of boundless economic opportunity, but sculptures assembled from reclaimed materials. They embody something of his 1970s experience when Pace was new to the city, Black artists were marginalized by museums and galleries, and purse strings were tight.

Pace’s exhibition at WhiteBox during Black History Month is the first topically themed show. Well-selected by director Juan Puntes and curators Peter Wayne Lewis and Yohanna Roa, Lorenzo Pace: African Animism, A Cycle of Life is timeless and timely, encompassing an experiential spectrum spread across the city. At one end of the continuum is a permanent granite monument by Pace and the other a temporary exhibition.

Half an hour downtown east, by subway, Pace’s Triumph of the Human Spirit, on Foley Square, in front of the Supreme Court, memorializes the 17th-18th century African American burial ground discovered in 1991; that same year Lorenzo inherited the lock taken off his great-great-grandfather Stephan Pace that was kept in his family for generations. Through mystical forces the public and personal intertwined. A cast replica of the lock is within the monument. As Mayor David Dinkins aptly stated of the early 1990s “... we don’t think often about New York and slavery, we think about the South, but it was going on here as well.”

Half an hour uptown west, the 1990s stand corrected by the American Folk Art Museum’s Unnamed Figures: Black Presence and Absence in the Early American North an amended history of black representation in the North. It can only be done with the mixed media approach Pace uses to tell the story. Needlework, painting, and photography are used to render a forgotten history. As slaves were buried outside the city and forgotten, the Black figures in this exhibition had to wait centuries hidden in plain sight to be revealed.

The seventh-born child of a Baptist Minister in Alabama, Pace displays his grace in Jalani hanging in South Texas (2020). The double meaning of the title is palpable. Painted when he was teaching, as a full professor, in Texas and was introduced at convocation as “the Black man,” it is a story within a story. Lime green, yellow, pink, and pink fragments on a yellow-lined gold field float across a honeycombed brown and orange surface creating a unifying texture and pattern. Jalani is a collaged, wide- grinning cartoon, from his children’s book about slavery - told through his family’s

history. In one corner, in his own green and bright blues oasis, Jalani radiates joy. The pastiche is the self-portrait of an artist who maintains a jubilant defiance of a society that leaves his cultural legacy hidden.

Long before the site excavation in lower Manhattan or the post-modern rereading of colonial history, the story was Lorenzo Pace’s family legacy and his birthright. The earlier works in the exhibition, like Bro X and Jalani, work seamlessly with recent pieces. This is not a brief passage for Pace, he is blowing changes; his contemporary work is deeply rooted in Africa. 

Lorenzo Pace: African Animism, A Cycle of Life at WhiteBox through February 23. WM



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