Grace Wales Bonner’s “Artist’s Choice: Spirit Movers”

Osman Can Yerebakan

April 29, 2024
The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York
November 18, 2023–April 7, 2024

Rhythm gives form to Grace Wales Bonner’s contribution to the Artist’s Choice series of exhibitions showcasing the “creative response of artists to the works of their peers and predecessors.” Not in the sense of a soundtrack or score, but rather in the British fashion designer’s focus on the different ways in which “sound, movement, performance, and style in the African diaspora” is translated into the works in MoMA’s collection.1 Tucked away in the more intimate first floor gallery, Wales Bonner’s exhibition offers a space of tranquility.

Terry Adkins’s Synapse (1992) hovers close to the ceiling, a yellow enamel-painted drum skin as perfectly rounded as the July sun. Beneath it is Adkins’s Last Trumpet (1995), a quartet of eighteen-foot-long horns crafted by attaching used trombone or sousaphone bells to brass cones. Standing like the enduring towers of an ancient civilization, the musical instrument-cum-sculpture resonates with the potential of its own activation (Adkins would play the instrument from its first presentation in 1996 through to his passing in 2014).

Earthy tones, dense textures, and subtle connections are the main ingredients in Wales Bonner’s alchemy. She has painted the gallery in tones of rusting metal, crystalizing sugar, and sanguine resin, lending the gallery a moody hue. There are elegant juxtapositions of shades of natural wood and glossy bronze with the more tactile material of rawhide or hair. The show’s opener, David Hammons’s Afro Asian Eclipse (or Black China) (1978), is a fabric scroll in the style of traditional Japanese paintings adorned with paint and Afro hair woven into a panel of wire mesh. Collected from Black barbershops, the hair blends into the pink and red acrylic; the soft and the hard are woven into the airy and the dense, suggesting the threading together of histories, textures, and rituals.

In Lucas Samaras’s Book 4 (1962), an open book is encrusted with countless sharp pins, scissors protruding from torn pages. This monstrous transformation of an everyday object rests harmlessly behind a glass vitrine. It is not sound that is suggested by this work, but rather the sensation of touch (which is not itself distant from music, a material phenomenon we associate with rubbing or tapping or plucking). Hélio Oiticica’s gouache-and-ink drawing Metaesquema No. 179 (1956) recalls the traces of a violinist or a conductor’s abrupt gestures, a handful of generously rounded but determinedly economic forms occupying a gently drawn geometric pattern. Where Oiticica suggests an absent body, Jean Arp and Moustapha Dimé summon the corporeal likeness. Arp’s bulbous stone figure (Human Concretion, 1935) sits centerstage, adjacent to Dimé’s Lady with a Long Neck (1992), a re-imagining of the female body in wood, iron, and paint. Against the former’s curled-up physique, the latter stands tall with its solid tree trunk core (sourced from Dimé’s native Dakar) and two winglike iron arms spread open.

Throughout the show, Wales Bonner draws attention to hidden acoustics and alluring chemistries. Agnes Martin’s square painting Friendship (1963), which scores a grid into a layer of goldleaf to reveal the oil paint beneath, brings to mind a musical score. Here as throughout the show a melodic curiosity is apparent: a combination of bodily training and an inner rhythm that can create unexpected harmonies.


“Artist’s Choice: Grace Wales Bonner—Spirit Movers,” exhibition text, Museum of Modern Art, New York

Blackness, Fashion

Osman Can Yerebakan is a freelance art and culture writer based in New York.

RSVP for Grace Wales Bonner’s “Artist’s Choice: Spirit Movers”
The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
April 29, 2024

Thank you for your RSVP.

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) will be in touch.


e-flux announcements are emailed press releases for art exhibitions from all over the world.

Agenda delivers news from galleries, art spaces, and publications, while Criticism publishes reviews of exhibitions and books.

Architecture announcements cover current architecture and design projects, symposia, exhibitions, and publications from all over the world.

Film announcements are newsletters about screenings, film festivals, and exhibitions of moving image.

Education announces academic employment opportunities, calls for applications, symposia, publications, exhibitions, and educational programs.

Sign up to receive information about events organized by e-flux at e-flux Screening Room, Bar Laika, or elsewhere.

I have read e-flux’s privacy policy and agree that e-flux may send me announcements to the email address entered above and that my data will be processed for this purpose in accordance with e-flux’s privacy policy*

Thank you for your interest in e-flux. Check your inbox to confirm your subscription.