Time Out New York / June 3–9, 2010

William Pope.L

William Pope.L’s second solo appearance at this gallery is something of a microretrospective, featuring 40-plus works, in a characteristically wild variety of mediums, dating back to the mid-’90s. Also on view every Saturday afternoon is Cusp, a new endurance performance in which a succession of volunteers clad in baggy pj’s and Obama masks stand stock-still atop a dirt-covered platform, clutching mugs of green ink.

Pope.L has long been known for such antics. A video of one of his notoriously arduous “crawls” is here (which is viewed down a kaleidoscopically mirrored wooden chimney), and many other inclusions suggest the grungy remnants of similarly transgressive acts (he shares with iconoclast Paul McCarthy a predilection for slathering stuffed toys in peanut butter).

Pope.L’s claim that “no theme is paramount except via the hoodoo of time, material and staging” sounds great, but even newcomers to his sprawling, confrontational practice will immediately be able to identify a focus on racial politics in general, and the social construction and manipulation of black—particularly black male—identity in particular. Apart from the Obama masks, the sardonically self-appointed “Friendliest Black Artist in America” daubs sheets of paper with confounding slogans like WHITE PEOPLE ARE YELLOW, inscribes plastic plaques with numbered “Negro ideas” and installs multiple busts of Condoleezza Rice high around the walls like so many hunting trophies. It’s bracing stuff, and not nearly as reductive as such a list might make it sound.

Image: William Pope.L, Mollusk, 2005–2009