ST. LOUIS — Kahlil Robert Irving, a multimedia artist who creates dense assemblages of images and sculptural replicas of everyday objects, currently has his exhibition “Projects: Kahlil Robert Irving” on display at The Museum of Modern Art.
His work will be featured at the museum’s street-level galleries from Dec. 18, 2021 through May 1, 2022.
A press release describes the exhibition as a collection of work created between 2018 and 2021, with his inspiration being the internet operating as a living archive of Black life, death, remembrance, celebration, and survival. It also states the imagery centering around a larger-than-life site-specific wallpaper where street-level space and digital scroll join in what he calls “an everlasting feedback loop of my experience.”
“Some aspects of my exhibition are autobiographical, while others are a part of my greater experience in communities around the United States,” he said.
“There are works for the wall that use technology as the starting-off point, relating to social media, photographs that I have taken, and the news. The sculptures in the midst of the space relate to historical decorative objects that tell a contemporary story. The sculptures use very dynamic processes to create them, some sculptures were adjusted and have over ten layers on them. Really, the exhibition is about speed and reflection.”
He said his fusion of materials and references for the work was intentionally done with the refusal to make everything explicitly legible in mind.
“The work allows there to be space for the ways Black people live . . . for more of the complicated nature of our existence in places and spaces,” he said.
The exhibition is organized by Thelma Golden, director and chief curator, The Studio Museum in Harlem, and Legacy Russell, executive director and chief curator, The Kitchen.
“Like the Internet, a boundless and dynamic space that fuels Kahlil Robert Irving's imagination, the artist’s new installation is fascinating and multilayered, and opens path after path for the viewer,” Golden said. “The Studio Museum in Harlem is proud to continue its collaboration with MoMA by presenting this extraordinary exhibition, which is as historically probing as it is timely and forward-thinking.”
She said after people see his exhibition she hopes people will recognize and appreciate Irving’s spirit of discovery and comprehensive investigation of contemporary imagery.
“As deeply as he reflects on the weight of Black history through digital imagery, including the burdens and challenges that are still so present and so public, Kahlil’s work remains beautifully open to the world and its never-ending possibilities,” she said.
He said it feels surreal to have his work showcased at MoMa.
“To be exhibiting at MoMA is scary, partially, because the pandemic has ruptured so much and I greatly appreciate the chance for my work to still to be presented and out in the world,” he said. “I feel privileged and excited to have met everyone I have.”
Wassan Al-Khudhairi, the chief curator at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, had the pleasure of co-curating Irving’s “At Dusk” exhibition alongside Misa Jeffereis, assistant curator, at CAM STL on behalf of The Great Rivers Biennial, a program funded by Gateway Foundation committed to supporting the works of local artists.
Al-Khudhairi said she and Jeffereis assembled a national panel of jurors who helped select three winners to receive $20,000 and a solo exhibition in the museum. In 2020, Irving was one of the three winners to receive a grand prize. His work was displayed from September 2020 through February 2021.
She said she had a great experience working with him, and she’s excited about his work being featured at MoMa.
“I hope everyone who views his current exhibition can find something they can identify with in his work,” she said. “I think his work draws commonality for people to connect with it, and it draws them in to learn more, understand more, and challenge notions.”
He said the message he wants people to walk away with from his artwork is that difficult times may be upon us, but it will only transition if we are willing to grow and change.
“The track we are on is steady. How do we change course? It is up to us collectively to make a difference,” he said. “My installation is a stand-in for many moving parts rendered still like a puzzle and now we really need to put the parts together.”
Learn more about Irving’s exhibit here: https://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/5396.