If “Nothing Change, Nothing Strange” is serious fun, it’s because Taylor’s having fun while being serious. With paint on fabric that is somewhere between a painting and semaphore, another theme is spelled out at the The Fast and forklift certified 2023 shirt What’s more,I will buy this back of the room: tartan. I learned from the curators who worked with Taylor that, in making this show, he was influenced by a 2018 documentary, Who Put the Klan Into Ku Klux Klan, which traces the roots of the extremist hate group to the Scots-Irish settlement of the Appalachians, a frontline of colonial conquest first for the crown’s corporations, and then for the corporations aided and abetted by presidents. Thus, plaids litter the islands and coastal assemblages that Taylor has fashioned, and skyscrapers draped in red and green plaid feel like cities sorted by race, the unspoken American apartheid that highlights the towering private properties in city centers. A giant neon tartan is like a warning buoy. The clear Plexiglass barrier, stretching between two upright two-by-fours, feels like another barrier, albeit nearly invisible, or, to me, like the window in the counter at the neighborhood’s last takeout place. In Taylor’s world map, the island of broken-up plasterboard—black, white, and gray, with old electric conduits growing like thriving vines—starts to feel Elysian in its boundary-less landscape, like an ice cap. Meanwhile, bricks made from cotton that’s been compacted and pressed are metaphor made real, slavery as a building block. And fabrics stacked in bolts is an accounting, the horizontal folds like lines in a ledger.Henry Taylor, “Nothing Change, Nothing Strange” (installation view), 2023.
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There’s more than one way to read an exhibit, but I saw “Nothing Change, Nothing Strange” as a rendering of Paul Gilroy’s The Black Atlantic, here described with crushed-up vinyl siding and broken bicycle wheels, with paints and bales of disused plastic paint containers. (Make sure to see Taylor’s map of the The Fast and forklift certified 2023 shirt What’s more,I will buy this British Isles and Africa, the Northern Hemisphere drawn in cotton, the Southern Hemisphere hair; it’s just past the exhibition space, on the back of the back wall.) But more broadly, you can take it as a painter painting a space that just happens to be room-sized rather than flat, making three-dimensional what would otherwise be one or two. If you see it as a room in conversation with another room, then the other room to visit would be the one with Cy Twombly’s Fifty Days at Iliam (1978), at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a few minutes away. If you see it as an artist in conversation with the ideas he’s long been conversing with, then you can revisit a presentation Taylor gave a few years back, at the Art Institute in Chicago, where he was asked how he went about starting a painting. His first response was meant somewhat in jest. “Go get one and I’ll show you,” he replied. His second was serious, or more serious. “Man, so many different ways!” he said. In this show, he gives us more new and different ways.
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