American multimedia artist Theaster Gates has mined four million plus images in the Johnson Publishing Company’s archives to present 10 large format photographic prints, over 100 other photos and magazines alongside his own video “Michigan Avenue in Full Bloom”. The result is a very slick presentation (the show was originally mounted by the Prada Foundation in Milan) of fashion portraits from the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Most of them were taken for African American interest magazines Jet and Ebony, which at their height had readerships of over one million each, with cover girls including Pam Grier, Eartha Kitt, Grace Jones and Gladys Knight. Gate’s film takes viewers through the corridors and cupboards of the Johnson Publishing Company, a once active publishing house. Although the exhibition posits itself as participatory and does include a lightbox with a magnifier to inspect photographic contact sheets and purpose built cabinets holding further prints which visitors can handle using white archival gloves, it only offers one much-thumbed issue of Jet. Perhaps intentionally, this tantalising story of a corporation that arguably played a huge role in shaping the contemporary African American identity is only partly told here.
Through Jul 28