PaperCity Magazine

May 2019- Houston

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Page 107 of 131

106 pick our way through piles of cultural artifacts for a photo vignette — vintage '70s, '80s, and '90s toys, games, and discarded plastic fl otsam dominate, loosely organized into stacks to serve as both time-travel memory devices and raw material for Hancock's works. His is a career that has seen inclusion in the Whitney Biennial twice, as well as impressive international exhibitions and a 20-year traveling survey that generated national press accolades. The latter — "Trenton Doyle Hancock: Skin and Bones," organized by the CAMH in 2014 — showcased drawings that dealt with a cosmology both personal and probing, bearing messages and layers that would never be mistaken for programming on the Nickelodeon network. Days before our studio visit, Hancock and I had met at The Menil Collection, where his searing "Epidemic! Presents: Step and Screw!" features in-your-face wall drawings in a startling black, white, and red palette and a room within where the artist's alter ego, Torpedoboy, battles it out with Klansmen. While the dramatic drawings seem startling in the tranquil galleries of the museum — juxtaposed between spaces devoted to ancient and African art — Hancock's work aligns with the trajectory and commitment of the de Menils to civil rights and human rights. The show (contained in a small, room-sized gallery in the Renzo Piano building) is nonetheless among the most powerful Menil exhibitions in recent memory. It makes Jasper Johns' elegiac images that opened the Menil Drawing Institute appear almost anachronistic in content. During our conversation at the Menil, Hancock told me about the "Step and Screw!" drawings and where they fi t into his own narrative of being born in 1974 in Oklahoma and growing up in East Texas: "The residual effects … in terms of Jim Crow laws, were still operating in towns like Paris, Texas. But for me, I had the privilege of growing up middle class, never wanted for anything. My mom was a schoolteacher, my father worked six jobs, and they were pillars of the community. That's what I saw. I saw people looking at my folks, a black man and black woman, and revering them." The artist continued, "But every once in a while, you'd see a crack in the facade and see 'Oh, they're dealing with something that I'm not having to deal with.' The older I got, the more apparent it was, the cracks widened, and I could see through. You get older, and they start sharing stories with you about having to drink at the different fountain, going to the back. It's just horrible." Hancock said of "Step and Screw!": "This work is in response to that but also, how do you take that and turn it into something? You know, as comedians do. And I think I have a foot in that door and a foot in the painting door. How do you take all of that stuff and talk about a muddy, murky, nasty history, but not sugarcoat it or turn it into something where you think now it can disappear. It won't be disappearing anytime soon. Thinking about the pursuit of power, and there's always going to be someone who wants the power to be on one side." Hancock's concurrent show takes him from the pristine Renzo Piano-designed Menil to the gritty industrial heart of North Adams, Massachusetts, taking over a heroically scaled building where fabric for the Union army was milled in the 1860s, and then later parts for the atom bomb, followed by electronics for NASA's Gemini mission. Today at MASS MoCA, building fi ve bears the artist's ongoing saga of Mounds versus Vegans, with Tordedoboy as a super hero for now. One part theme park, one part toy land, it's a meditation on America's complicated history told via a cartoon-inflected, meandering wonderland fi lled with deft, ambitious drawings, comic-character-type Mound sculptures, compelling installations and house-sized tableau, and even a massive JooYoung Choi with her "Big Time Dreaming in the Age of Uncertainty," at the Art Museum of Southeast Texas, Beaumount JooYoung Choi's Tourmaline the Celestial Architect (detail), 2018, at the Art Museum of Southeast Texas Trenton Doyle Hancock and JooYoung Choi, opening night, at his Menil exhibition, "Epidemic! Presents: Step and Screw!" (continued on page 108) (continued from page 104)

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