Ken Gonzales-Day’s interdisciplinary and conceptually grounded photographic projects consider the history of photography, the construction of race, and the limits of representational systems. Gonzales-Day is a Getty scholar and a Terra Foundation and Smithsonian Museum fellow. In 2018, he was the subject of a solo exhibition at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. A former Chair and current professor of art at Scripps College, Gonzales-Day’s exhaustive research and book Lynching in the West, 1850-1935 (2006) led to a re-evaluation of the history of lynching in this country. The book shed light on the little-known history of frontier justice and vigilantism and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. The Erased Lynchings series of photographs was a product of this research, which revealed that race was a contributing factor in California's own history of lynching and vigilantism, and through which he discovered that the majority of victims were Mexican or, like him, Mexican-American. Gonzales-Day takes the same scholarly approach to his ongoing Profiled series, which looks to the depiction of race and the construction of whiteness in the representation of the human form as points of departure from which to consider the evolution and transformation of Enlightenment ideas about beauty, class, freedom, and progress. The series was awarded the first Photo Arts Council Prize (PAC) by LACMA and documented in a handsome monograph. It is Gonzales-Day’s continual engagement with history and his interest in peeling back the layers that makes his work so powerful and continuously relevant.
Gonzales-Day's work can be found in several prominent collections, including: Norton Museum of Art, Palm Beach, FL; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC; Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, CA; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; Santa Barbara Museum of Art; Minnesota Museum of American Art, St. Paul, MN; Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, Michigan State University; Eileen Norton Harris Foundation; 21C Museum, Louisville, KY; Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH; Williamson Gallery, Scripps College; L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris; Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris; Pomona College Museum of Art; City of Los Angeles; and Metropolitan Transit Authority, Los Angeles.
The gallery is pleased to announce that Ken Gonzales-Day will be doing an online art talk in conjunction with The Insitute of the Arts and Sciences. Ken Gonzales-Day's interdisciplinary and conceptually grounded projects consider the history of photography, the construction of race, and the limits of representational systems ranging from the lynching photograph to museum display. For Traction: Art Talk, Gonzales-Day will be joined in conversation by Professor Karolina Karlic.
TRACTION: Art Talk with Ken Gonzales-Day and Karolina Karlic
January 14, 2021
5-6:30 p.m. PT
The gallery is pleased to announce that Ken Gonzales-Day will be a keynote speaker for the UCLA Art History Graduate Symoposium and Workshop. The annual UCLA Art History Graduate Student Symposium is the longest running symposium of its kind in North America. Initiated in 1965, the symposium provides a forum for graduate students to present original research in a scholarly format. Organized collectively by a cohort of students, the symposium is organized around critical themes and issues addressing the history and current state of art historical scholarship.
The gallery is pleased to announce that Ken Gonzales-Day will be working with Los Angeles' Metro to create work for the new Whilshire/Fairfax purple line extension entitled, Urban Excavation: Ancestors, Avatars, Bodhisattvas, Buddhas, Casts, Copies, Deities, Figures, Funerary Objects, Gods, Guardians, Mermaids, Metaphors, Mothers, Possessions, Sages, Spirits, Symbols, and Other Objects. Inspired by the idea of transporting the body and mind, and by the station as an excavation site, Ken Gonzales-Day‘s glass-tile mural for the north and south concourse level walls aims to transport transit customers across time and place by immersing them in an environment where images of objects—spanning many cultures, continents and eras—mined from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s permanent collection are reproduced at an enormous scale. Gonzales-Day’s artwork will invite viewers to think about museum collections and their connection to the outside world in unexpected ways.
The gallery is pleased to announce that Ken Gonzales-Day will participate in a panel discussion with Chelle Barbour, Farrah Karapetian, Richtje Reinsma, Daphne Rosenthal, Jennifer Vanderpool, and Bari Ziperstein on the occasion of the opening of the digital group exhibition Transformations: Living Room -> Flea Market -> Museum -> Art viewable through the Wende Museum website.
The event will take place on the Wende Museum website on Sunday, October 4, 2020 from 12-2pm PT.
The gallery is pleased to announce that Ken Gonzales-Day will be included in the group exhibition This Is America | Art USA Today at Kunstal KaDE in the Netherlands, September 26, 2020 through January 03, 2021. In This Is America | Art USA Today almost forty American artists bring the United States to the Netherlands in the form of paintings, photographs, murals, documentation and installations. Their work addresses current issues like identity, city culture, climate change, and ‘Trump’.
The gallery is pleased to announce that Ken Gonzales-Day will be participating in the first of several virtual discussions about the project In Plain Sight. Program 1: The Los Angeles Orbit panel will be moderated by rafa esparza and Cassils and introduced by MOCA.
In Plain Sight (IPS) lead artists rafa esparza and Cassils present an overview of IPS followed by a panel discussion with Bamby Salcedo, Beatriz Cortez, Yosimar Reyes, and Ken Gonzalez-Day. Artists featured in this panel generated the phrases that formed the ring, or “shared orbit path,” around downtown Los Angeles over the July 4 weekend. Artists will show IPS images and discuss their individual practices as artists and organizers in relation to their involvement in IPS. Panel includes discussion of Los Angeles as the second largest city of immigrants in the United States and explores how the multicultural conditions of the city have generated experimental collaborative practices by artists and activists alike.
The gallery is pleased to announce that Ken Gonzales-Day will exhibit previously unseen work in the group exhibition, THE SPREAD, curated by artist Mark Verabioff at de boer gallery.
THE SPREAD, which explores themes of civil war, protest, cultural and racial insurgency, climate change and sanctioned travel will follow a similar logic to Verabioff’s installations to disrupt the authority associated with authorship by acknowledging the complex interplay between object, creator, viewing context and audience through the lens of queer feminist discourse.
In Plain Sight is a coalition of 80 artists united to create an artwork dedicated to the abolition of immigrant detention and the United States culture of incarceration. A highly orchestrated mediagenic spectacle and poetic action, this project is conceived in five parts -- a poetic elegy enacted on a national scale, an interactive website, an anthology docuseries, accessible actions for the public to take to join the movement against immigrant detention, and cultural partnerships producing arts-related education and engagement.
The gallery is pleased to announce that Bridge Projects' ongoing event series Echo/Locate will host Ken Gonzales-Day for an artist talk, virtual site visit, and discussion via Zoom. The group will embark upon an hour-long exploration into the purpose and power of the Gonzales-Day's series Searching for California Hang Trees and Erased Lynchings. Gonzales-Day will be in his studio, and the Bridge Projects team will be scattered throughout Los Angeles at locations pertaining to his practice.
This multi-media selection of works by over two dozen artists explores what and how we see today, revealing the visible and hidden forces shaping both what the contemporary world looks like, and how we consume and interpret that information—how visual and psychological perception are evolving in the 21st century.
Luis De Jesus Los Angeles is pleased to announce that Ken Gonzales-Day's Erased Lynchings III (2019) was acquired by the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University in East Lansing, MI. Opened on November 10, 2012, the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University (MSU Broad) is a dynamic contemporary art museum, designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Zaha Hadid, which serves as both a teaching institution and a cultural hub for East Lansing and the region.
The gallery is pleased to announce that Ken Gonzales-Day will be conducting an artist talk and workshop "Decolonizing the Museum" at Middlebury College, in Middlebury Vermont. Through invited expert speakers/facilitators, this workshop series open to faculty and staff seeks to provide participants with leading insights and methods in rethinking how the institution and instructors can promote change against deep-rooted structures of oppression at a curricular/institutional level while fostering greater equity in the classroom.
October 3, 2019, 12:00pm. Crest Room
Luis De Jesus Los Angeles is pleased to announce that Ken Gonzales-Day's photograph Nightfall II (2006) from the series titled Search for California Hang Trees was acquired by the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH. Dartmouth's collections are among the oldest and largest of any college or university in the country, but it was not until the Charles Moore–designed Hood Museum of Art opened its doors in 1985 that they were all housed under one roof and made available to faculty, students, and the public.
The conference All-Inclusive: Photography for Social Justice is co-hosted by the West and Southwest Chapters of SPE and the Department of Art and Art History at Santa Clara University, located in the heart of Silicon Valley, minutes from the San Jose Airport and less than an hour from the old stomping grounds of Group f/64, which includes Carmel, San Francisco, and Oakland.
The conference will explore how photography is used to challenge injustice, pursue social equality, and advance human rights through creative skills in order to inspire social movements, to witness, to resist oppression, to pose the difficult questions, and to stimulate debate and awareness about critical social issues. It will take place concurrently with Ken Gonzales-Day's solo exhibition at Santa Clara University.
Luis De Jesus Los Angeles is pleased to announce that Ken Gonzales-Day's Shonke-Monthin, Osage by Joseph Palmer (National Museum of Natural History, D.C.) (2014) was acquired by the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. The photograph is part of the artist's ongoing Profiled series and was exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery in the two-person exhibition titled UnSeen: Our Past In A New Light from March 23, 2018 through January 06, 2019
The Association of Art Museum Curators (AAMC) and the AAMC Foundation has named the 20 U.S. curators who will be receiving its 2019 Awards for Excellence. This year’s honorees were selected from 150 nominations, and work in a variety of fields, including native and indigenous art, contemporary art, folk art, medieval art, American art, media art, and photography.
Judith Pineiro, executive director of AAMC and AAMC Foundation, said in a statement, “For 15 years, curators have recognized the trailblazing achievements of their peers through our annual Awards for Excellence. It is a privilege to celebrate this year’s awardees who, through their work, have fostered dynamic dialogue and broader engagement in the arts.”
Taína B. Caragol, curator of painting and sculpture and Latinx art and history at the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, and Asma Naeem, chief curator at the Baltimore Museum of Art, for “UnSeen: Our Past in a New light, Ken Gonzales-Day and Titus Kaphar” at the National Portrait Gallery
Luis De Jesus Los Angeles is pleased to announce that Ken Gonzales-Day's Hands Up (2015) was acquired by the Flaten Art Museum at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN. This photograph was first exhibited in the artist's second solo exhibition at the Gallery titled, Run Up on view from April 4 through May 9, 2015. It was exhibited again in Ken Gonzales-Day: Shadowlands at the Flaten Art Museum from September 1 through October 29, 2017. Founded in 1976 at St. Olaf College, the Flaten Art Museum has evolved from college gallery to collecting museum with programming that is regional, national, and even international in scope.
Luis De Jesus Los Angeles is pleased to announce that Ken Gonzales-Day's photo-based wallpaper The Lynching of Spanish Charlie (2016) was acquired by the Minnesota Museum of American Art in St. Paul, MN. The work is part of the artist's ongoing Erased Lynchings series and was first on view at the Museum in the exhibition Ken Gonzales-Day: Shadowlands from January 19 through April 16, 2017.
Luis De Jesus Los Angeles is pleased to announce that Lia Halloran's Triangulum, After Adelaide Ames (2017), Paper Dolls (2016), and Ken Gonzales-Day's 41 Objects Arranged by Color (2016) were acquired by the Phyllis and Ross Escalette Permanent Collection of Art at Chapman University in Orange, CA. Both of Halloran's works are part of Your Body is a Space That Sees an ongoing series of cameraless cyanotypes that highlight the achievements of the Harvard Observatory female researchers who made significant contributions to the field of astronomy. Gonzales-Day's photograph is part of his ongoing Profiled series in which the artist photographs sculptures of the human form as found in international museum and anthropology collections as a way to reveal the emergence, idealization, and even folly of race. Beyond its role in curating art in public spaces, the Escalette Collection is a learning laboratory that offers diverse opportunities for student and engagement and research, and involvement with the wider community.
Ken Gonzales-Day is a Los Angeles-based artist whose interdisciplinary practice considers the historical construction of race and the limits of representational systems ranging from lynching photographs to museum displays. He is a professor of art at Scripps College in Claremont, CA where he has taught since 1995. Gonzales-Day’s Erased Lynching series features photos of lynching postcards where he removes, or 'erases,' the victims in order to focus on the white crowds gathered to witness the murders.
Ken Gonzales-Day is a Los Angeles-based artist whose interdisciplinary practice considers the historical construction of race and the limits of representational systems ranging from lynching photographs to museum displays. Gonzales-Day received a BFA from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, an MFA from the University of Colifornia, Irvine and a MA from Hunter College in New York. He is a professor of art at Scripps College in Claremont,CA where he has taught since 1995. In 2017 he was awareded a Guggenheim fellowship in photography.
Virtual Exhibition Openings at the Wende Museum. A virtual opening to celebrate the launch of two new exhibitions: Transformations: Living Room -> Flea Market -> Museum -> Art and See Thy Neighbor: Stern Photographers Thomas Hoepker and Harald Schmitt in the GDR, presented via the 3-D platform Matterport. The program will feature a panel discussion with Transformations artists including Ken Gonzales Day.
“The Democracy Project: 2020” manifests the great, besieged “project of Democracy” as an online exhibition for Artillery’s September/October issue, featuring recent work by a diverse selection of the West Coast’s most compelling artists. Whether approaching the theme ironically, or with reverence (or a bit of both), the artists below are chosen for their political engagement, provocative content, and significant contributions to the diversity of the art world. ARTISTS: Kim Abeles, Sama Alshaibi, Aaron Coleman, Eileen Cowin, Asad Faulwell, Corey Grayhorse, Mark Steven Greenfield, Salim Green, Ken Gonzales-Day, Alexander Kritselis, Ann Le, Alejandro Macias, Renée Petropoulos, Mike Reesé, Miles Regis, Julio M. Romero, Stephanie Syjuco, Meital Yaniv.
Former Smithsonian Artist Research Fellow, Ken Gonzales-Day, thinks about who is and who is not represented in the National Portrait Gallery and in the Smithsonian collection as a whole, while researching in the institution’s massive digital archive.To commemorate MHz Foundation’s collaboration with the Smithsonian Open Access initiative, we asked artist Shana Lutker, one of MHz Curationist’s Advising Editors, to introduce the new Smithsonian Open Access collections to artists and talk with them about what they found.
The image above is from Ken Gonzales-Day’s Erased Lynchings series, which documents the historic lynchings of Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and Asian American individuals across California. The victims in these images have been removed by the artist. The horrific nature of these crimes often makes it difficult to see the apparatus that surrounds the spectacle of the dead body on display. By removing the victim, Gonzales-Day allows us to see what is hiding in plain sight: the white audience gathered for this act of racial terror. The image is a stark reminder of the invisibility of white identity. Whiteness permeates through western society as thoroughly as the air that we all should have the right to breathe. The people in this particular image are not all actively tying a noose, but their mere presence and inaction creates an atmosphere within which such violence is normalized and perpetuated.
Gonzales-Day’s powerful and nuanced investigations of intersectionality and racial violence stem from an almost-encyclopedic knowledge of art history and a desire to rewrite a more inclusive past and advocate for a more equitable present. The work has a gravitas that is often accentuated by a poetic manipulation of light and form, and exhibits Gonzales-Day’s dexterity in working in a range of modes from performance and installation to projects that are more documentary in nature. What is perhaps most profound about his work is that he invites inquiry and connections, but not without effort from his audience; the more open the viewer, the more the work reveals.
Over Independence Day Weekend, 80 artists [including Ken Gonzales-Day and Zackary Drucker] asked Americans to look up at the skies. Throughout July 3 and 4, messages related to immigration were written at 10,000 feet by World War II military planes, sky-typed over 80 sites related to the country's network of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities, immigration courts, and the southern border. The idea was to bring attention to these facilities, which may not be familiar to many Americans.
The purpose of the temporary works was to raise awareness about social injustice rampant in the US’s immigration system and where these injustices are carried out. Over the weekend, XMAP: In Plain Sight uplifted the children and adults who have suffered from inhuman living conditions, the separation of detained families, violence, and, in some cases, death at the hands of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, better known as ICE.
Two fleets of five skytyping planes each are set for takeoff across the country this Independence Day weekend armed with calls for the abolition of the immigrant detention in the United States as part of the project “In Plain Sight.” (Developed from older skywriting technology, skytyping planes inject oil into their exhaust systems to produce a white smoke that is released into the sky by a computer-controlled system to produce precise letter-writing.) Phrases like “Care Not Cages,” “Unseen Mothers” and “Nosotras Te Vemos (We See You)” will momentarily hover above 80 locations — including detention facilities, immigration courts, prisons, borders and historic sites like Ellis Island — before dissipating into the atmosphere.
A group of 80 artists from around the country have teamed up to produce skytyped messages that will appear over immigrant detention camps around the United States, as well as other sites related to internment and incarceration. Among the participating artists of “In Plain Sight” are Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors; graphic designer Emory Douglas, once the minister of culture for the Black Panther Party; and a range of cultural practitioners, including Ken Gonzales-Day, Harry Gamboa Jr., Mary Kelly...
Artist Ken Gonzales-Day has been widely recognized for the “Erased Lynching” series, which include lynching postcard photos that effectively “erased’ the victims of lynching and focused on the white crowds gathered to witness the murders. Gonzales-Day argues that the erasure of the lynching victim “allows the viewer to see, for the first time, the social dynamics of the lynching itself.” The photos, absent of the images of victims, “helped us to recognise the dynamics of whiteness within the complex history of racialised violence in America,”
Searching for California’s Hang Trees, grew out of the research artist Ken Gonzales-Daywas doing for his book Lynching in the West: 1850-1935, published by Duke University Press in 2006. In it, Gonzales-Day sets out to assemble the most complete record of lynching in California that had yet been published. What his research uncovered, was that contrary to popular belief, African Americans were not the only targets of lynching in California and the west. In fact, Gonzales-Day was also able to document the lynching of Latinos, Native Americans, and Chinese immigrants, at least in part due to their racial identity. In doing so, Gonzales-Day has revealed a history of violence against immigrants in the west that still goes on today, with mass incarceration and family separation taking place at our borders.
“Citizenship acknowledges the political power of images,” [curator Georgia Erger] said, “and the power that comes from the fact that photos, and graphics and ultimately video and film can be so widely and easily disseminated, and therefore, much more accessible.” The works of art include 20th-century photographs by Leonard Freed, a series of etchings by Francisco de Goya, and engravings by William Hogarth, along with “Erased Lynchings,” which Mr. Gonzales-Day produced from 2006 to 2019. Based on actual postcards, and his visits to where lynchings took place, Mr. Gonzales-Day’s work shows crowds gathered at places across America, such as California and Montana, to watch the hangings.
Drawing its title from my Pulitzer Prize-nominated book of the same name, Lynchings in the West: 1850-1935, this series considers the transracial nature of lynching in California, from statehood to the last recorded lynchings in 1935, as well as other western states and territories outside the historically better-known Southern black lynching areas. Given the broad number of people touched by this history (Asians, Anglos, Blacks and American Indians), many will be suprised to learn that Latinos (Mexican, Mexican- American, and persons of Latin American descent) were statistically more likely to die of lynching than those of African, Asian or European descent.
While researching Latino portraiture from the 1800s, the photographer Ken Gonzales-Day found an image of a young Latino man. "Last man hanged in Los Angeles," was written on the back. When he read that phrase, Gonzales-Day came to the conclusion that he didn't have a clear understanding of California history. To make sense of his discovery, he began to work on the series of photographs that's now known as "Erased Lynching" (2006). The Santa Clara University Art Department's exhibit "Ken Gonzales-Day" features several of his photographs from the collection.
Santa Clara University (SCU), a flag bearer in an ongoing crusade for social justice, regularly raises awareness of social issues through the arts. A free exhibition of 25 Erased Lynching and California Hang Tree photos by Los Angeles-based artist Ken Gonzales-Day is on view through Jan. 24 in the Gallery of the Art and Art History building.
“Ken Gonzales-Day is an artist who makes work as an act of compassion,” said exhibition curator Renee Billingslea, a senior lecturer in the Department of Art and Art History.
Ken Gonzalez-Day’s images from the series Erased Lynchings sees the artist digitally remove the dead hanging body of a nameless murdered person of colour, in order to avoid re-victimising the individual. This places our attention on the real guilty subjects, those white people who take it upon themselves extrajudicially to police black and brown bodies. The black body is here removed from the gaze of white eyes, a form of sight which undergirds the social dominance of whiteness. Gonzales-Day writes: “The work asks viewers to consider the crowd, the spectacle, the role of the photographer, and even the impact of flash photography, and their various contributions to our understanding of racialized violence in this nation.”
The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery announces the acquisition of a photograph of the bust of Shonke Mon thi^, who was a prominent warrior and spiritual leader of the Osage people and hereditary Chief of the Pa tso li^ Big Hill Band at the turn of the 20th century. This work by Latino artist Ken Gonzales-Day was first displayed by the Portrait Gallery in UnSeen: Our Past in a New Light, Ken Gonzales-Day and Titus Kaphar, which was presented as part of the museum’s 50th anniversary exhibition program.
Ken Gonzales-Day is a historian, and the author of the book Lynching in California. He included the Callahan lynching story in his book as an unconfirmed case. And he says that people don’t often realize how common racist violence was in the history of the Western US. “I wanted to write a book to clearly demonstrate racialized violence was active in California, and that it wasn’t just some sort of race-neutral wild-west frontier sort of activity, which is what many people thought at the time,” he says.
El Museo del Barrio, the NYC museum dedicated to Latinx, Caribbean, and Latin American culture turns 50 years old this year. Frieze New York, the biggest week of the year for art in New York, kicks off on Thursday, and it won't overlook the milestone of the institution, which was founded in 1969, when Latino artists were largely overlooked by mainstream museums.
The anchor fair of the week promises to be just as chock-full of programming as in previous years. There are also some new additions, including the Diálogos section, which will show works by Latinx and Latin American artists like Ana Mendieta, Ken Gonzales-Day, and Marta Chilindron; and the Frieze sculpture prize, a new commission made this year by up-and-coming artist Lauren Halsey.
Another themed section of the fair turns a spotlight on contemporary and modern Latin artists. Taking cue from the legendary performance artist Ana Mendieta, Diálagos presents works from artists whose practice includes a bold sense of color, pageantry and performance, alongside a highly politicized examination of identity. Ken Gonzales-Day explores, through various media, the material legacies of identity-based oppressions, casting an unflinching eye over histories of slavery, colonialism, gender-normativity and other systemic evils.
As the partial shutdown of the federal government enters its second full week, all Smithsonian museums and many other agencies in D.C. and beyond have shuttered for lack of funds, or are getting ready to close for an indefinite period...Other major shows that are, for now, closed to the public include a long-anticipated Bill Traylor retrospective at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, a Charline von Heyl survey at the Hirshhorn, and a Ken Gonzales-Day and Titus Kaphar two-person affair, set to finish its run on Sunday at the National Portrait Gallery.
A panel of nationally recognized curators, local arts professionals and community members from the Purple Line Extension Section 1 area has selected artists to create site-specific, integrated artworks for Wilshire/La Brea, Wilshire/Fairfax and Wilshire/La Cienega Stations. The diverse range of accomplished artists includes: Ken Gonzales-Day, Todd Gray, Karl Haendel, Soo Kim, Eamon Ore-Giron, Fran Siegel, Susan Silton, and Mark Dean Veca.
Having seen two exhibitions of James Allen's collected photographs of lynchings — both of them in New York, in 2000—I braced myself for The Legacy of Lynching: Confronting Racial Terror in America, at Haverford College's Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery. The horrific images I saw 18 years ago are permanently seared into my mind.I was curious how this new exhibition of works by prominent contemporary artists would treat such an appallingly inhumane period in American history and its reverberations today.
It brought together a similar intergenerational mix of racially diverse artists who identify widely across the gender spectrum, though their prompt was slightly different, creating responses to recontextualize the Segal rather than replace it outright. The results varied from Ken Gonzales-Day’s proposal to scatter sculptural corpses around the park to Carrie Moyer’s and Sheila Pepe’s photo-play satire of today’s middle-class lesbian life.
Curator of painting and sculpture & Latino art and history at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Taína Caragol, said: “I co-curated UnSeen: Our Past in a New Light, Ken Gonzales-Day and Titus Kaphar with Dr. Asma Naeem, as part of the National Portrait Gallery’s 50th anniversary program..."
Sometimes what’s absent from a museum says more about history than what’s included. Two contemporary artists—Titus Kaphar, who is African-American, and Ken Gonzales-Day, who is Mexican-American—have spent their careers addressing this issue. In the National Portrait Gallery’s newest exhibition, Unseen: Our Past in a New Light, the two artists take contrasting approaches—and work in two different mediums—to tell the stories of the missing and overlooked. The museum’s director Kim Sajet says Unseen hopefully will act as a town square.
Los Angeles- based, Gonzales-Day mines museum archives and photographs sculptural objects most of them rarely, if ever, displayed publicly. His work deconstructs racial hierarchies, considers beauty ideals, and evaluates how artists have treated and interpreted white bodies and bodies of color. He embarked on this aspect of his practice in 2008 during a residency at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles.
The linchpin of the show is a fictional text Gonzales-Day created from 1993 to 1996 but revisited in 2017. It traces the life of Ramoncita, a two-spirit person, from her early life as a naive indentured servant, all the way to old age as a self-actualized artist. The story is set during the Mexican-American War and involves one other central character, Nepomuceno, a New Mexican who fights on the Mexican side and is forced to secret himself home after the U.S. victory. The book is presented as an historical artifact, with a selection of pages available for reading in the form of framed photographs filling an entire wall of the back room. Many images in the gallery’s front were originally made as illustrations for the book, in which they also appear.
Ending DACA will be Donald Trump’s Trail of Tears when he forces American children who lack documentation to a country they may not remember, and more importantly it breaks up families. Breaking up of families was a central component of slavery because it diminished individuals and communities and kept people of color from being seen, or seeing themselves, as equal to whites.
Ken Gonzales-Day's exhibit Bone-Grass Boy: The Secret Banks of the Conejos River at Luis De Jesus Los Angeles in Culver City (through Oct. 28) is the product of such excavations. Tracing his family back to 16th-century New Mexico, the Los Angeles artist learns about his complicated genealogy and writes his family history as if it were a novel in which his ancestors are the characters. The exhibit, which runs as a complementary show to PST, features photographs of the artist posing as each character, both male and female. Most prominently, he performs the role of Ramoncita, a “two-spirited” Zuni woman of New Mexico wearing Spanish colonial garb.
The singularly remarkable thing about Ken Gonzales-Day’s re-creation of his breakthrough 1993-96 photographic project, Bone-Grass Boy: The Secret Banks of the Conejos River is the infinitely expansive temporal envelope it seems to occupy. This is more than partially by design in that it appropriates literary tropes and motives of 19th century frontier novels to serve a much larger conceptual and cultural conversation. That such a conversation might be no less relevant and possibly even more urgent today, though, could scarcely have been anticipated when the work was being made. Now, against a backdrop of seismic human migration and planetary change, it seems as if the project could have been made 60 years ago or just yesterday.
History is written by the victors, or actually by those in power. Since the civil rights movement in the 1960s, culturally specific museums, such as the Leslie-Lohman Museum, El Museo, and The Studio Museum in Harlem, have been reclaiming scholarship and writing history from multiple perspectives, making for a more nuanced and complex interpretation of US history. Those interested in the future of Confederate symbols (flags, monuments, sites) and how to properly provide interpretations that are nuanced and multifaceted, can take a page from the book of culturally specific museums.
And in a photomural by the Los Angeles artist Ken Gonzalez-Day, the body is conspicuous through its absence. The mural is based on one of many photographs the artist has tracked down of lynchings of Latinos, Native Americans and Chinese immigrant men in California in the early 20th century. In the nocturnal picture used here, men milling around a tree look upward, but the object of their attention is missing. The artist has erased the form of the hanged victim, leaving dark, empty space.
Artist and photographer Ken Gonzales-Day explores the history of racial violence in America and a survey of his work, Shadowlands, which opens today and runs through April 16 at the Minnesota Museum of American Art, investigates how this history informs our current reality. Among the works is Gonzales-Day's series Erased Lynchings, a set of digitally altered 19th and 20th century lynching postcards, where hanged figures of various races have been removed by the artist, allowing the remaining participants to take focus.
For more than a decade, Ken Gonzales-Day has been exploring the history of racialized violence in America, creating several bodies of work that are brought together for the first time in this exhibition. Cumulatively, his work is a powerful and complex statement that challenges what we thought we knew about this country’s great dilemma. The Los Angeles–based artist has extensively researched lynchings in California, where Mexican Americans and Asian Americans were widely targeted during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
In 2001, Ken Gonzales-Day set out to write a book on Latino portraiture in 19th- and 20th- century California; his research led to his discovery of dozens of images and written records of lynching, and, ultimately, to his 2006 book Lynching in the West, 1850-1935. On view through April 16 at the Minnesota Museum of American Art, Shadowlands, which grew out of this publication, comprises his own photographs, archival images, books, and ephemera. All of this material, along with his photographs about this country’s recent racial violence, deftly compresses history and raises questions about our historic construction of race.
Text beneath the photo instructs the viewer, “Do not look at the Negro,” directing one’s gaze instead to “the seven WHITE children who gaze at this gruesome spectacle.” The caption calls to mind artist Ken Gonzales-Day’s project “Erased Lynching,” which removes the bodies of lynching victims—many of whom were Mexican-American—from lynching photos, focusing the viewer’s attention instead on the white perpetrators and spectators. Rather than record the suffering of the victim, the focus on the spectators highlights the pathologies of whiteness.
In “Score Settling,” Teresa Margolles made jewelry from glass shattered in shooting incidents. In the labels, instead of describing the pieces, she describes the crime. Another artist, Ken Gonzales-Day, edited images of lynchings and removed the victims so the focus can lie squarely on the perpetrators. The exhibit is loosely organized around four themes. In “Objects and Absences,” artists use photographs and found objects to create connections to the missing.
Among the most powerful works in the exhibition, for me, are a group of photos by Ken Gonzales-Day. He has taken archival photographs of lynchings and photoshopped out the victim so that we focus on the perpetrators of these heinous acts. These works have had a profound impact on me, and have made me look inward and ask myself the very uncomfortable questions, ‘When have I not spoken up? When have I been a bystander to injustice?'
Ken Gonzales-Day’s manipulated archival photographs of Western lynching victims and the crowds that witnessed and committed their mob-mad murders allude to these lost lives by erasing the victims and their ropes from his images. The works are subversive – titles like This is What He Got or Five in a row cue viewers to search for the victims/subjects in the images and to imagine them in the spaces they once occupied. The voyeuristic point of view creates a kind of complicity that aligns the viewer with the pictured mob rather than with the victims, with whom most might seek to empathize. There is a kind of moral presence in the corporeal absences in Gonzales-Day’s images that picture atrocities, whether we can see them or not.
How do photographers qualify for inclusion? Some, like Ken Gonzales-Day, Mario Ybarra Jr., and Lyle Ashton Harris, do so by using photographs as one piece in a larger project involving social commentary and self-dramatization. Gonzales-Day’s untitled photograph of two antique busts from the Getty collection riffs brilliantly on the double meaning of the word “profile,” which in this instance implies both the angle from which these faces are seen and the degree to which they fit with the viewer’s expectations regarding facial features and racial identity.
The works in the exhibit “ask similar questions about the impact of history on beauty,” she says. “What do we do with the beautiful trees that Ken Gonzales-Day photographs, but which we later come to find out are trees on which men were once lynched? Is there an ethics of seeing that refuses to shut out this historical legacy?”
The "Graying of Whiteness" section was introduced by Ken Gonzales-Day, now professor of art at Scripps College, Claremont, California. Since then he completed a book on the history of lynching in California, "Searching for California Hang Trees," and has had numerous solo exhibitions, most recently at Luis De Jesus Los Angeles. My essay from the book follows below. Image captions have been retained from the original text. But, a decade later, many of the artists have changed galleries, obtained other ones, or some have gone out of business.
Next, we stopped at the Luis de Jesus Gallery to meet with L.A. artist Ken Gonzales-Day and see his new exhibition of photographs, including the well-known image of two male faces seen in profile. These are bronze portraits from the Getty’s collection, one depicting a white male and the other a black man, staring at one another across a wide divide. Looking at Gonzales-Day’s photographs, your first impression is of the elegant beauty of the museum objects he has chosen as his subjects. But the cool surfaces of these photos are always impregnated with palpable racial, ethnic and cultural tensions.
In “Profiled,” Gonzales-Day sorted through busts from storage rooms of art and history museums from Europe, the Americas and Asia in search of different depictions of race. He collected Western European works from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries depicting the perceived “scientific” images of racial difference. The seemingly random group of individuals shown unknowingly helped create the racial stereotypes they happened to embody. When paired together we can easily recognize one sculpture as Asian, another as Native American, regardless of their marbled, identical skin tones. In the art history canon we see categorization and hierarchy emerge, using bodies as if they were variables.
The American tradition of lynching transcended the white-black milieu of the Deep South. Two social historians, William Carrigan and Clive Webb, have made a strong documentary case that the "lynching rate" for Mexican-Americans was comparable to that for African Americans.3 California led the way in anti-Mexican and anti-Chinese vigilantism. According to legend, Joaquín Murrieta – one of the great figures in Gold Rush and Chicano history – chose his second career in banditry in response to the hanging of his half brother.
Artist Ken Gonzales-Day was researching early photographic images of Latinos in California when he came across a portrait that propelled his work in a whole new direction. "I turned it over, and on the back somebody had written, 'Last man hanged in California,'" he recalled, "And at that point I realized I didn't know what that meant. Did that mean legally executed? Did that mean vigilante committee? Did that mean lynch mob?" There were no books on the subject, so Gonzales-Day began combing through archives throughout the state. He found over 350 documented cases of lynchings in California. But unlike their Southern, African American counterparts, the victims of this violence were largely Latino. What's more, California lynchings had been consistently neglected by historians and scholars.
Ken Gonzales-Day uses photographs to picture sites of secrecy and hidden history. Light-jet prints mounted on aluminum panels yield a stately, almost ceremonial presence. In his Conceptually oriented pictures, prominent blank space often functions as a visual signal that something is missing -- something that the subtly exalted photograph may or may not be able to identify, but that looms large nonetheless.
In the decades after gold was discovered in California, lynch mobs hanged more than 300 people- frontier justice delivered by vigilantes. That part of the state's history had faded until Scripps College art professor and photographer Ken Gonzales- Day found a picture one day. That led to another photograph and another, and now to an exhibit at the Vincent Price Museum of Art in Monterey Park.
Ken Gonzalez Day's large ink-jet prints put photographs of figure and portrait sculptures by artists and anthropologists in confrontation and conversation -- a colonial American woman and a classical Venus, for example, opposite Japanese and Eskimo women. Similarities and differences are thrown into high relief, but it's the blank chasm between them (in this case, between cultural conceptions of East and West) that looms largest.
Gonzales-Day anticipates this response with a large diagram: a portrait of his own head inside a cruel-looking cranial measuring device. Of course reducing entire populations of people to representative archetypes is racist and dehumanizing — this we know. But what emerges from these dual portraits is something more tender and strange. Perhaps it’s the veiled eroticism of the guys in fuzzy chaps on the other side of the room, or a smaller selection of images of classical statuary defaced with lewd graffiti, but the impassive sculptural pairs begin to look oddly like couples, gazing at each other across boundaries of geography, time and ignorance.
Historical documentation can be phantom fodder, as well. Ken Gonzales-Day takes familiar lynching images and re-photographs them, erasing bodies hanging from trees and telephone poles to create eerie voids within the pictures. W.H. Horne’s grainy photo from 1916 of U.S. General John J. Pershing’s troops “Executing Bandits in Mexico” from Pancho Villa’s ranks—that text is handwritten on the vintage print—revises the photo, removing the “bandit.”
The Wonder Gaze uses photographs to conduct and promote an inquiry into the structural conditions of lynching both as a phenomenon situated in history and as a phenomenon living through history, encompassing, though not condoning, the gamut of lynching’s presentational and representational conditions. As Gonzales-Day shows us, photography (as a technology and as an episteme) is and was integral to lynching’s structural conditions, and for this reason there is no better apparatus for staging this archaeology than photography itself.
Combining an art project with historical analysis, the practice of Ken Gonzalez-Day makes an invaluable contribution to understanding how interdisciplinary methods should be applied in art exhibits. Several of his recent art series have emerged from his research into the visual history of the lynching of Mexican and Mexican American men in California. This epic project started when the artist began looking for percentages and statistics to support an art project, and found a history under erasure.
So the walls, historical and institutional, come tumbling down. And, too, the wall itself, site of Mexican high modernism, high/low art, border politics and gang throw-downs, is revised by several artists, most notably in the small interior hall supporting Ken Gonzales-Day’s lynching erasure works. Two large erasure images, the soft-hatted heads of a crowd of white folks milling around a conspicuously empty tree, have been placed along two temporary gallery walls. One wall is covered by a large blue/black print, the stasis of the site and the frozen, bruised moment underscored by the constricted palette. The mirror-image on the other wall is printed on mirror-paper. Gonzales-Day’s lynching erasure project surgically extracts the fulcrum-point of the image that the spectacle is supposed to mediate.
“Phantom Sightings” takes its name from a quote by artist Gamboa Jr., equating Chicanos in Los Angeles to a “phantom culture.” One can see the theme in photo works by Ken Gonzales-Day, who has taken old images of lynchings and erased the victim in each of them. Presented in a gallery room with a reflective wall, it’s an eerie look at turn-of-the-century racial violence that implicates the viewer as well.
In a project that recalls Louise Lawler’s ongoing investigation of art objects as fetishes and commodities, Gonzales-Day photographs statuary in the storerooms of European and American museums. His interest in representations of race, gender, and class results in a number of pointed juxtapositions of white, black, and ethnic subjects that are obvious but effective. In one image, an American Indian bronze in a loincloth gestures aggressively toward a naked white-marble youth who looks back seductively. Other work here is subtler and more ambiguous, picturing the random jumble of institutional storage spaces as a mass of types and archetypes forced into peaceful coexistence.