Nathaniel Hawthorne once wrote that at midnight “the mind has a passive sensibility, but no active strength.” It is during this tacit state of reflection that some of the most extraordinary fantasies are often unleashed. The art of this year’s artists in residence—Titus Kaphar, Wardell Milan II and Demetrius Oliver—imagines what might happen if midnight itself were to have a daydream, and then embrace its own passive state and move into an active yet semiconscious one, suspended between present reality and the madness of sleeping and dreaming. Each of the works of art in Midnight’s Daydream offers a vision of the contemporary in which time and actions are malleable, and all statements begin with a question—“what if…?”
For Titus Kaphar, painting is but the first step in the imaginative reconfiguration of a canvas. In the Conversations between paintings series (2006–present), Kaphar cuts, sutures and over-paints canvasses as if in defiance of painterly conventions. If midnight had a dream life, perhaps it could imagine a mash-up of singular events meeting in one locale, as they do in Wardell Milan II’s Christopher Columbus’s Discovery of the New World (2007). In Milan’s collages—whether they employ photographs or drawings of pugilists—time, popular culture and even the body are evacuated of linear logic, yet still cohere in a legible order, just as in a dream or memory. With a virtual body, midnight could travel through time and space using Demetrius Oliver’s star charts as a guide. Oliver’s interest in arcane mechanisms, such as steam engines, vintage tea kettles and the movement of planets, translates the literal into the poetic. The quotidian becomes transcendent when, in Almanac (2007), reflections off the shiny surfaces of tea kettles resemble other planets and invented worlds.
Organized by Associate Curator Christine Y. Kim, this annual summer exhibition features works of art by three emerging artists who have been awarded year-long stipends and studios at The Studio Museum in Harlem. The Artists-in-Residence Program represents one of the founding initiatives of the Museum from its inception in 1968. Past participants include Chakaia Booker, David Hammons, Kerry James Marshall, Wangechi Mutu, Nadine Robinson, Nari Ward and Kehinde Wiley.