Derek Fordjour: Half Mast

September 1st, 2018

Half Mast debuts a new work by Derek Fordjour and is the artist's first museum solo exhibition. It is the eighth work to be presented as part of the ongoing series of public art installations located across the street from the Whitney Museum of American Art and the High Line. With Half Mast, Derek Fordjour (b. 1974, Memphis, TN) presents a new painting that reflects on the recent national conversations around gun violence, thinking in particular to the surge of school shootings, and the everyday atrocities affecting Black and Brown communities. The piece offers a portrait of this complex moment in U.S. history by presenting many figures who are part of this conversation—law enforcement officials, school youth, and civilians, among them—in one compressed, shared space. Depicted in profile with heads turned, Fordjour paints a scene in which no one assumes responsibility, including the absurdist teddy bears (which double as markers of street-side memorials) that the artist inserts as actors in the crowd. Painted brightly in his signature graphic style, Half Mast retains a buoyant quality, even while speaking to loss and abuse of power. As with much of the artist’s work, Fordjour offers an image whose meaning can flip—alluding here to possibilities of a civic movement, or celebration. Fordjour is a New York-based artist of Ghanian heritage who works primarily in the realm of portrait painting to create vibrant scenes that subtly address topics of systemic inequality, race, and aspiration, particularly in the context of American identity. His paintings often explore both the vulnerability and strategy required of individuals as they navigate public arenas, from sports teams, to schools, or the street. Drawing on the language of games, sports, and the carnivalesque to create his work, Fordjour layers the canvas with humble materials—such as newspaper, oil pastels, charcoal—and with a palette and pattern-language that speaks at once to Americana and Pop, and to the colors and textures of Ghana.

Organized by the Whitney in partnership with TF Cornerstone and High Line Art, this series has featured works by key American artists, including Njideka Akunyili Crosby (2015–2016), Do Ho Suh (2017–2018), and Christine Sun Kim (2018).

Derek Fordjour: Half Mast is organized by Allie Tepper, curatorial project assistant. Derek Fordjour: Half Mast is part of Outside the Box programming which receives generous support from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Foundation.