What Is Left Unspoken, Love
On view through August 14, 2022
Is love intrinsic, or is it a habit? What is the difference between love and friendship? What is the relationship of love to truth, freedom, and justice? These are just some of the questions to be explored in What Is Left Unspoken, Love, a thirty-year survey of contemporary art featuring artworks that address the different ways the most important thing in life—love—is expressed.
Organized during a time of social and political discord, when cynicism often seems to triumph over hope, this exhibition will examine love as a profound subject of critical commentary from time immemorial yet with a persistently elusive definition. As poet and painter Etel Adnan wrote, love is “not to be described, it is to be lived.”
What Is Left Unspoken features nearly seventy works, including paintings, sculpture, photography, video and media art, by more than thirty-five international artists based in North America, Central America, Europe, and Asia. Artists include Ghada Amer, Rina Banerjee, Thomas Barger, Patty Chang, Susanna Coffey, James Drake, Keith Edmier and Farrah Fawcett, Alanna Fields, Dara Friedman, Andrea Galvani, General Idea, Jeffrey Gibson, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Kahlil Robert Irving, Tomashi Jackson, María de los Angeles Rodríguez Jiménez, Rashid Johnson, Gerald Lovell, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Kerry James Marshall, Felicita Felli Maynard, Wangechi Mutu, Ebony G. Patterson, Paul Pfeiffer, Magnus Plessen, Gabriel Rico, Dario Robleto, RongRong&inri, Michelle Stuart, Vivian Suter, Jana Vander-Lee, Carrie Mae Weems, and Akram Zaatari
Since love is better led than drawn, better inspired than obtained, maybe art is the best means with which to explore the subject. Artworks in the exhibition suggest ways in which love is experienced everyday yet also connected to the grand scale of human destiny. The exhibition is organized into six thematic sections that may complement, overlap, contradict or disaffirm one another, providing categories inspired by some of the most firmly rooted concepts of love, from the union of two people in The Two, to the place where love is learned in The School of Love and the discipline required of love in The Practice of Love, to its centrality in a Loving Community, to love’s endurance and ability to transcend in Poetics of Love and Love Supreme.
Caution: The museum recognizes that the final gallery of this exhibition has some flashing/strobe light elements that may impact people with photosensitive epilepsy and seizures.
Rina BanerjeeRina Banerjee
Indian, born Kolkata, India, 1963; active New York, New York
Take me, take me, take me . . . to the Palace of love, 2005
Plastic, antique Anglo-Indian Bombay dark wood chair, steel and copper framework, floral picks, foam balls, cowrie shells, quilting pins, red-colored moss, antique stone globe, glass, synthetic fabric, shells, and fake birds
Courtesy of the artist
Rina Banerjee’s Take me, take me, take me . . . to the Palace of love is a small-scale re-creation of India’s famous “monument to love,” the Taj Mahal. In choosing red, Banerjee challenges the Victorian-era use of white to symbolize innocence, purity, sacrifice, and virtue. Although red signifies danger or sexual passion in Western cultures, it has different connotations in other cultures and can often symbolize happiness, purity, and innocence. In its allusion to Mughal emperor Shah Jahan’s monument for his dead wife, the Taj Mahal, Banerjee’s “palace” evokes the final line of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s archetypal love poem, “How Do I Love Thee?”: “I shall but love thee better after death.”
Ghada AmerGhada Amer
American, born Cairo, Egypt, 1963; active New York, New York
The Words I Love the Most, 2012
Bronze with black patina
Courtesy of the artist and Tina Kim Gallery, New York
Ghada Amer’s The Words I Love the Most is composed of a latticework of one hundred interlinking Arabic expressions related to the word love. Understanding that words expressed in calligraphy are themselves a subject of art in Arabic culture, Amer transformed the words into objects whose interconnectedness suggests the fluidity and poetics of language. The words are spelled backwards from the viewer’s perspective and can only be read looking at the shadows on the floor or by using a mirror, thus resisting easy comprehension, suggesting love’s indecipherability and inviting the viewer to find meaning beyond their literal references.
Rashid JohnsonRashid Johnson
American, born Chicago, Illinois, 1977; active New York, New York
The Hikers, 2019
16mm film transferred to digital video with sound
Running time: 7 minutes, 14 seconds
High Museum of Art anonymous gift, 2021.171
Rashid Johnson’s The Hikers opens with two dancers from the Martha Graham Dance Company who wear masks and whose movements and gestures coincide with fast-paced rhythmic drumming. In a key moment in the film, the dancers meet face to face, remove their masks, and perform a pas de deux. Their tension, representing the threat and danger of anti-Black racism, melts away in relief as they take comfort in their mutual Blackness. Johnson says this moment represents instances when “people of color recognize the existence of one another. Oftentimes, when people see each other in such circumstances, there’s this kind of joy, almost love.”
General IdeaGeneral Idea
General Idea (AA Bronson, born Michael Tims, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, 1946; Felix Partz, born Ronald Gabe, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, 1945–1994; Jorge Zontal, born Slobodan Saia-Levy, Parma, Italy, 1944–1994), active 1967–1994
Great AIDS (Pyrrole Orange), 1990/2019
Acrylic on linen
Courtesy of the Estate of General Idea and Mitchell Innes & Nash, New York. © General Idea, Inc.
General Idea, formed in 1969 by AA Bronson, Felix Partz, and Jorge Zontal, was among the first voices to explore media critique and queer theory. Most of General Idea’s work from 1987 through the early 1990s addressed the AIDS crisis, which ultimately claimed the lives of Partz and Zontal. In 1987, General Idea produced a design that conflated Robert Indiana’s famous Love image with the acronym AIDS. They called this new form an “image virus”—something that, once introduced into the public sphere, replicates itself through cultural transmission. In Great AIDS (Cadmium Orange Light) and Great AIDS (Pyrrole Orange), the AIDS logo is twice mirrored and inverted, suggesting viral mutation and the logo’s potentially transgressive illegibility.
Michelle StuartMichelle Stuart
American, born Los Angeles, California, 1933; active New York, New York
In the Beginning: Time and Dark Matter, 2016–2020
Archival pigment prints, metal and wood table, shells, and beeswax plates
Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Lelong & Co., New York
In the Beginning: Time and Dark Matter combines images from Michelle Stuart’s archive of photography with a collection of shells and fossils to suggest the relativity of time and space. Stuart’s unconventional juxtaposition of photography and paleontological remains proposes a visual language for reflecting upon such weighty subjects as the origin and composition of the universe and its impact on earthbound phenomena such as tidal forces and the creatures that experience them. In the process, she preserves and privileges the mysteries inherent in poetic expression.
Ebony G. PattersonEbony G. Patterson
Jamaican, born Kingston, Jamaica, 1981; active Chicago, Illinois
. . . they stood in a time of unknowing . . . for those who bear/bare witness, 2018
Handcut jacquard woven photo tapestry with glitter, appliques, pins, embellishments, fabric, tassels, brooches, acrylic, glass pearls, beads, and hand-cast heliconias
Courtesy of the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago
Ebony G. Patterson’s work addresses postcolonial society shaped by economic globalization where groups of people are rendered invisible through race-based class and social divisions. Her tapestry features a garden setting in which a group of figures crowds around a partially concealed body. While some figures are visible, others are presented as silhouettes, suggesting spirits bearing witness to the discovery. Patterson’s work commemorates the lives of the invisible in society, including those who have fallen victim to political violence and hate crimes. She bestows dignity upon the dead and honors their lives through a visual lavishing of color, texture, and materials.
Vivian SuterVivian Suter
Argentinian, born Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1949; active Panajachel, Guatemala
Mixed media on canvas, twenty-four canvases
Courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York, and Brussels (Shown here: Boston Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA, 2019)
Living in Guatemala for more than thirty years, Argentinian-born artist Vivian Suter invites nature to participate in the creative process. Her home and studio are situated in the rainforest, and her work is in communion with nature’s beauty. She includes organic substances and elements such as mud and rainwater among her materials and often displays her paintings in her garden, subjecting them to the elements. In the exhibition, her paintings occupy the space of the gallery as if it were in the open air, rejecting the enclosure of architectural space in favor of an expansive encounter with art, inviting the viewer to contemplate the boundlessness of art and nature.
Carrie Mae WeemsCarrie Mae Weems
American, born Portland, Oregon, 1953; active New York, New York
The Kitchen Table Series, 1990
Twenty platinum prints, fourteen letterpress texts
Private collection, Miami, Florida
Carrie Mae Weems’s iconic body of work The Kitchen Table Series is a poetic narrative told from a woman’s perspective. Set in the kitchen, a place of sociability and creativity and of domestic labor traditionally consigned to women, it tells of the narrator’s relationship with her lover, of her career and her politics, and of her role as a mother. In this self-performance, Weems presents her endeavors to nurture self-love and self-respect within a romantic relationship encumbered by traditional roles and gender politics, as well as the struggle for agency as a Black woman in the world.
Gerald LovellGerald Lovell
American, born Chicago, Illinois, 1992; active Atlanta, Georgia
Friendship Tower, 2021
Oil on panel
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, purchase with funds from John Auerbach
Gerald Lovell’s subjects include members of his community of friends and family. The bond of trust they share among each other enables them to let down their guard and project a sense of affection for one another. The artist’s cohort, perhaps more keenly than earlier generations, feels the pressures of financial insecurity, social and political strife, and environmental uncertainty. In a world where the deck seems stacked against them, they coalesce around each other in peace, camaraderie, and friendship made palpably real by Lovell’s use of impasto to suggest the soft, vulnerable substance of the flesh and blood that binds them together.
Rafael Lozano-HemmerRafael Lozano-Hemmer
Mexican, born Mexico City, Mexico, 1967; active Montréal, Canada
Pulse Room, 2006
Incandescent light bulbs, voltage controllers, heart rate sensors, computer, metal, and sound
Museum of Modern Art, New York, gift of Karin Srb, 213.2014
(Shown here: Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester, United Kingdom, 2010)
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s multisensory Pulse Room invites visitors to register their pulse on a sensor in the far corner of the room. It is transmitted to a light bulb, causing its wire filament to glow and flicker to the rhythm of the participant’s pulse. As successive visitors participate, the record of prior heartbeats is pushed farther across the grid, projecting an image of collective humanity that is both anonymous and communal. In addition to bringing people into relation with one another, the work also connects visitors to ubiquitous forms of information technology that conspire with networks around which identities are formed, societies are structured, and people are controlled.
Tomashi JacksonTomashi Jackson
American, born Houston, Texas, 1980; active Cambridge, Massachusetts
Is Anybody Gonna Be Saved? (1948 Middle of Voter Registration Line) (1965 Abernathy and King Watch the Signing of the Act) , 2020
Acrylic, Pentelic marble, Ohio Underground Railroad site soil, American electoral ephemera, and paper bags on canvas and fabric
Courtesy of the artist and Tilton Gallery, New York
Tomashi Jackson’s research-based work is inspired by the signing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Jackson juxtaposes vintage images of individuals who fought against racial injustice with images and text from the recent past to cast light upon ongoing attempts to undermine the voting rights of all Americans of color. Several prominent Georgians, including Reverend Ralph David Abernathy, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, and Stacey Abrams, are featured, representing communities that have fought to uphold the rights of Black Americans. Jackson’s project honors and commemorates the collective action of King’s Beloved Community in the face of extreme prejudice, intimidation, and physical violence while drawing parallels with the present-day struggle for racial justice.
RongRong&inri, active Beijing, China
RongRong, born Zhangzhou, Fujian Province, China, 1968
inri, born Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan, 1973
In Fujisan, Japan (detail), 2001
Silver gelatin and color photograph, set of sixteen prints
Collection of Charles Jing
The marriage of Chinese artist RongRong and Japanese artist inri was the inspiration for this collaboration titled In Fujisan, Japan. Mt. Fuji was one of several locations where the artists staged performances to commemorate their union as newlyweds. They performed in the winter, nude, representing timelessness and vulnerability, braving hypothermia and the dangers of a partially frozen lake. At the time, neither could speak the other’s language—thus, their wordless performance was another iteration of their ritual of exchanging vows. The work, part performance, part documentation, offers itself as a form of love’s declaration at the horizons of the earthly and the spiritual
Thomas BargerThomas Barger
American, born Mattoon, Illinois, 1992; active Brooklyn, New York
Love Me, Protect Me Chair, 2018
Paper pulp, plywood, two wooden chairs, polyurethane, and paint
Courtesy of the artist and Salon 94 Design
Thomas Barger’s Love Me, Protect Me Chair reflects on the endurance of love between parents and their children. Barger was raised in rural Illinois in a religious family whose conservative social values came into conflict with his sexual identity after he came out to his parents as gay. Even in the face of his parents’ difficulty accepting his revelation, Barger reflects on the love they showed him. The “love me” part of his sculpture refers to his stay-at-home mother, who provided him nurturing love, while the “protect me” part refers to his father, who worked hard to provide for the family as a farmer.
Jeffrey GibsonJeffrey Gibson
American, Mississippi Choctaw-Cherokee, born Colorado Springs, Colorado, 1972; active Hudson, New York
The Love You Give is the Love You Get, 2020
Punching bag, glass beads, artificial sinew, and acrylic felt
Promised gift of John Auerbach
Like truth, freedom is believed to be an essential condition for love to thrive. Jeffrey Gibson’s beaded sculpture relates themes of freedom and social justice to liberation movements associated with Indigenous rights and the LGBTQIA+ communities. Its glass beads and metal jingles reflect traditional powwow regalia while drawing on the aesthetics of queer culture. The title refers to John Lennon’s misquotation, in a 1980 Playboy interview, of Paul McCartney’s lyric, “The love you take is equal to the love you make.” It suggests that love is a form of conditioning that requires practice and discipline and is contingent upon reciprocity, necessarily casting uncertainty upon the notion of unconditional love.
Kerry James MarshallKerry James Marshall
American, born Birmingham, Alabama, 1955; active Chicago, Illinois
Souvenir I, 1997
Acrylic, collage, and glitter on canvas
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Bernice and Kenneth Newberger Fund, 1997.73
The present is haunted by the past in Kerry James Marshall’s Souvenir I, which memorializes and immortalizes the fallen heroes of Martin Luther King’s Freedom Movement. The painting includes a commemorative banner on the right featuring images of King, John F. Kennedy, and Robert F. Kennedy. Along the top, in the form of angelic spirits, are civil rights activist Medgar Evers; Malcolm X; Black Panther activists Fred Hampton and Mark Clark; Freedom Riders Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner; and the four children murdered in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, Addie Mae Collins, Carol Denise McNair, Carole Rosamond Robertson, and Cynthia Dionne Wesley. The central figure stands as matron of the household, embodying an enlightened witness and a divine messenger. She peers out directly as if to welcome us into the picture or to ask, “Where do you position yourself within this history, within this struggle?”
Gabriel RicoGabriel Rico
Mexican, born Lagos de Moreno, Mexico, 1980; active Guadalajara, Mexico
VI Mural from the series Reducción objetiva orquestada, 2016/2021
Mixed media, acrylic paint, and neon
Courtesy of the artist and Perrotin Gallery
Gabriel Rico’s murals are imaginary propositions that suggest a process for understanding the deep mystery of the origin of being. Open to infinite interpretation, they imagine the possibility of a higher-level consciousness that reaches beyond the limitations of the physical and material. In VI Mural from the series Reducción objetiva orquestada, Rico arranges objects on a wall and connects them with drawings that intimate mathematical equations and formulae. The mural’s network of relations between and among its signs and objects suggests a plane of awareness beyond our ordinary comprehension.
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer discusses the Pulse Room.
What Is Left Unspoken, Love is organized by the High Museum of Art, Atlanta.
This exhibition is made possible by
Funding provided by the Taylor Family Fund
Premier Exhibition Series Sponsor
Premier Exhibition Series Supporters
ACT Foundation, Inc.
Sarah and Jim Kennedy
Louise Sams and Jerome Grilhot
Dr. Joan H. Weens Estate
Benefactor Exhibition Series Supporters
Robin and Hilton Howell
Ambassador Exhibition Supporters
The Antinori Foundation
The Arthur R. and Ruth D. Lautz Charitable Foundation
Elizabeth and Chris Willett
Contributing Exhibition Series Supporters
Farideh and Al Azadi
Sandra and Dan Baldwin
The Ron and Lisa Brill Family Charitable Trust
Lucinda W. Bunnen
Marcia and John Donnell
Mrs. Peggy Foreman
Helen C. Griffith
Mrs. Fay S. Howell/The Howell Fund
Mr. and Mrs. Baxter Jones
Joel Knox and Joan Marmo
Dr. Joe B. Massey
Margot and Danny McCaul
Wade Rakes and Nicholas Miller
The Fred and Rita Richman Fund
In Memory of Elizabeth B. Stephens by Powell Stephens, Preston Stephens, and Sally Stephens Westmoreland
USI Insurance Services
Mrs. Harriet H. Warren
Generous support is also provided by
Alfred and Adele Davis Exhibition Endowment Fund, Anne Cox Chambers Exhibition Fund, Barbara Stewart Exhibition Fund, Dorothy Smith Hopkins Exhibition Endowment Fund, Eleanor McDonald Storza Exhibition Endowment Fund, The Fay and Barrett Howell Exhibition Fund, Forward Arts Foundation Exhibition Endowment Fund, Helen S. Lanier Endowment Fund, Isobel Anne Fraser–Nancy Fraser Parker Exhibition Endowment Fund, John H. and Wilhelmina D. Harland Exhibition Endowment Fund, Katherine Murphy Riley Special Exhibition Endowment Fund, Margaretta Taylor Exhibition Fund, and the RJR Nabisco Exhibition Endowment Fund.