Beverly Buchanan

Brooklyn Museum, New York, USA

 n 1977, at the age of 37, Beverly Buchanan decided to become an artist. At the time, she was working as a health educator for the city of East Orange, New Jersey. She already had a degree in parasitology and an offer to undertake her doctorate at Harvard, but she didn’t want to become ‘a doctor who paints’. As she recalled in an interview in 1993: ‘In spite of health problems and money problems that happened early, I said: “I’m still going to do this, because nobody’s asking me to do it.”’ ‘Ruins and Rituals’, the first show in a year-long programme of feminist exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum, indicates the extent and depth of the artist’s commitment. Buchanan, who died in 2015, made work that moved across – or ignored the boundaries of – a variety of media, including drawing, painting, photocopy, photography, assemblage, sculpture and land art. Her attention to the rough, brick-and-mortar textures of the city or the non-conformist structures of vernacular architecture, such as barns and shacks built in the American South, intermingled with a lived politics of race, gender and memory. 

old-colored-school-detail.jpg

Beverly Buchanan, Old Colored School, 2010, wood and paint, 51 x 38 x 47 cm. Courtesy: Jane Bridges © Estate of Beverly Buchanan; photograph: Adam Reich / Andrew Edlin Gallery, New York

Beverly Buchanan, Old Colored School, 2010, wood and paint, 51 x 38 x 47 cm. Courtesy: Jane Bridges © Estate of Beverly Buchanan; photograph: Adam Reich / Andrew Edlin Gallery, New York

The first elements that visitors to the show encounter are stone fragments: stacked on the floor of the gallery, pictured in various arrangements in black and white photographs, or documented in a video that moves between Buchanan’s extant, site-specific earthworks. To make the sculpture series ‘Frustula’ (1978–80), Buchanan poured concrete into moulds made out of old bricks, sometimes tinting the mixture with iron oxide and acrylic paint to achieve a reddish-brown hue. The resulting fragments sit somewhere between remnants of urban decay, ancient artefacts and art objects. But what does it mean to make – and not dig up or trip over – ruins? What is the fate of an object that begins its life as already destroyed?

shack-stories-part-i.jpg

Beverly Buchanan and poet Alice Lovelace, Shack Stories (Part I), 1990, unpublished handmade book of ink and crayon drawings with watercolour and collaged typewritten text, 28 x 22 cm. © Estate of Beverly Buchanan

Beverly Buchanan and poet Alice Lovelace, Shack Stories (Part I), 1990, unpublished handmade book of ink and crayon drawings with watercolour and collaged typewritten text, 28 x 22 cm. © Estate of Beverly Buchanan

Ruins signal that something, at some point, must have been created and used, before failing, then being abandoned or destroyed. Stones, in particular, stand as markers for absence and facilitate rituals, whether personal or collective, past or present. In The Writing of Stones (1970), philosopher-sociologist Roger Caillois described stones as possessing ‘a kind of gravitas, something ultimate and unchanging, something that will never perish or else has already done so’. If we look a little closer at Buchanan’s larger earthworks, documented in the exhibition, we come across subtle mnemonic demands and overlooked histories. In Marsh Ruins (1981), located in Glynn State Park in Brunswick, Georgia, inconspicuous mounds of concrete and tabby protrude like surfacing whales from within the surrounding grass. (Today, apparently, the work is in disrepair, therefore giving way to its own ruination.) To make tabby you need a large quantity of seashells, to which you add lime, water and sand. It is a cheap, yet labour-intensive, material and was therefore used widely in colonial America for building slave cabins and other structures (with slave labour). By creating ruins from tabby, Buchanan was reinstating a material history into the present as a means of accessing the politics of the past.

There is an intense sense of struggle and dedication in Buchanan’s art. In her dollhouse-sized wooden models of cabins – often painted, though burnt and buckling – the home becomes the embodiment of ingenuity in the face of poverty. Her images, while playful, dense and frenetic, appear hard-won. Standing in front of In the Garden (The Artist at Home) (1993), we see a doubled photograph of Buchanan, a self-portrait, looking out at us from the midst of thickly applied pastel scribbles. Her expression is defiant, yet open, as though she’s ready for a conversation.

Main image: Beverly Buchanan, Untitled (Double Portrait of Artist with Frustula Sculpture), undated, black and white photograph with original paint marks, 22 x 28 cm. © Estate of Beverly BuchananI

Most Read

Ahead of ARCOMadrid this week, a guide to the best institutional shows in the city
At La Panacée, Montpellier, Nicolas Bourriaud’s manifesto for a new movement and attempt to demarcate an artistic peer...
A report commissioned by the museum claims Raicovich ‘misled’ the board; she disputes the investigation’s claims
In further news: Jef Geys (1934–2018); and Hirshhorn postpones Krzysztof Wodiczko projection after Florida shooting
If the city’s pivot to contemporary art was first realized by landmark construction, then what comes after might not...
Ignoring its faux-dissident title, this year's edition at the New Museum displays a repertoire that is folky, angry,...
An insight into royal aesthetics's double nature: Charles I’s tastes and habits emerge as never before at London’s...
In other news: Artforum responds to #NotSurprised call for boycott of the magazine; Maria Balshaw apologizes for...
At transmediale in Berlin, contesting exclusionary language from the alt-right to offshore finance
From Shanghai to Dubai, a new history charts the frontiers where underground scenes battle big business for electronic...
Hauser & Wirth Somerset, Bruton, UK
Zihan Karim, Various Way of Departure, 2017, video still. Courtesy: Samdani Art Foundation
Can an alternative arts network, unmediated by the West's commercial capitals and burgeoning arts economies of China...
‘That moment, that smile’: collaborators of the filmmaker pay tribute to a force in California's film and music scenes...
In further news: We Are Not Surprised collective calls for boycott of Artforum, accuses it of 'empty politics'; Frida...
We Are Not Surprised group calls for the magazine to remove Knight Landesman as co-owner and withdraw move to dismiss...
Paul Thomas Anderson's latest film is both gorgeous and troubling in equal measure
With Zona Maco opening in the city today, a guide to the best exhibitions across the Mexican capital
The question at the heart of Manchester Art Gallery’s artwork removal: what are the risks when cultural programming...
In further news: Sonia Boyce explains removal of Manchester Art Gallery’s nude nymphs; Creative Scotland responds to...
Ahead of the India Art Fair running this weekend in the capital, a guide to the best shows to see around town
The gallery argues that the funding body is no longer supportive of institutions that maintain a principled refusal of...
The Dutch museum’s decision to remove a bust of its namesake is part of a wider reconsideration of colonial histories,...
At New York’s Metrograph, a diverse film programme addresses a ‘central problem’ of feminist filmmaking
Ronald Jones pays tribute to a rare critic, art historian, teacher and friend who coined the term Post-Minimalism
In further news: curators rally behind Laura Raicovich; Glasgow's Transmission Gallery responds to loss of Creative...
Nottingham Contemporary, UK
‘An artist in a proud and profound sense, whether he liked it or not’ – a tribute by Michael Bracewell
Ahead of a show at Amsterdam’s EYE Filmmuseum, how the documentarian’s wandering gaze takes in China’s landscapes of...
In further news: Stedelijk explains why it cancelled Ettore Sottsass retrospective; US National Gallery of Art cancels...
With 11 of her works on show at the Musée d'Orsay, one of the most underrated artists in modern European history is...
Reopening after a two-year hiatus, London’s brutalist landmark is more than a match for the photographer’s blockbuster...
What the Google Arts & Culture app tells us about our selfie obsession
At a time of #metoo fearlessness, a collection of female critics interrogate their own fandom for music’s most...
A rare, in-depth interview with fashion designer Jil Sander

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

November - December 2017

frieze magazine

January - February 2018

frieze magazine

March 2018