The Color Black

Abstraction Colored by Race

Sam Gilliam works with form and hue, but we always see history in it.

01.31.14 11:12 PM ET

(Courtesy Michael Rosenfeld Gallery)

This is Sam Gilliam’s “One Thunder”, from a show at Michael Rosenfeld Gallery on abstraction by Black artists ­– about as vexed a subject as you could ask for. Does Blackness, as a social color, change the hue of all the other colors it touches? Does the very fact of a Black artist not working with figuration, and not addressing issues of race, become a salient refusal – and therefore as political as anything else? This 1970 Gilliam strikes me as notably concise and self-contained, from an artist who hit his stride by sprawling work across rooms. It also evokes the pointed hood and robes of a Klansman.

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