Thomas J Price first US solo institutional presentation
Thomas J Price’s multidisciplinary practice confronts preconceived attitudes toward representation, perception, and identity. Price’s large-scale sculptures depict imagined subjects whose features are an amalgamation of sources. Observed individuals and stereotypes represented in the media are mixed with references to ancient, classical, and neoclassical sculptures. These works serve as psychological portraits of the viewer by revealing socially learned attitudes and understandings as they project identities onto the depicted characters. Using methods of presentation, material, scale, and detail Price aims to challenge viewers’ expectations and assumptions.
Presented by The Studio Museum in Harlem “Thomas J Price: Witness” marks the British sculptor’s first US solo institutional presentation. Price’s nine-foot bronze figure, The Distance Within (2021), is sited within Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park and depicts a young Black man looking down at his cell phone. The form of the piece pays homage to a work titled Network that the artist originally presented in the UK in 2013. Price’s large-scale figural sculptures are inspired by real people, often those who live and work in his hometown of South London, where the artist was born and raised, and resides today.
Thelma Golden, Director and Chief Curator of The Studio Museum in Harlem, says, “We are thrilled to continue the Studio Museum’s history of introducing the public to artists of African descent and advancing their work by being the first US institution to mount a solo presentation of the sculpture of the remarkable Thomas J Price. In The Distance Within, he celebrates ordinary blackness, rendering it extraordinary, and asks us to deeply consider the very function of monuments as defining the familiar. We feel certain that our public in Harlem, and throughout the city and the world, will find this installation thought-provoking, moving, and extremely powerful.”
Price’s relationship to Harlem comes via his lived experience as a Black man looking “across the pond” from his neighborhood of Brixton to where he describes as his home’s “counterpoint.” Both historically Black neighborhoods with rich social and cultural legacies, the respective landscapes of Harlem and Brixton remain in dialogue. Thus, for Price, Harlem holds a special significance as a place the artist considers a home away from home.
With Witness, the artist continues his exploration of blackness and Black masculinity at monumental scales. In The Distance Within, Price asks us to consider what is projected onto Black bodies as they move in the world and in what ways they are made monolithic via broader archetypes and stereotypes, as well as how Black bodies in the ordinary everyday are subject to extraordinary surveillance and spectatorship.
The grand size of the sculpture celebrates a familiar everyday form rarely monumentalized within a public setting. Simultaneously, the scale works to take up space, to occupy, to hold presence, to bear witness. In the artist’s words, “I want to interrogate [notions of] presence, movement, and freedom. Who do these spaces belong to? And what bodies are provided more or less autonomy to move with liberty through public [space]?”