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Jennifer Packer at MOCA Grand Avenue
July 1, 2021 - February 21, 2022
When Jennifer Packer’s solo show at MOCA was postponed due to the pandemic, she kept painting. Her rescheduled solo show, “Every Shut Eye Ain’t Sleep,” which finally opens Thursday, July 1 — the first new public show at MOCA since lockdown — has become an ever-shifting vision, as Packer continued to create throughout quarantine.
Mostly made within the last year, Packer’s figurative works picture Black subjects confined to their homes, lounging in beds and plush upholstered chairs, cuddling with pets, or silently reading. In others, her subjects are mid-sleep, immersed in dreams, waiting out their mandated isolation. Packer painted some of the portraits from memory while herself confined at home — using her artwork as a way to remember and connect with friends and loved ones. As such, her washy paint application goes in and out of focus, her subjects fading into their backgrounds like ghostly memories that can’t quite materialize. The woman in “Stone’s Throw” sits in profile, a worried hand held to her lip. Like Matisse’s “Red Studio,” the figure is bathed in a rich red as she blends into the backdrop. In “Idle Hands,” a male subject lounges with his large dog flopped across his shoulders. Underpaintings of alternate arm positions are left visible, and multiple fingers and limbs fade into each other as if the figure were caught in motion.
Other works in the show honor Black lives lost to police violence, with gorgeous floral paintings that feel bountiful and dense. Together, these still lifes, devoid of human figures, contrast sharply to the magnetic portraits on view. Packer’s exhibition honors the memory of lives both confined and taken from us through poignant and emotive paintings that capture the fever pitch of 2020.
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Photo: Jennifer Packer, “Idle Hands,” 2021, Oil on canvas, 90 x 84 inches (228.6 x 213.36 cm). Courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York, Corvi-Mora, London.