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Sadie Barnette & Nayland Blake at the ICA LA

On view: September 29, 2019–January 26, 2020

The Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (ICA LA), one of LA’s newest contemporary art institutions in the downtown Arts District, features two exhibitions that play off of each other. Sadie Barnette’s The New Eagle Creek Saloon is a redux of the Eagle Creek Saloon, the first black-owned gay bar in the Bay Area that was operated by the artist’s father in the ‘90s. Barnette created a literal bar and gathering place for the community as well as a sculptural interpretation that embodies the spirit of her father’s original outpost. The larger exhibition on view celebrates the artist Nayland Blake with a 30-year retrospective of sculptures, video, and drawings. Their work largely stems from the artist’s identity as biracial, queer, and gender nonconforming, and carves out space for play, pleasure, and criticality. Toys, costumes, stuffed animals, and bunnies are paired with straps, collars, gags, and knives to explore the duality of both pain and pleasure, and the daily fissure of being queer and living within a patriarchal, hetero-normative social structure. Speaking to the use of BDSM gear and restraints in their work in a recent LA Times piece, Blake asks, “What does it mean for a descendant of slaves to be interested in imagery of chains and shackles?”