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Steve McQueen at Marian Goodman
For Marian Goodman’s inaugural Los Angeles exhibition — the gallery also has locations in Paris and New York — artist Steve McQueen’s video work Sunshine State spans the entirety of the gallery’s main space. For much of the film, the film plays in greyscale on two monitors, one a positive and the other a negative — both of which invert when you walk around the large screen to view the other side. Using footage from the 1927 film, The Jazz Singer, the first talkie that also features scenes in characters in blackface, McQueen’s color inversion plays out to interesting effect. As actor Al Jolson is seen putting on his blackface makeup backstage, his face inexplicably disappears.
McQueen has commented that what he “didn’t want was to present any reference to a blackface…He’s either erasing himself for making himself appear. Appear, erase. Appear, erase. I needed two screens to do that.”
These scenes are paired with a haunting voice-over, told by the artist, about his father’s experience going from the West Indies to America to work as a migrant worker. This personal reflection is contrasted by footage of the sun’s fiery surface — its orange glow the only color that appears in the otherwise greyscale film.
Across this trifecta of imagery and storytelling, ranging from personal to cultural-political to cosmic, McQueen spins a dynamic and poetic web that speaks to race relations in our country and the ways that our daily lives are affected by the forces that surround us, whether cultural or cosmic.
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Photo: Steve McQueen, Sunshine State, 2022. HD video, front and back continuous projection; 30 min. 1 sec. Installation, Marian Goodman Gallery, Los Angeles, 2023. Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery. © Steve McQueen. Photo credit: Fredrik Nilsen Studio