HILTON ALS on curating a collective portrait of Queer Black author and activist, James Baldwin for the David Zwirner Gallery

After the Alice Neel show I curated closed in 2017, David Zwirner asked me what I’d like to do next. I immediately said James Baldwin, for some reasons that were clear to me and some that revealed themselves only when I began to meet with artists and see their work. I wanted to give Baldwin his body back, to reclaim him for myself and many others as the maverick queer artist that drew us to him in the first place. It’s difficult to visualize those feelings—complex, almost nonverbal feelings—and, as it turns out, difficult to get the right mix that further articulates those expressions of thought and feeling. But I think what we have here in this show, “God Made My Face: A Collective Portrait of James Baldwin” (on view through February 16), is exactly as I wanted, which is to say a myriad portrait of a significant figure. And as everyone knows, when an artist is making a portrait, they are also making a portrait of themselves.

So to a very great extent, this is not a group show but, I hope, a new and valuable way of showing artists who are interested in exhibiting aspects of themselves, their thinking in relation to their times and the history that made them. Baldwin certainly helped make me, and in recent years I have been disturbed by the conversations around his work—largely, shall we say, heteronormative conversations that elevate the imitator and plunge the so-called liberal into a very comforting cold bath laced with guilt and remorse. These are reflexes, not thoughts, really, and so in order to help give Baldwin himself, I thought we had to start from the beginning. The first part of the exhibition is rooted in biography, and the second part is about metaphor: artists making the art Baldwin could not make himself.

Read the article here.

Verified by MonsterInsights