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Rico Gatson's Toni #2 acquired by the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University

Rico Gatson, Toni #2, 2021, Color pencil and photograph collage on paper, 22 x 30 inches, 55.9 x 76.2 cm

Toni #2 is the first work by Brooklyn-based artist Rico Gatson to enter the Nasher Museum’s collection.

Gatson uses colorful, geometric abstraction, sometimes combining it with objects or figures of color, to tackle larger social issues in his work.

Gatson emerged in the early 1990s, after earning his MFA at Yale University. Identity and diversity were forefront in the museum field with groundbreaking and sometimes controversial exhibitions such as Black Male at the Whitney Museum and The Decade Show, jointly presented by the Studio Museum, Harlem, The New Museum and the now defunct Museum of Contemporary Hispanic Art.

Gatson is part of a generation that came of age at this time and it has played a seminal role in his practice. For nearly 30 years, he has used formal abstraction to make pointed social commentary in painting, sculpture, prints and video.

Toni #2 comes from an ongoing series of Icons, sparse geometric compositions incorporating appropriated photographs of cultural luminaries with colorful rays emanating from their bodies. These works draw on some of the formal qualities of the Bauhaus and Constructivism; they adopt the black, gold and green colors of pan-Africanism; and most importantly, they have been inspired by the 1960s political graphic design of Emery Douglass, the Black Panthers’ minister of culture.

In bringing together these elements, Gatson creates images that are part devotional object and part political poster, encouraging us to consider connections between the cultural figures themselves and the greater socio-political impact of their work. Depicted here is the American novelist and Nobel Laureate, Toni Morrison, whose best-known works include Song of Solomon and the highly-acclaimed Beloved.

In this instance, the gold and black rays radiating from Morrison’s head suggest the wide-ranging influence of her writing and brilliance as a social commentator.

In addition, the gallery below showcases several works from the collection that explore similar themes to Gatson’s work.

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