Grace Wales Bonner Wants You to See Sound in a New Show at the Museum of Modern Art

Wales Bonner used to play the trumpet herself, and music plays an important part of her runway presentations— the jazz trumpeter Herman Mehari performed at her fall 2023 show. “I love music, but I’m not very great,” she demurred.

There’s a distinctly tactile quality to the works Wales Bonner has curated (sorry, no, you can’t touch the art). “I was drawn to artists that started to collect or assemble materials that had another life; so they’re finding a new way of repurposing something and bringing a new energy and life to it,” the designer added. “I think it’s also thinking a lot about craft and detail and a very intimate relationship with making, the kind of obsession and dedication to be meticulously gathering these materials and putting them together in a certain way—whether that’s assemblages or even a painter creating repetitive marks.”

Among the most impressive works in the show is Lady with a Long Neck, by the Senegalese sculptor Moustapha Dimé. Made from a tree trunk that was used as a butcher’s block, stood on one end, it’s joined by an elegantly curved piece of salvaged iron to create an imposing figure that despite its heavy duty materials carries within it a certain lightness, and when you look at it it’s easy to imagine the sound created by so many blades slamming against the structure getting a piece of meat ready for consumption.  Like many other pieces featured in the show, it is the first time it’s on view at the museum. There are also a number of books that have undergone transformations, including one “stained with mud and water from the River Avon,” by Richard Long, and another, by Lucas Samaras, covered in pins and “stabbed” with a table knife, scissors, a razor blade, a piece of glass, and a plastic rod. Edgar Arceneaux’s Failed Attempt at Crystallization III, is made from of a copy of Alex Haley’s 1976 novel Roots, which has been encrusted with sugar crystals that appear to grow from and overtake the book itself. Another hallmark of the exhibition is a piece by David Hammons, made of human hair picked up from a barbershop and woven into a paper scroll named Afro Asian Eclipse (or Black China).