Dave McKenzie


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An Intermission (Don’t Care)

2016
One of 12 dye sub prints on knitted polyester, 305 x 183 cm, unique piece

Born 1977, Kingston, Jamaica.
Lives and works in Brooklyn, NY

Education
2000 Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture
B.F.A in Printmaking, The University of the Arts, Philadelphia, USA

Grants and Residencies

2014-2015
Rome Prize for Visual Arts, Rome, Italy

2011
Guna S. Mundheim Visual Arts Fellow, The American Academy in Berlin

2009
USA Rockefeller Fellow, United States Artists
Art Matters Foundation Grant

2008
Rema Hort Mann Foundation Grant

2005
The Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation
William H. Johnson Prize
Michael Richards Fund, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council

2003
Artist-in-Residence, The Studio Museum in Harlem, 2003-2004

2001
Artist-in-Residence, P.S.1 National and International Studio Program, 2001-2002

Studio (un)framed: Dave McKenzie: Fences. Mag.(eng). The Studio Museum in Harlem. New York 2010

Haddad, Natalie. Dave McKenzie, Frieze. Issue 127: 135-136. November-December 2009

Mizota, Sharon. Dave McKenzie at REDCAT. Los Angeles Times. April 18, 2008

Boucher, Brian. Dave McKenzie, All Together Now, at or near the Studio Museum in Harlem. Art in America: 61. March 2008

Cotter, Holland. Celebrating the Intangibles Money Can’t Buy. The New York Times. December 23, 2007

Johnson, Ken. Goldfish, Warhol, and Basketball in video riff on identity politics. Boston Globe. August 10, 2007

Malone, Micah. Dave McKenzie Portland, OR. Art Papers:72. May/June 2007

Ligon, Glenn. Openings: Dave McKenzie. Artforum: 290-291. September 2005

Solo Exhibitions

2015
Pants full of hope, pockets full of adventure, or...don‘t call me Cheesuz.,
Galerie Barbara Wien, Berlin, Germany

2013
Where the Good Lord Split You, Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Culver City, California, USA

2012
Everything’s Alright, Nothing’s Okay! Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery, The University of the Arts, Philadelphia, USA

2011
Citizen, Gallerie Barbara Wien, Berlin, Germany

2010
Dave McKenzie, Aspen Art Museum, Aspen, Colorado, USA

2009
On Premises, Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Culver City, California, USA

2008
Present Tense, Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Screen Doors on Submarines, REDCAT Gallery, Los Angeles, California, USA

2007
Momentum 8: Dave McKenzie, The Institute of Contemporary Art Boston, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Tomorrow will be Better, Small A Projects, Portland, Oregon, USA

2006
Haven’t Seen You in a Minute, Gallery 400, Chicago, Illinois, USA

2005
Portrait as a Ghost, Savage Art Resources, Portland, Oregon, USA

2004
Together is Forever, Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Culver City, California, USA


Group Exhibitions

2016
WOUND: mending time and attention, Cooper Union, New York, USA
Joy Syringe, curated by Joseph Imhauser, Practice, New York, USA
SVA X Skowhegan, SVA Chelsea Gallery, New York, USA
The Window and the Breaking of the Window, Studio Museum in Harlem, NY, USA

2015
Glenn Ligon. Encounters and Collisions, Tate Liverpool, U.K.
Radical Presence. Black Performance in Contemporary Art, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, USA
Glenn Ligon. Encounters and Collisions, Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham, U.K.

2014
Biel Biennial, Le Mouvement: Performing the City, Movement III: The City Performed, Art Centre CentrePasquArt, Biel Switzerland, curated by Gianni Jetzer
Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY, curated by Stuart Comer,
Anthony Elms, and Michelle Grabner

2013
Performa 13, New York, NY, presented by Third Streaming
Body Language, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY
Assembly Required: Selections from the Permanent Collection, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY
Sinister Pop Family Day, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
Etched in Collective History, Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, AL

2012
Art Public, Bass Museum of Art, Miami, FL
Typical Frankenstein, Laurel Gitlen Gallery, New York, NY
Radical Presence: Black Performance In Contemporary Art, Contemporary Arts Museum,
Houston, Houston, TX; Grey Art Gallery at New York University, New York; The Studio
Museum in Harlem, New York, NY; traveling to: Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN
The Living Years: Art after 1989, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN
Optotype, 92YTribeca, New York, NY
Year of Cooperation, Broadway 1602, New York, NY
Configured, Benrimon Contemporary, New York, NY
The Ungovernables, 2012 New Museum Triennial, New Museum, New York, NY
Blues for Smoke, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; Wexner Center of the Arts, Columbus, OH

2011
The Bearden Project, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY
Drawn to Disaster, ICA, Maine College of Art, Portland, ME

2010
The Production of Space, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY
Held Up By Columns, Renwick Gallery, New York, NY
At Home/Not at Home: Works From the Collection of Martin and Rebecca Eisenberg, CCS Bard Hessel Museum of Art, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY
The Absolutely Other, The Kitchen, New York, NY
Collected. Reflections on the Permanent Collection, Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY

2009
30 Seconds off an Inch, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY
Gravity, Cornish Main Gallery, Cornish College of the Arts, Seattle, WA
Unusual Behavior, Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum, Santa Barbara, CA
Rockstone and Bootheel: Contemporary West Indian Art, Real Art Ways, Hartford, CT
Character Generator, Eleven Rivington, New York, NY
Convention, MOCA, North Miami, FL
To the left of the rising sun, Small A Projects, New York, NY
Collected. Propositions on the Permanent Collection,” The Studio Museum in Harlem, New
York, NY

2008
Prospect.1 New Orleans, International Biennial, curated by Dan Cameron, New Orleans, LA
(catalogue)
This Shadow is a Bit of Ideology, Gallery 400, University of Illinois, Chicago, IL, curated by Kelly Chen and Anthony Elms
As Others See Us: The Contemporary Portrait, Brattleboro Museum and Art Center, Brattleboro, VT
Alternating Beats, The RISD Museum, Providence, RI
Museum as Hub: Six Degrees, New Museum, New York, NY (brochure)
Free Parking, Boston Center for the Arts‘ Mills Gallery, Boston, MA
On Procession, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, IN
Black is, Black Ain’t, The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, curated by Hamza Walker and traveling to: the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, MI, H & R Block Artspace, Kansas City, MO
Disinhibition: Black Art and Blue Humor,” Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago, IL
You & Me, Sometimes…, Lehmann Maupin, New York, NY
Good Doll Bad Doll, Armory Center for the Arts, Pasadena, CA
A New High in Getting Low (NYC), John Connelly Presents, New York, NY
2000 Years of Sculpture, Fleisher/Ollman Gallery, Philadelphia, PA
Working History: African American Art and Objects,” Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery,
Reed College, Portland, OR (catalogue)
Slightly Unbalanced, Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago, IL; traveling to Huntington
Museum of Art, Huntington WV; Paul and Lulu Hilliard University Art Museum, Lafayette, LA;
Rodman Hall Arts Center, St. Catharine’s, Ontario; Museum London, London, Ontario; Joel and Lila Harnett Museum of Art at the University of Richmond Museums, Richmond, VA (catalog)

2007
Performa 07 Biennial: All Together Now, The Studio Museum in Harlem, Harlem, NY (catalogue)
Looking Back: The White Columns Annual, selected by Clarissa Dalrymple, White Columns New York, NY
A New High in Getting Low, Artnews Projects, Berlin, Germany
Just Kick it Till it Breaks, The Kitchen, New York, NY, curated by Debra Singer and Matthew
Lyons (catalogue)
Mr. President, University Art Museum, University of Albany, Albany, NY (catalogue)

2005
Here and There: City Acts, ACA Gallery, Atlanta College of Art, Atlanta, GA
Hrlm: Pictures, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY
Down the Garden Path, Queens Museum of Art, Queens, NY

2004
Me, Myself, and I Schmidt Center, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, FL
Figuratively: Dave McKenzie, Wangechi Mutu, William Villalongo, The Studio Museum in Harlem, Harlem, NY
Open House: Working in Brooklyn, Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, NY (catalogue)
The Sneeze 80 x 80, Gazon Rouge Gallery, Athens, Greece

2003
American Idyll, Metrotech Center Commons, Brooklyn, NY (catalogue)
24/7, Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius, Lithuania
In Practice, Sculpture Center, Long Island City, NY

2002
Videodrome II, New Museum, New York, NY
Americas Remixed, Comune di Milano, Milan, Italy (catalogue)
Queens International, Queens Museum of Art, NY (catalogue)
Listening to New Voices, P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, Long Island City, NY (catalogue)
Supervideonight, Gale Gates, New York, NY
Slow Dive, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, CA
Video Marathon: Bringing up the (Mediated) Body,” Art in General, New York, NY
Multiplicity, Midway Gallery, St. Paul, MN
Room for a Revolution, Deluxe Gallery, Chicago, IL

2001
Video Call, ICA, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Something/Nothing-Passport to the State of Flux,” Art in General, NY
Material World, Susquehanna Art Museum/VanGo, Harrisburg, PA
Freestyle, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY (catalogue) and traveled to Santa
Monica Museum of Art, Santa Monica, CA
In/SITE/Out: Inquiries into Social Space, Apexart, New York, NY


Screenings

Ethnography/Biography/Whimsy: Three Contemporary African American, Frederick Douglass Institute for African and African-American Studies, Rochester, NY
Declassified Daytime Screening, New Museum, New York, NY
Declassified: Recent Videos by Erik van Lieshout, Dave McKenzie, Museum, New York, NY
Enactment, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, England
Videos In Progress: Dave McKenzie, Stairwell Gallery, The RISD Museum, Providence, RI
Videodrome II, New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, NY [Traveled]
Video Cafe: Dave McKenzie, Queens Museum of Art, Queens, NY
Selections from Art in General: A Program of Short Video Works in Russia, Various Venues, Russia
Supervideonight, Gale Gates, Brooklyn, NY
Fourth Annual Video Marathon: Bringing up the (Mediated) Body, Art in General, New York, NY
Video Call, Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Something/Nothing-Passport to the State of Flux, Art in General, New York, NY

More than surfing, Magdalena Bichler, von hundert, 2015

Local Talent Leads Downtown Triennial by Kimberly Chou

Screen Doors on Submarines, Dave McKenzie in conversation with Ryan Inouye

Hit Me, Take Me, Wear Me, Fake Me by Lauri Firstenberg

Dave McKenzie by Debra Singer (pdf)

Dave McKenzie, 2014 Whitney Biennial Catalogue (pdf)


Local Talent Leads Downtown Triennial
Kimberly Chou

Ausschnitt aus The Wall Street Journal, 10.2.2012 /
excerpt from The Wall Street Journal, February 10, 2012

For the New Museum‘s forthcoming triennial, "The Ungovernables," curator Eungie Joo spent two years visiting studios around the world, meeting artists from Buenos Aires to Hong Kong, Cairo to Harare. Out of the 34 artists and artist groups she eventually invited for the nine-week exhibition, which opens Feb. 15, four are based here in the city. Here‘s a look at who they are and what they do.

Dave McKenzie

Mr. McKenzie has danced without music for hours; performed with a microphone in his mouth and the cord around his neck; and posted hundreds of on-location notices around the Lower East Side, alerting neighbors not of a film production but of the artist himself.

"In my work I‘ve made really up-front projects, where my body is very much in question or the image of me is very much visible," said Mr. McKenzie, 34, who has lived in New York since 2001. "Then there‘s more recent work that‘s without me, so there isn‘t that clear frame or reference." He said he finds the latter, more "openended" work especially challenging, because he isn‘t physically present. His contribution to "The Ungovernables" is a table with "a few objects on it that recall a book, a book structure, things placed in a book." He was inspired, in part, by a book that had been mysteriously left in the office he moved into at Northwestern University late last year: "1,999 Facts About Blacks: A Sourcebook of African-American Achievement."

Trying to figure out the book—where did it come from? Why was it there?—and trying to locate himself within it led to a reading of "a book within a book," he said. "That‘s sort of how the table functions for me."

The table, whose complete meaning is unclear even to the artist, is emblematic of his recent body of work. "Almost from the get-go I‘m unsure, and the uncertainty grows," Mr. McKenzie said. "It‘s an interesting complex for me, but I don‘t always feel grounded. This [table sculpture] functions between abstraction and representation, and trying to find myself within it."


Screen Doors on Submarines
Dave McKenzie in conversation with Ryan Inouye

Ryan Inouye: The last time we spoke, you mentioned that your work emerges out of failures you perceive in everyday life. Perhaps we can pick up where we left off. Can you elaborate?

Dave McKenzie: I think a concrete example is probably a good place to start. While crossing the street one afternoon, I was almost hit by a car that was making a right hand turn. This is one of those common and shared experiences that so many of us have, but I began to obsess about the driver and the fact that he or she may never know how they affected me. That ignorance combined with the fact that I had the right of way (I suppose this allowed me to claim some moral superiority) turned into a desire to act. Without knowing the form, I had resolved to try and make a work out of the experience.

About an hour or so later, though, another routine event occurred. I jay walked in front of an oncoming vehicle. Because of the earlier incident, and my desire to make a work out of it, I was able to assess my current action in a way that I hadn’t before. Instead of making a work that only dealt with indignation, I made a work that spoke to both indignation and regret. The work is more honest, because it addresses both my roles on that day.

In Open Letters (2006) one letter is written to the driver who almost drove into me and the other letter is to the driver I jay walked in front of. When I have shown this work, people always want to talk to me about the time they were hit or almost hit. I have yet to meet someone with a story about the time(s) they jaywalked in front of a car. For me it is important to address this lack of vision on my part.

RI: A few of your projects have engaged the concept of the public figure. In We Shall Overcome (2004), you walked the streets of Harlem wearing a caricature-like mask of Bill Clinton. What are you exploring in this work and what do you think is at stake?

DM: We Shall Overcome was a direct result of a newspaper article entitled, Mr. Clinton, Your Harlem Neighbors Need to See You More Often, and the fact that I was in residence at the Studio Museum on 125th Street in Harlem. On an almost formal basis, the work made a lot of sense. As a temporary resident of Harlem, I attempted to fill the void the former president had created by walking around in costume.

The question of Bill Clinton as a figure in the black community has always been a thing on the periphery, and at the same time, the issue that I find most interesting. There is a joke about him being the first black president, but like most social jokes, it reveals a broad set of social and historical truths that can also be concealed in the laughter. Why Clinton was missed in the beginning is a larger question than the work itself can address, and yet, I felt that a black man walking around as a white president was a joke that could be unraveled as well.

Recently, I performed the work again as part of Performa 07, and I was struck by how different it was. It was like Clinton never existed;; people barely even noticed me. Maybe this has to do with currently having a very serious black presidential candidate, or maybe hearing the same joke over and over again isn’t all that funny.

RI: The human body figures prominently in your work, but often its presence only seems physical, like a costume, a static portrait at best. Can you speak to the relationship between the body and your practice? I wonder if there are any artists or academics that have informed your thinking on the subject?

DM: Any discussion of the human body is always complicated by the way we historicize and politicize one another and ourselves, but what I think I can speak to is the insertion of a figure into the work. The figure is present in almost all of my work. So even though we may talk about a body as it relates to a work like Self-Portrait Piñata (2002) this body or presence is equally there in a work like I’ll Be There (2007); both are portraits although I would contend they are not really portraits of me.

In school I was really inspired by the work of artists like Marina Abramovic and Vito Acconci. Discovering a piece like Acconci’s Trademarks (1970), while studying printmaking as an undergraduate was an education in itself. Even though these works were an early influence on me, it really has given way to other understandings of what we term "the body". The work of Felix Gonzalez-Torres is a perfect example. Even when I am confronted with two clocks on the wall or a pile of candy on the floor, I am able to see people as more than material and politics. I think my work tries to move between these two models. So We Shall Overcome is no more about the body than the spinning chair video that will be in the show.

RI: In your exhibition at REDCAT, there is a series of General Electric refrigerator boxes. One stands upright, another is tipped onto its side, and the third is flattened out on the floor. An 80‘s style boom box plays Barack Obama‘s now famous speech entitled "The Audacity of Hope", which he delivered at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Together, the flattened refrigerator box and stereo possess a certain nostalgia, but there is also a presentness about the work. How does the concept of time play out in your work?

DM: When I was growing up in suburbia, one of the sites that we would activate was the nighttime parking lot. Some lots were more suitable than others with the classification centered around skateboarding and what each site could provide- such as speed bumps, trashcans, rails, etc. All of this action took place under these wonderful lights, and from afar the scene looked like a small stadium or arena. In my memory, there was this split between the day use and night use of these spaces. At night we continued to use the lots but for reasons that had little or no relationship to the local businesses, and our actions were ones that the shopkeepers and others would probably frown upon. It was common to find yourself alone in the space, and in a sense, responsible for giving it new meaning. I think this sense of private, communal, and broadly public spaces overlapping is what interests me most.

The flattened refrigerator box becomes a site, but it isn‘t clear what actions will take place. It‘s reminiscent of the d.i.y. dance floors that break-dancers make, but at the same time, the audio that will accompany the "dance floor" is not necessarily meant for dancing, and certainly not break dancing. In the show, we can see the boxes undergoing a metamorphosis–like ice melting. Here, the box is implied-visible as a new object, empty, and flattened out. Each state has something unique to it.

RI: I know that you regularly tune in to Ira Glass’s weekly radio show, This American Life about “mostly true stories of everyday people, though not always,” so the website reads. I’ve always thought of the show as an alternative to the daily news, and perhaps, another way of staying socially and politically engaged. Can you discuss your interest in this program in relation to your work entitled Yesterday’s Newspaper (2007)?

DM: This is a really interesting question, because I see the format of This American Life more related to my practice as a whole than to Yesterday’s Newspaper, specifically. Each week, This American Life picks a theme and then broadcasts three or four stories related to that theme. The stories that they air are also often re-broadcast under different themes. This re-labeling has recently become an essential part of my practice, as I believe that much of my work has already changed in terms of its meaning. Part of my responsibility as an artist is to acknowledge the other meanings and deal with them instead of pretending that what I have made is both immutable and implacable.

Yesterday’s Newspaper tries to address some of this tension through its structure and perhaps more importantly through the recognition of the date on the paper and the viewer’s familiarity with the headlines. In a sense the work allows me to become a viewer as well, and I think it is this emphasis on the viewer —as opposed to the object— that I understand as one alternative to something like the daily news.

RI: What has compelled you to “re-label” your past work instead of pushing ahead with new projects? Can you elaborate on this concept of re-labeling and discuss how it has informed your installation at REDCAT?

DM: “Pushing ahead with new projects,” I think, is the right phrase, because it really is a question of progress as evidenced in the new. It’s like Tide constantly proclaiming itself to be “new,” and by extension, more relevant and useful. If I could put it in larger terms, I would link it to the claim some make about our current occupation in Iraq. For these people, we shouldn’t talk about how we got into this situation (old news);; instead we should only acknowledge the fact that we are in it (news). The only important question left in that dynamic is what we do next (progress). I think it is possible to simultaneously contemplate all these tenses; clearly, I am not against moving forward, but I am trying to avoid production. Production tends to eliminate thought, and by re-labeling and re-visiting my work, I extend the practice of thinking. Works in this system are rarely finished.

As I worked on the show for REDCAT, I realized that the new work in the exhibition needed to talk to some of the work that came before it. Without this conversation, I worried that the work might be inscrutable. So, I pulled in pieces like Edward and Me (2000), although now heavily edited, because it has a history and because it’s meaning could be expanded by its inclusion in this exhibition. I view it as double sided, because the REDCAT show is closer to a vision I have and a work like Edward and Me can hopefully be more than me simply spazzing out in front of a convenience store.

RI: You mentioned that the video of the spinning NBC news anchor chair served as a starting point for your thinking about this current exhibition. There’s a blank green screen behind the chair, and the news anchor is conspicuously absent. There’s movement here, but it’s cyclical, repetitive. Rather than addressing the particulars of certain people or events, the work is profound and poetic in its seeking to capture and contemplate a broader feeling or milieu. How did this work come about?

DM: It’s unusual for me to start with an image that I want to see and then try and construct that image, but this is exactly how the spinning chair video began. I am probably not at the point where I can describe the work or my relationship to it, but I think it has something to do with our belief (and disillusionment) in an institution like the media as well as the fact that the media has to deliver us to a product.

RI: Whereas Edward and Me explores the limitations of words using a physical and performative vocabulary, this current exhibition appears to examine the inadequacies of language on its own terms. Can you talk about this tension here that seems to be driving this recent body of work?

DM: When I’m on an airplane, I sometimes can’t allow myself to actively watch the in-flight movie, but my attention is always drawn in intervals towards the screen. Even if I don’t plug in the headphones, I end up watching a good portion of the movie. What‘s interesting, however, is how much the narrative and the filmmaker‘s intentions come through. It’s somewhat surprising, because we put so much emphasis on the dialogue and the musical score as driving forces behind a film. I think these movies speak anyway, because they are often conventionally scripted, paced, and shot, but it’s also because of the way bodies and images tell stories both inside the film and inside the viewer. When I made Edward and Me, I was definitely running from the act of speaking. At that time I simply wanted to mute the voice.

Looking back, it wasn’t because I didn’t believe in words, but because I lacked the words to say what needed to be said. Now I think I am looking at language in more vernacular incarnations. I am interested in how texts can be both meaningful and meaningless, both open and closed, both timely and timeless.

One of the sources for the installation at REDCAT is a photograph of a derelict building with STOP THE BOMBING graffited on it. The image is an abstraction. It isn’t clear whether the bombing refers to the place the photograph was taken or another place entirely. We might be able to date the image with some certainty—yet a similar photograph with the same text could be easily taken today. The image/text is both of the past and of the present as well, as I am sure many do, with the statement generally, but there are no specifics to accept or reject; we end up trapped by the loop of the text and image. We are carried away, but to nowhere in particular.

For the installation at REDCAT, I wanted to work with texts/objects that are very relevant to the moment I find myself in, and at the same time, I realize that in the future, many of them will read like STOP THE BOMBING.

RI: Can you tell me about the title of your exhibition at REDCAT?

DM: At the moment I feel like I am on a submarine called America—this waning economic and military
behemoth. Up down. Up down. Up down. It often makes very little sense about as much sense as a screen door on submarine.


Hit Me, Take Me, Wear Me, Fake Me
Lauri Firstenberg

Dave McKenzie has engaged in an ongoing weekly site-specific performance called We Shall Overcome (2004). Inspired by a New York Times article written by Alan Feuer entitled “Mr. Clinton, Your Harlem Neighbors Need to See You More Often,” the artist has literalized the Harlem community’s suspicions about the former President’s glaring absence from his purported new hub, an office at 55 West 125th Street. The article recalls Clinton’s promise, “I want to make sure I’m a good neighbor in Harlem.” However, employees of local spots like M&G Soul Food Diner, Slice of Harlem, the Lenox Lounge, H&M, Old Navy, and the Apollo Theatre are reported to have seen no sign of Clinton. In close proximity to this site, McKenzie takes the community’s contention as a key tenet in his artistic activity during a residency at The Studio Museum in Harlem.

Wearing a Clinton-caricature mask, McKenzie hits the street, strolling along with plasticized wavy white coiffure, bulbous nose and large grin, greeting passersby to make good on Clinton’s original vow. A masked McKenzie is recognized as a Clinton impersonator or misrecognized as “that President”–Carter or Nixon. Somehow, in this guise, these public characters are collapsible or interchangeable, all perhaps subject to vulgar imitation. The video documenting the artist’s jaunts through Harlem records the multitude of responses this activity elicits–from laughter to hostility–as McKenzie is embraced or berated.

This brazen caricature performance is a subject-position that McKenzie frequently occupies. He inserts himself into scenarios that play out chronic cultural stereotypes in no uncertain terms. Inhabiting the position of a rehearsed, reoccurring, produced, and reproduced type is at the heart of McKenzie’s practice;; he takes his own pared down self-image through the ringer of repetition, misrepresentation, mistranslation, and degradation. This network of self-identity experimentation is most glaringly animated in McKenzie’s performance entitled Self-Portrait Piñata (2002) for the Queens Museum of Art. For this piece, McKenzie commissioned a pi.ata in his likeness. At the opening, he recorded museum-goers taking delight in swinging a bat to his head. His remains hang from the museum’s rafters, battered and assaulted–a pop-cultural simulation of racial violence referencing America’s history of lynching and genocide. This absurd, playful attempt at gesturing to atrocious brutality attributed to American race-related mob violence is intensely sadistic. The viewer becomes acutely aware of what it must be like to witness racial violence, automatically inhabiting the position of the apathetic, yet self-consciously uncomfortable spectator, akin to those individuals who find themselves on Fox news for videotaping a crime rather than calling 911.

In his new video Watch the Sky (2004), McKenzie appropriates footage from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and superimposes his own exaggerated patent features over the Little Bill float based on Bill Cosby‘s popular cartoon character. Looming over Manhattan’s Madison Avenue, McKenzie’s self-projection as superhero is investigated through this surrogate self-portrait. How is McKenzie engaging with trajectory of contemporary artists’ interventions into the logic of the stereotype? Does McKenzie’s intervention merely signal an inversion of the language of the stereotype? This operation does indeed occur in his work titled Inside Out Basketball (2002). Herein, McKenzie performs a simple gesture of dissecting, reversing, and re-suturing the two halves of a basketball into a sculptural diptych. These objects, literally turned inside out, take on a charged corporal signification at once, insistently visualizing stereotype.

What does it mean to produce a vague self-portrait as piñata, bobble head, action figure or parade float replete with jeans, Adidas and thick, dark rimmed bifocals -artist’s signature attire? What is at stake when one, who is not Britney or Beyoncé, can conceive of oneself as "collectable"? Can this level of identification with pop-cultural representation or with objecthood be critical at such a late date? Is this work a contemporary nod to Fannon, yet again? How can self-fetishization sit within the larger contemporary practice? Does McKenzie’s perpetual participation in this logic of mass production and consumption of identity in commercial terms distance, sanitize, eradicate, and neutralize the motivation of mainstream marketplace puppeteers?

In Portrait as a Ghost (2004), McKenzie’s emblematic style is relocated in the form of a crude miniature doll. This denim, trainer-sporting specter with white sheet is Casper as Everyman, like Ellison’s Invisible Man or Genet’s apparition. McKenzie conflates, with ease, theoretical and popular preoccupations to negotiate context.a definitely American context- where problems of race and representation cannot be easily expelled from contemporary art discourse and will continue to be rearticulated on both political and personal levels again and again.

nach oben