Chris Ofili’s 1997 “Pimpin' ain't easy”: oil, polyester resin, paper collage, glitter, map pins, and elephant dung on linen, 96 x 72 in. | © CHRIS OFILI. COURTESY THE ARTIST, DAVID ZWIRNER, NEW YORK / LONDON AND CONTEMPORARY FINE ARTS, BERLIN
BY STEPHANIE BUHMANN | “Night and Day,” the first major US solo museum exhibition of Chris Ofili will span the artist’s entire career, encompassing painting, drawing, and sculpture. Over the past two decades, Ofili has become known for his vibrant, meticulously executed compositions that fuse elements derived from figuration, abstraction, folklore decoration, and pop-cultural kitsch. His imagery is no less eclectic, sourcing the Bible, hip-hop, Zimbabwean cave paintings, blaxploitation films, and William Blake’s poems, among others. One of those works, his “The Holy Virgin Mary,” created the real “Sensation” — at least in the mind of then Mayor Rudy Giuliani — at the Charles Saatchi Brooklyn Museum exhibition in 1999.
This survey aims to reveal how significantly Ofili’s practice is based on constant change and free experimentation. It certainly succeeds in celebrating a body of work that involves many facets and ranges from boldly expressive to deeply introspective.
In contrast to Ofili’s famous work of the 1990s, in which he layered materials — including paint, resin, glitter, and elephant dung — his most recent works have been animated by exotic characters, outlandish landscapes, and myths that resonate with references to the paintings of Henri Matisse and Paul Gauguin.
No matter what series one focuses on, one quickly recognizes that it is Ofili’s hybrid juxtapositions of high and low and of the sacred and the profane that bestow his images with unique drama and energy.
CHRIS OFILI: NIGHT AND DAY | New Museum, 235 Bowery, btwn. Rivington & Stanton Sts. | Through Feb. 1: Tue.-Wed., Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; Thu., 11 a.m.-9 p.m. | $16; $14 for seniors; $10 for students at newmuseum.org or 212-219-1222
Stephanie Buhmann can be contacted via stephaniebuhmann.com.