The Hite Art Institute presents Sanford Biggers’ “Laocoon” May 4-July 2 as the inaugural work in the New Monuments series at the Cressman Center for Visual Arts.
Biggers’ piece – a large, inflatable version of the TV character Fat Albert — takes its name from the priest in “The Aeneid” who was killed by Greek gods for attempting to reveal the threat concealed in the Trojan horse. “Laocoon and His Sons” is one of the most famous ancient sculptures and has long been a subject for art analysis. Biggers updates the Vatican sculpture and the debate about beauty and suffering, medium and content by substituting an inflatable Fat Albert for the great marble priest.
“The sculpture leaves us with a set of questions, not least of which: could there be a black American version of the Laocoon? If so, whom would it depict, and why would he suffer?” asked Chris Reitz, assistant professor of Critical and Curatorial Studies and gallery director of the Hite Art Institute.
For this exhibition, the artwork is accompanied by a series of quotations from important books and essays about the Vatican “Laocoon” that provide touchstones for situating and contemplating it.
“The touchstones are many, including reference to Eric Garner, who died of asphyxiation due to a combination of police chokehold, chest compression, his own weight and poor health,” Reitz said. “Fat Albert is not off the hook. The enormous sculpture seems to wonder if the comedic hero will be able to maintain his integrity (to right himself) in light of the sex scandals of his inventor, Bill Cosby.”
Biggers is an Assistant Professor at Columbia University’s Visual Arts program. His award-winning multimedia work has been shown internationally at the Tate Modern in London, the Renaissance Society in Chicago, the Whitney Biennial, the Brooklyn Museum, the Kitchen and Performa, among other venues.
Hite’s New Monuments series features one historically significant artwork produced or finished in the past year that engages relevant social, political or aesthetic issues. The series is intended to update the traditional “monuments list” that often serves as the basis for art history education.
The opening reception for the exhibition is 6-8 p.m., May 12 at the Cressman Center, 100 E. Main St.