Off view

American, b. 1977
The Crisis
Powder-coated steel, plants, ceramics, fiberglass, shea butter
15 ft. 9 in. x 15 ft. 9 3/4 in. x 15 ft. 9 3/4 in. (480.1 x 482 x 482 cm)
Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth
The Crisis was first exhibited indoors, at Museo Tamayo in Mexico City, and artist Rashid Johnson (b. 1977, Chicago) has reimagined it for an outdoor installation at Storm King. Here, The Crisis is a minimal object, consumed by natural elements of the landscape and filled with handmade ceramics and shea butter. The Crisis is set within a field of native grasses, including switchgrass, big bluestem, and Canadian wildrye, which Storm King has worked to reintroduce and cultivate over the last 25 years. During the course of the installation, these grasses will grow up within and around the geometric frame, integrating the work into the very fabric of the surrounding topography. Johnson’s handmade ceramic vessels are planted with these same grasses and carry them through the entirety of the sculpture. Johnson draws inspiration from combining architectural and organic elements in his work. The Crisis captures the tension of that moment when nature, unbridled, begins to overtake manmade structures.  

Johnson chose yellow for The Crisis because, as he has said, “yellow is a caution color. It identifies a crisis. It asks to be witnessed.” The color holds multiple meanings: yellow is also the color of shea butter, which can be found throughout Johnson’s practice, and is represented here both through standard blocks of the material, as well as through fiberglass busts rendered to resemble its color and texture. Shea butter is a West African product that comes from the shea nut and is known for its healing properties. While the yellow of The Crisis at once calls upon us to beware, it also reflects the regeneration that often follows trauma both shared and individual. 

The title The Crisis is ambiguous, adapting to the context in which the work is viewed and the perspective of the viewer who witnesses it. It can speak to something deeply personal as well as to a collective event and invokes both historical and ongoing crises. Originally intended to be shown at Storm King in 2020, a year marked by an unprecedented pandemic and a watershed reckoning with police violence and systemic racism, The Crisis has taken on a striking new relevance in this time of reflection on what we have endured.

The Crisis (2019) will be on loan to Storm King for the 2021 season from the artist and Hauser & Wirth.

Photo credit: Ramiro Cháves and Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo.