“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”

Scott Fitzgerald, The Crack-Up

On the last weeks of the exhibition The Double: Identity and Difference in Art since 1900, ACT would like to highlight the works of Professor Emerita Joan Jonas and Professor Renée Green which are present at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

As the exhibition’s curator James Meyer writes in the accompanying catalogue, The Double was “organized during an extraordinary period of widening social and political division in the United States and abroad, amid passionate discussions of national, racial, ethnic, sexual, and gender identity.” Meyer’s aim was “to challenge essentialist models of selfhood that limit identity, inhibiting our capacity to identify with others and reinforcing difference, thus deepening the divisions among us.”

The exhibition conceives of doubling as a visual grammar involving the combination of forms and motifs that appear alike and unalike. Meyer writes: “The art of doubling splays and divides vision […] Works of doubling explore questions of identity–how we distinguish one form, or object, or person from another; how we perceive likeness and unlikeness, resemblance and difference.”

Joan Jonas’s 1972 video work Left Side Right Side is included in the Reversal section of the exhibition; translating her performance strategies to video, in her work, Jonas applies the inherent properties of the medium to her investigations of the self and the body. Exploring video as both a mirror and a masking device, and using her body as an art object, she undertakes an examination of self and identity, subjectivity and objectivity, creating a series of inversions while manipulating a mirror and describing what its being recorded by the camera.

Green’s Color I from 1990 is included in the Dilemma section of the exhibition, described as presenting works that present “a choice between two perceptual or cognitive possibilities.” In the painting, a ‘color chart’ made of paint chips with its “overly gendered and exoticized monikers” is placed between two framed texts hand-stamped on vellum describing different instances of racist thought and encounters in the United States, as depicted in the novels Iola Leroy, or Shadows Uplifted (1892) by Frances E. W. Harper, and The Great Gatsby (1925) by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Meyer writes: “The dilemma posed by Color I is a negative one. One cannot decide which citation is more troubling, as if that were possible; only the recursive, repetitious nature of racist discourse is certain.”

An early work from Green’s 1990 Color Series, Color I points out to the ideological structures that allow that kind of discourse to exist, from color naming to literature to science; in the right panel of the painting, an excerpt from The Great Gatsby includes an exchange about a fictional book titled The Rise of the Colored Empires:

“Well, it’s a fine book, and everybody ought to read it. The idea is if we don’t look out the white race will be – will be utterly submerged. It’s all scientific stuff; it’s been proved…”

A multimedia and multigenerational exhibition, Jonas and Green’s work is presented in each section among historical and contemporary works, including those of Alighiero Boetti, Giuseppe Penone, Robert Smithson, Janine Antoni, Mario García Torres, Marcel Duchamp, Walter de Maria, Giorgio de Chirico, Eva Hesse, Frank Stella, Jasper Johns, Mel Bochner, and Felix Gonzalez Torres, among others.

The Double: Identity and Difference in Art since 1900 runs until October 31st, 2022. An accompanying book includes essays by James Meyer–National Gallery of Art’s Curator of Modern Art–Julia Bryan-Wilson, Tom Gunning, W.J.T. Mitchell, Hillel Schwartz, Shawn Michelle Smith, and Andrew Solomon; the book explores the double in forms of ethics, psychoanalysis, double consciousness, the queer double, and the doppelgänger in silent cinema.

More information: The Double. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.