A hairbrush, a sandal, the end of a shovel, a change purse, and a shoehorn, chair and table legs that make vertical lines, an umbrella, and what is that? A bird in a shoe? A framed certificate from the Los Angeles School District placed to define the top right corner. Assembled shapes, textures and bits of life—that could be anyone’s balled up sock. My dad wore black socks like that. You could spend hours identifying everything that makes up this sculpture. This work carries some history with it. It’s bulky and heavy and smells like an antique shop. To me, each of the objects in this sculptural relief represents a part of someone’s personal story. By bringing these visual pieces of stories together into one sculpture, Noah Purifoy created a work of art with a palpable sense of history. Past lives that you can feel. That is not just anybody’s shoe. That shoe belonged to somebody. It walked down sidewalks and through front doors long before it became part of this 1967 sculpture.
Noah Purifoy had a career in social work before becoming an artist. In 1964 he co-founded the Watts Towers Arts Center, an outreach program. Then in 1965 came the Watts Rebellion. Purifoy claimed that it was the Watts Rebellion that made him an artist. He and colleagues collected and later assembled debris from the uprising to make impressive mixed-media constructions. It’s this idea of creating art out of refuse and rubble that is so powerful.
Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960—1980 is an exhibition full of powerful art. It’s about a community of black artists and their artist friends of varied ethnic backgrounds. It shows how they influenced each other, opened their own galleries, and found ways of working outside of traditional, representational methods. The exhibition is material and visceral and like no other museum experience in the Berkshires. Once you have seen it, you will look at shovels and shoehorns, umbrellas and table legs differently. Who do you think that shoe belonged to?
—Kim Hugo, Public Relations Coordinator, Williams College Museum of Art
Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960—1980 is one view at WCMA through December 1, 2013. Above image: Installation view, Noah Purifoy. Untitled (Assemblage), 1967. Mixed media. 66 x 39 x 8 in. Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Museum Purchase, the William A. Clark Fund and Gift of Dr. Samella Lewis. 1993.3. © Courtesy the Noah Purifoy Foundation.