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Marianne Boesky Gallery Commemorates Thorton Dial

Marianne Boesky Gallery Commemorates Thorton Dial

A micro-retrospective of Thornton Dial’s work, entitled We All Live Under the Same Old Flag, is on view at Marianne Boesky Gallery in Chelsea from April 30th until June 18th, 2016. The orange, red, muddy green and brown structures are hung at exact intervals around a small, polished room. The rectangles are either wooden, metal, painted, twisted and tangled or they are flattened, cloth-y, soft and rotten looking. Some are despairingly energetic, while others are still like mud. There are dull moments and moments of incredible poignancy, like history itself. There is almost no sense of symmetry in the show throughout, but there is a small, bright rhythm, both disturbingly dreary and bright like fire.

Thornton Dial 2016_Jason Wyche_6 Marianne Boesky artreport

Thornton Dial, Photo: Jason Wyche

But this is simply the appearance of the show, which, in the case of any Thornton Dial display, is only half of the experience. The other half is the central narrative of Dial’s discovery in rural Alabama and his elevation, twenty-five years ago, to international distinction and prime market appraisal. Dial was a retired steelworker who began experimenting with sculpture and forms at his Bessemer home when he was discovered and then systematically promoted by Bill Arnett, a collector and dealer, for the subsequent two decades. As an artist, a resident of the south and an African American, Dial held many opinions that contribute to his legacy and the force of the work — works that consciously comment on African American identity and history; however, he remained famously inert to art-historical context throughout his career. It’s been said that Arnett’s influence on the work overall is hard to state definitively. Throughout his success, Dial’s audience has been forced to come to complicated conclusions about exposure, market value and representation.

Thornton Dial 2016_Jason Wyche_2 Marianne Boesky artreport

Thornton Dial, Photo: Jason Wyche

This is the history that must squeeze into the small space on 24th street and 10th avenue with nine of Thornton Dial’s works hung on the walls. Considering Dial passed just earlier this year, it seems a fit moment to reflect on the work, the man, and the controversy, if only one can find space in the room to sit and to think.

Thornton Dial 2016_Jason Wyche_12 Marianne Boesky artreport

Thornton Dial, Photo: Jason Wyche

Thornton Dial American Orange Show Marianne Boesky artreport

“American Orange Show,” Thornton Dial, Photo: Jason Wyche

Thornton Dial We All Live Under the Same Old Flag Marianne Boesky artreport

“We All Live Under the Same Old Flag,” Thornton Dial, Photo: Jason Wyche

Thornton Dial Winter Jackets Marianne Boesky artreport

“Winter Jackets,” Thornton Dial, Photo: Jason Wyche

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Devon Watson is an artist, writer and curator based in Brooklyn, New York. She is attracted to shapely ideas, the color pink, and cultural theory. She is also a good friend and doesn't mind coming to your group show, online gallery Skype expo, or girlfriend's DJ set.

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