Behind every Grace Wales Bonner collection are thoughtful and deep-rooted cultural references and inspirations—often involving the work of Black artists and intellectuals whose work encompasses a variety of mediums. Her past collections have nodded at the writer James Baldwin, the painter Kerry James Marshall, the jazz musician Don Cherry, and the photography of Malick Sidibé and Sanlé Sory, among others.
In “Artist’s Choice: Grace Wales Bonner—Spirit Movers,” a new show opening at the Museum of Modern Art on November 18, she has applied the same practice to curate a selection of works from the museum’s permanent collection. It’s the first time a fashion designer has been asked to participate in the series, which launched in 1988 with a Brancusi exhibition curated by the sculptor and performance artist Scott Burton, but it seemed like an obvious choice to Michelle Kuo, The Marlene Hess Curator, Department of Painting and Sculpture. “Grace is such a polymath, and she is so committed to archival research in her practice at the University of Vienna [where Wales Bonner was recently appointed as head of the fashion department], but also with her collections and her clothing designs, [where] every one is tied to a very specific story, historical episode, or cast of characters,” Kuo said.
Though there’s no fashion in the exhibit, it bears the designer’s unmistakable fingerprints. “I was quite interested in how sound and movement can be captured through different forms,” Wales Bonner explained, walking through the gallery before the show’s opening. “It’s a subject I keep coming back to—of how music and sound can be translated into something else.” The cornerstone of the show is the imposing Last Trumpet, four larger-than-life brass horns by the American artist Terry Adkins. “Adkins is an artist I really admire,” Wales Bonner added (there are two other works by the artist in the show). “He said he made these at the scale as if angels could play them; so the works are both a sculpture [and something that] could be used in a performance. So I was also interested in that kind of crossing over or intersection, when an artwork moves into other forms.”