Laura Owens

'Courage Before Expectation' (Group show), The FLAG Art Foundation, New York
MARCH 12 – JUNE 4, 2022

The FLAG Art Foundation is pleased to present Courage Before Expectation, a group exhibition curated by former NFL linebacker turned art patron Keith Rivers, on view March 12-June 4, 2022, on the 9th floor. Inspired by quotes that intersect Rivers’s life in sports and his love of contemporary art, the exhibition explores the pursuit of dreams and unlikely trajectories, and includes Etel Adnan, Mark Bradford, Sonia Gomes, Philip Guston, Carmen Herrera, On Kawara, Kerry James Marshall, Thaddeus Mosley, and Laura Owens.


“This exhibition is an extension of my interest in having conversations with artists, and sharing, through my eyes and theirs, how talent, perseverance, and trusting the process will get you where you want to go.” states Rivers. “I hope this show opens peoples’ eyes to possibilities, through examples such as Thaddeus Mosley working as a postman and part-time sports writer and Sonia Gomes as a lawyer, both of whom left careers to become full-time artists; Etel Adnan overcame negativity from her mother, who said she was too “clumsy” to be an artist, and began painting at the age of 34, expanding on her wildly successful writing career; and Kerry James Marshall, whose confidence in himself as an artist gave him the resolve to work for years in solitude to create a vast body of work. His portraits of Black subjects hang in The Met and museums worldwide and have influenced a new generation of Black artists.”


The exhibition features artworks that share affinities of color, line, materiality, and abstraction, including a trio of Etel Adnan’s expressive pastels on paper, Carmen Herrera’s diamond-shaped canvas Tri-color, 2019, and Thaddeus Mosley’s hand-hewn Basswood and Hickory sculpture Inverted Dancer, 2007. Mark Bradford’s 25-foot-long mixed-media collage Ridin’ Dirty, 2006, incorporates found signage, advertisements, and posters sourced from the neighborhoods around his first studio in South Central Los Angeles, while Sonia Gomes’s suspended Pendente sculptures similarly reconfigure and recontextualize discarded items—multicolored fabrics, bits of lace, beads, yarn, wire, etc.—into extraordinary abstract forms.


A pair of Philip Guston paintings on paper (Departure II, 1963, and Untitled (Outsider), 1972) mark the artist’s gravitational shift from abstraction to figuration in 1970. Guston’s motivation to change course was simple, even if the resulting imagery was anything but: “I got sick and tired of all that purity! I wanted to tell stories!” The figure is also present in a suite of three hyperchromatic black light portraits by Kerry James Marshall, wherein his subjects radiate cool light while submerged in shades of deep blue. Keying in to Rivers finding inspiration from motivational quotes is Laura Owens’s Untitled, 2014, part Hallmark card /part meme cajoling viewers to persevere, “When you come to the end of your rope, make a knot, and hang on.” On Kawara’s Today Series (18 Marz 1997), 1997—presented with its artist-made box inset with a scrap from The New York Daily News the day the painting was made—most directly references the daily ritual, protocols, and self-determination to pursue one’s art, which underscores Rivers’s conceptual underpinnings for the exhibition.

Most professional fields, creative or otherwise, comprise a range of barriers to achieve success, however one defines  it. “I am fascinated by the artists’ histories, stories, and the challenges they overcome,” said Rivers. “Through the trajectory of my life, I feel a connection to artists who also had major career shifts and took a leap of faith to be able to dedicate themselves to their art.”


Rivers equates the drive for achievement in the fields of art and sports: pursuing dreams despite great odds, putting in the time and discipline to perfect one’s craft, quashing internal and external negative thinking, and a willingness to take risks. Rivers own life and career in sports has been inspired by motivational thinking from many of his coaches, including Pete Carroll, and motivational speakers Eric Thomas and Les Brown, and the following excerpts from their quotes relate to ideas driving the show: actually doing the work and creating art (greatness is a lot of small things done well day after day, discipline after discipline, obedience after obedience the wealthiest place on the planet is the graveyard, because in the graveyard we will find inventions that we were never ever exposed to, ideas, dreams that never became a reality, hopes and aspirations that were never acted upon); overcoming rejection (embrace your pain, your pain is going to be part of your prize); rejecting negative messages from yourself, family, friends (The biggest enemy you have to deal with is yourself. If there’s no enemy within the enemy outside can do us no harm); and pushing beyond your comfort zones (A lot of people become comfortable. They stop growing, they stop wanting anything, they become satisfied. You see when you are not pursuing your goal, you are literally committing spiritual suicide...)


Courage Before Expectation was curated by Keith Rivers and organized by The FLAG Art Foundation, with the generous support of the participating artists, galleries, and private lenders.


For more information click here.

March 22, 2022
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