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Collection Spotlight: Rashid Johnson's Falling Man, 2015

February 11, 2019

Rashid Johnson (American, born 1977). Falling Man, 2015. Mirrored tile, white ceramic tile, spray enamel, vinyl, black soap, and wax, 96 5/8 x 72 7/8 x 1 7/8 inches (245.4 x 185.1 x 4.8 cm). Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; Bequest of Arthur B. Michael, by exchange, 2016 (2016:31). © 2015 Rashid Johnson

In honor of Black History Month, we’re celebrating works by African American artists, including Rashid Johnson's Falling Man, 2015, which is currently on view in We the People: New Art from the Collection.

Rashid Johnson addresses themes of identity, anxiety, and escape across various mediums. In each of the assemblages in the artist’s Falling Man series, including this work, the shape of an upside-down man appears in ceramic or mirrored tiles. In form, they recall the pixilated characters from vintage video games falling into the void after virtually “dying” or failing to complete a level, or the chalk outlines of real-world bodies left at crime scenes. In this work, the figure is surrounded by tiles marred by spider-web cracks that suggest bullet holes as well as abstract splatters of black soap and spray paint, all alluding to the aftermath of a violent event.

Johnson often includes autobiographical references in much of his work. Falling Man, for example, includes a star-shaped cutout that frames a photograph of Johnson’s father taken around the time of the artist’s birth. The collection of books and a radio that can be seen in the background of the photograph are frequently recurring objects for the artist and appear in several of his sculptural and installation works.