‘Going Dark: The Contemporary Figure at the Edge of Visibility’ to Open at The Guggenheim Museum in October




Doris Salcedo, Disremembered X, 2020/2021. Sewing needles and silk thread,, four pieces, dimensions variable. Glenstone Museum, Potomac, Maryland. © Doris Salcedo. Photo: Ron Amstutz, Glenstone Museum, Potomac, Maryland.

The Guggenheim Museum presents Going Dark: The Contemporary Figure at the Edge of Visibility, a major exhibition predicated on a duality: works of art that present the figure, yet obscure it in some way, thus existing at the “edge of visibility.” The exhibition asserts that these experimentations in figuration across media—painting, photography, drawing, prints, sculpture, video, and installation—articulate pressing questions around what it means to be seen, not seen, or erased in society. On view from October 20, 2023, through April 7, 2024, the exhibition features 28 artists and fills all six ramps of the museum’s Frank Lloyd Wright–designed rotunda.

Sandra Mujinga, Spectral Keepers, 2020. Tulle fabric, cotton fabric, nylon thread, threaded rods, wire clamps, and cellular concrete, four figures, 109 716 x 31 1/2 x 15 3/ in. (278 x 80 x 40 cm) each; four baskets, 30 5/16 x 30 5/16 x 38 3/16 in. (77 x 77 x 97 cm) each.Private collection. © Sandra Mujinga. Photo: Plastiques, courtesy the artist and The Approach, London.

The artists in this exhibition “go dark” through a range of formal moves, including, but not limited to, literal darkening by way of shadowing or other lighting techniques; paint selections; reversing or otherwise concealing the body; and post-production tools like “chroma-keying.” Going Dark suggests that these approaches to the figure allow for engagement with urgent and ongoing discussions around visibility in its social context: both invisibility and hypervisibility within public and private spaces, as well as within institutions, (art) history, popular media, social media, and more. Through revealing and concealing the body, Going Dark probes a key point of conflict in representation: both the desire to be seen and the desire for obscurity, especially as technology offers more opportunities for (and dangers in) exposure than ever before.

Going Dark features over 100 works of art by a multigenerational, multiracial group of artists, the majority of whom are Black and more than half of whom are women. Chronologically, the show proceeds from the mid-1980s, with paintings and photographs by Kerry James Marshall, Lorna Simpson, and Ming Smith, through to the present, with photography, sculpture, and video works by Sandra Mujinga, Sondra Perry, Stephanie Syjuco and others. Works from the late 1960s to early 1970s by David Hammons, Faith Ringgold, and Charles White offer earlier reference points for the contemporary history this show presents. Tiona Nekkia McClodden and WangShui will debut new paintings, and American Artist will present a new site-specific installation.

Sondra Perry, Graft and Ash for a Three Monitor Workstation, 2016. Digital color video, with sound, 9 min., 5 sec.; and bicycle workstation, 68 x 42 x 16 in. (172.7 x 106.7 x 40.6 cm). Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Gift of Jim Cahn and Jeremy Collatz, 2019. © Sondra Perry. Photo: Courtesy the artist and Bridget Donahue, New York

While focused on the social contexts of visibility, Going Dark also argues that this “semi-visible” figuration as a genre is one of art historical significance, intervening upon discourses of modernism and the monochrome. The works in the show move fluidly between figuration and abstraction, thus blurring the lines in that staid binary frame. Recognizing that making art at the limits of the visible requires new materials, tools, and processes, many of the artists featured in Going Dark inventively manipulate color and light to obscure both social and optical perception, challenging the very biology of how we see.

A robust catalogue will be published to accompany the exhibition featuring newly commissioned essays by curators and scholars Jordan Carter, Ayanna Dozier, Ashley James, Key Jo Lee, Abbe Schriber, and Legacy Russell. Also included are creative responses to the concept of “going dark” by seven poets and graphic designers: Rio Cortez, Harmony Holiday, Marwa Helal, Kristian Henson, Nontsikelelo Mutiti, Hassan Rahim, and Kevin Young. The book is designed by Fahad AlHunaif.

Charles White, Nobody Knows My Name #1, 1965 (detail). Wolff crayons and charcoal on illustration board, 30 x 40 inches (76.2 x 101.6 cm), composition: 29 1/2 x 39 1/2 inches (74.9 x 100.3 cm). Courtesy Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York and ACA Galleries, New York. © the Charles White Archives. Photo: Courtesy Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York.

Artist List

American Artist
Kevin Beasley
Rebecca Belmore
Dawoud Bey
John Edmonds
Ellen Gallagher
David Hammons
Lyle Ashton Harris
Tomashi Jackson
Titus Kaphar
Glenn Ligon
Kerry James Marshall
Tiona Nekkia McClodden
Joiri Minaya
Sandra Mujinga
Chris Ofili
Sondra Perry
Farah Al Qasimi
Faith Ringgold
Doris Salcedo
Lorna Simpson
Ming Smith
Sable Elyse Smith
Stephanie Syjuco
Hank Willis Thomas
Carrie Mae Weems
Charles White

Going Dark: The Contemporary Figure at the Edge of Visibility is organized by Ashley James, Associate Curator, Contemporary Art, with Faith Hunter, Curatorial Assistant.

Funders ~ Major support for Going Dark: The Contemporary Figure at the Edge of Visibility is provided by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF).

Support is also generously provided by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Foundation.

Going Dark: The Contemporary Figure at the Edge of Visibility will be on view from October 20, 2023 to April 7, 2024 at The Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue, between 88th and 89th Streets, NYC.