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focus: William Pope.L—Drawing, Dreaming, Drowning

October 11, 2007–January 21, 2008
Galleries 138–139

William Pope.L is a prominent multidisciplinary artist known for his conceptual, often performance-based art practice, which actively confronts issues of race, sex, power, consumerism, and social class. As the self-proclaimed “friendliest black artist in America,” Pope.L invites dialogue through provocative performances, installations, and art objects. He is best known for a series of more than 40 “crawls” staged since 1978 as part of his larger eRacism project, in which he inched his way through busy city streets on his belly, back, hands, and knees in an attempt to draw attention to the plight of those members of society who are least empowered.

At the center of Focus: William Pope.L—the artist’s first solo show at a major museum—is a selection of approximately 50 works from Pope.L’s ongoing series, Failure Drawings. Created only when he is traveling with whatever materials he has on hand, these intensely personal works reveal compelling mood shifts. Taken as a whole, Failure Drawings constitute an unexpectedly structured project within Pope.L’s famously unfettered body of work, suggesting that the discipline of drawing provides the opportunity for introspection and private exploration. As suggested by the title, the overall sentiment of the series is melancholic. Yet, humor is also an essential “material,” providing a path to the sort of communication among strangers from which positive change so often occurs.

Exclusively for this exhibition, Pope.L has also conceived a “live drawing.” Made with a combination of organic materials and more traditional oil paints, charcoal, and pigment sticks applied directly to the gallery wall, the image is intended to change form over time. Prompted by the artist’s response to prominent Chicago personalities and the city’s history, this drawing and its meaning are, like so much of his work, insistently open ended. “You can hold contraries, bound together, without blurring them together,” wrote Pope.L about his work. “The fact is I am black and I am influenced by historically European-based art. I am interested in formal issues and I am interested in social issues. Think of it as a bunch of flowers—daisies, lilies, daffodils. I want you to hold them all in a bundle but see them each distinctly.”


This exhibition is made possible by a grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Ongoing support for Focus exhibitions is provided by the Alfred L. McDougal and Nancy Lauter McDougal Fund for Contemporary Art.

William Pope.L. #1060.5.3.04, 5.17.04 Small Failure Writ Large, 2004. Courtesy of the artist, The Project, and Kenny Schachter Rove.