Long before Tyler Mitchell made history as the first Black photographer to shoot a cover of American Vogue, he created videos of his friends skateboarding and documented the fashion, music, and culture in Atlanta. His first solo exhibition, I Can Make You Feel Good at the International Center of Photography, finds him revisiting his roots.
Centered on video and photography, Mitchell’s idea of a “Black utopia” (as described on the ICP’s website) is composed of contrasts. The first room houses Chasing Pink, Found Red (2018), a video installation that shows Black youths having a picnic in a park. The accompanying audio includes different experiences of racism and prejudice gathered from Mitchell’s friends and family, and his social media followers.
The second section includes a photograph of young Black men with hula hoops, titled “Untitled (Group Hula Hoop)” (2019), and another of a couple holding their babies and standing in front of an American flag, titled “All American Family Portrait” (2018). This section leads to an installation titled “Idyllic Space” (2019). Here, visitors are invited to lounge on bean bag chairs, placed on AstroTurf and surrounded by a picket fence, and watch a video projected above. It features Black youths enjoying simple summer pleasures: eating ice cream, swimming in a pool, swinging on a swing set.
The last section of the exhibition is most reminiscent of the Mitchell the mainstream public knows. Draped across the ICP hallway are mostly posed photographs, in which the subject looks directly at the camera, printed on pillowcases, silk scarves, and linens that hang from a trail of laundry lines — a symbolic device referencing domestic labor. Both the photographs and the installation itself showcase what he’s best at — intimate portraits presented in an interesting, rich, and welcoming color palette.
It’s easy to pass Mitchell off as “the Beyoncé guy,” as I heard one visitor say, but this sells the young artist short by minimizing the breadth and depth of the work he’s already done and the promise of what’s to come. The exhibition, instead, goes beyond his commercial photography and shows his unencumbered creative expression.
Starting tonight (April 3), Mitchell will be presenting “Night at the Cinema,” a 24-hour movie and video night, via livestream starting at 7pm EST. More details here.
Tyler Mitchell: I Can Make You Feel Good at the International Center of Photography (79 Essex Street, Manhattan) is scheduled to continue through May 18. The exhibition was curated by Isolde Brielmaier.
Editor’s note: Please note that physical viewing hours for this exhibition have been temporarily suspended in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Discussions around art and culture remain important during this time, so we have opted to publish this review to enable readers to explore the exhibition virtually as many of us continue to self-isolate.