Tiona Nekkia McClodden MASK CONCEAL CARRY - Press Release | David Zwirner

Press preview and walkthrough led by 
Tiona Nekkia McClodden:
Wednesday, July 13, 3–4 PM 

To attend the press preview, RSVP to [email protected].


52 Walker is pleased to announce its fourth exhibition, MASK / CONCEAL / CARRY, featuring the work of Philadelphia-based artist Tiona Nekkia McClodden. McClodden will present new paintings, objects made of materials both organic and inorganic, and videos that together foreground her research into the limits of embodiment and exertion as well as her interest in gestures of concealment. 

McClodden’s expansive practice comprises film, installation, painting, and sculpture in addition to writing and curating. Encompassing the personal, the historical, and the mythic, her work considers the presence and absence of the black figure as well as the aesthetic strategies of illumination and opacity that subvert available modes of representation. 

Centering storytelling throughout her oeuvre, McClodden explores what she has termed the “Black mentifact”—the ideas, values, and beliefs of the African diaspora. Working at the intersection of memory and material culture, McClodden employs objects with great personal significance to her and her body—leather jackets, wooden tools, a Marcel Breuer “Wassily” chair not unlike the one she first sat in during a therapy session—to explore race, gender, sexuality, and spirituality. 

Installed under custom lighting, the works in MASK / CONCEAL / CARRY evince a variable blackness, realizing and dissolving figures and forms that are not immediately visible to the viewer. The exhibition examines the connotations and denotations of the three words in its title. McClodden has engaged with “masking” and its many meanings and guises in her work, as well as “unmasking,” in which, as an autistic adult, she attempts to unlearn an assimilationist tendency to suppress one’s true self in order to appear neurotypical. This relates closely to “concealing,” a purposeful act of obstruction that, along with “carrying,” suggests associations with firearms regulation in the United States, the practice of which is often upheld as a form of self-defense. “Carrying” also touches on deeper psychological aspects regarding trauma and burden that are threaded through the works. 

MASK / CONCEAL / CARRY likewise pivots around the concept of “training to failure,” which, in the context of repeated weight-training exercises, proposes the pushing of one’s body beyond its corporeal limits to the point of temporary muscular breakdown. When the body reaches a point at which it cannot continue straining itself, the trainee recovers from overexertion and begins gaining and building muscle in response. McClodden, who weight trains herself, transmits this idea into her work: a core awareness of the body as it corresponds to the fragile boundaries of the psyche and the spectrum of pain and pleasure that is revealed in these recurrent efforts.

McClodden connects “training to failure” with “dry fire training,” the practice of shooting without ammunition to improve one’s aim. For the ten ballistic bullet trace paintings, the first that the artist has produced, she devises a conceptual framework that extracts data from her own dry firing. Using a program that charts the course of a gunshot during her drills, McClodden appropriates on these canvases the moving image the data generates. This training aid calculates the shooter’s aim in a way that divorces the reality of the action (an attempt to hit a target by violent means) from the goal (the perfect shot). The composition of the firing is determined instantly, and its course is divided into elements that assess the shooter’s hold, the duration of one’s trigger hold, and when the shot breaks—all presented as a series of lines—without any scan of the shooter’s emotional response. In McClodden’s abstract paintings, the lines curve sinuously against an inconsistently dark background. 

The works in MASK / CONCEAL / CARRY give shape to forms that are absent. Targets composed on gessoed Belgian linen hang on a shooting rail system and feature stenciled words—conveying the idea of language as an initiator of violence. The type is set in a textured pigment of pumice, matte grain materials, and black acrylic that looks like molten lava. Archetypal shooting targets—mass-manufactured on behalf of gun owners, law enforcement, and military personnel to practice firing the perfect shot—make their appearance in one of McClodden’s video works.

The Figures series comprises reliefs of objects such as pistols and the components of an AR15-style rifle, which are contoured in vacuum-pressed Kydex and genuine leather. These objects contrast the dull exterior of the synthetic material with the buffed surface of animal skin, as well as the differing processes that allow McClodden to manipulate their proportions. Playing with the numerous definitions of “mask” and “conceal,” McClodden has created a luxurious chain mail facial covering from gold and silver that juxtaposes the beautiful with the martial. Though the mask is anti-monumental in its use value, its spiritual and ritualistic significance—as a warrior’s talismanic guise—is apparent in its precious metal form. The mask complements McClodden’s figures, as do new cast bronzes of ballistic accouterments—bullet cartridges, fantastical extended clips—that are imagined or based on existing paraphernalia. Like the plundered Benin Bronzes, from which McClodden has taken inspiration, these spectral silhouettes suggest not only their forebears but also the figures who wield them and their narrative possibilities. 

McClodden recently presented a new work, Achaba de Ogun (2022), at Art Basel Parcours 2022 with Mitchell-Innes & Nash. She will be included in the group exhibition, The Condition of Being Addressable, at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, opening June 2022 and running concurrently with her presentation at 52 Walker. Her multidisciplinary solo exhibition, The Trace of an Implied Presence, at The Shed, New York, which is co-produced in partnership with Nike, will also open in August 2022. Her 2017 work The Brad Johnson Tape, X – On Subjugation, which was recently acquired by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, will be featured in the Museum's second-floor collection galleries opening in early August 2022. 

Tiona Nekkia McClodden (b. 1981; Blytheville, Arkansas) presently lives and works in Philadelphia. In 2018, McClodden was a resident of the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture in Madison, Maine. 

In 2021, McClodden presented Be Alarmed: The Black Americana Epic, Movement III—The Triple Deities, a multimedia installation and performance that is the third part of her Be Alarmed series, in Philadelphia. Solo exhibitions by the artist have been presented at Company Gallery, New York (2019); Performance Space, New York (2018); and Recess, New York (2018), among others.

Work by the artist has been included in major group exhibitions at prominent institutions worldwide. In 2021, McClodden participated in Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America, curated by Okwui Enwezor and presented at the New Museum, New York. The artist was selected to participate in the 2019 Whitney Biennial, and from the seventy-five artists presented was named the recipient of the Bucksbaum Award. Other significant group presentations have taken place at venues such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2021); Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin (2019); Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia (2017 and 2011); and the DePaul Art Museum, Chicago (2017). 

McClodden’s interdisciplinary practice encompasses writing and curatorial work. She is the founder and director of the exhibition space and library Conceptual Fade, Philadelphia. In 2019, the artist produced the monograph Se Te Subió El Santo (Are You in a Trance?) as an exploration of the self. Writing by McClodden has also appeared in publications such as Artforum (2018), Cultured (2018), and Triple Canopy (2019). 

McClodden is presently a Princeton Arts Fellow at Princeton University, New Jersey, and is a recipient of the 2022 Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant. In 2019, she was awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. She has previously been the recipient of other prestigious awards and fellowships such as the Keith Haring Fellowship in Art and Activism, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York (2018); Magnum Foundation Fund, New York (2018); Louis Comfort Tiffany Award, Tiffany Foundation, New York (2017); and the Pew Fellowship, The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, Philadelphia (2016), among several others. 

The artist is represented by Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York. Work by McClodden is held in public collections such as The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Rennie Museum, Vancouver. 

For all press inquiries and to RSVP to the July 13 press preview, contact
[email protected]

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