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In “Social Works,” Antwaun Sargent’s First Show at Gagosian, Black Artists Explore the Poetics of Space

Christie Neptune, another former NXTHVN Fellow, uses photography, film, and sculpture to consider how race, class, and gender all converge within her “internalized experiences.” “I look at the body of work as a way to explore how I personally navigate this space as a Black female living on the margins,” Neptune says. For Constructs and Context Relativity — Performance II (2021), her three-channel video installation in “Social Works,” Neptune trained her attention both on her immediate surroundings, in the New Haven neighborhood of Dixwell, and on certain psychological structures. The work has “a lot of internal reflections, asking, How do you know you exist? or, What is Blackness? How do you define these things?” Neptune notes. “It reflected a great deal of what I was reading this time: I was looking a lot at Descartes’s Meditations, I was very interested in Nick Bostrom’s simulations, and then tying those two things into Blackness and these socio-political systems that govern our modes of perception and don’t really have a sense of physicality to them, but are very real and have very real impacts.”

Like Smith, Neptune doesn’t take her placement in the Gagosian show for granted. “Being a part of this is definitely a humbling experience. It is a reflection of all of the efforts of artists who have come before me, and who have worked so diligently to open the doors and pave the path for younger artists like myself to have a chance to be seen within this field,” the says. In its way, the experience is “very surreal, out-of-body, otherworldly—very sci-fi. It’s Blackness of the future, Blackness progressing, Blackness defying these myths and limitations and asserting itself.”

There is, of course, another side to Sargent’s directorship, too: the business of actually selling art. Yet even in that area, Sargent is committed to empowering the Black community. “When I took on this job, I wanted to engage all aspects of it. I wanted to think about what it means to place works inside museum collections; to make museums more reflective of the communities and societies in which they are,” he says. “I was also thinking about doing exhibitions and thinking about younger collectors—particularly younger collectors of color—and how to get them engaged and get them access to works.”

It’s one thing to stage a show like “Social Works,” he adds, and “quite another to be a shepherd of where that work is placed, and make sure that that placement continues a cultural engagement.”

Still, that process begins with allowing a wide cross-section of artists to articulate their distinct visions—something that the new show most certainly does. “It’s not just focusing on one type of engagement; I think you get engagement from all these spaces because the realities have changed across generations,” Sargent says. “I wanted to make sure that all of those realities and all of those perspectives were represented. And thank God we have a big gallery on 24th Street.”

“Social Works” is up at Gagosian’s 555 West 24th Street gallery through August 13. 

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