Kevin Beasley – Chair of the Ministers of Defense

Feb 4, 2021 - Dec 17, 2022 | Snite Museum of Art

Beasley Chair Of The Ministers 2016 Forrest

Kevin Beasley (American, born 1985), Chair of the Ministers of Defense, 2016, Polyurethane resin, wood, acoustic foam, jeans, trousers, du-rags, altered t-
shirts, altered hoodies, guinea fowl feathers, wrought iron window gate, vintage
 Beni Ourain Moroccan rug, kaftans, housedresses, Maasai war shields, Zulu war
shields, and vintage peacock rattan chair, On loan from The Joyner/Giuffrida Collection and The Rennie Collection

Contemporary Gallery
February 4, 2021 – December 17, 2022

This immersive installation explores ideas of power and race in America through 
theatrics reminiscent of the Roman Baroque. Here, renowned conceptual artist
 Kevin Beasley calls into focus Black liberation movements and ongoing 
imbalances of power experienced by Black Americans and marginalized men
 and women of color. The work maintains a formality often employed in religious 
imagery and in art intended to convey the divine right of leaders.

An empty, rattan “peacock” chair is at center; above is a house window clad in 
protective iron bars, evoking a stained-glass window. Flanking are archetypical
 Maasai and Zulu warrior shields, icons of African might. Surrounding are vaguely 
figurative, resin-infused sculptures made from t-shirts, housedresses, and du-
rags—all items associated with contemporary urban culture.

Beasley juxtaposes icons from the history of art with a specific flashpoint in 
twentieth-century American culture. Specifically, Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s
monumental Baroque altarpiece, the Cathedra Petri, in the apse of Saint Peter’s 
Rome, has been reinterpreted through the lens of a carefully staged 
photograph of Black Panther Party founder Huey P. Newton (1942-1989). The
 sculpture, more than merely representing Peter as the first pope, symbolizes the 
papacy as a proverbial seat of power.

Blair Stapp’s 1968 photograph of Newton, entitled Huey Newton, Black Panther
 Minister of Defense, shows Newton armed with rifle and spear.
Newton’s leadership is underscored through his demeanor, pose, and clothing. In
 an apparent quote of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’s 1806 portrait of
 Napoleon I on His Imperial Throne, Stapp’s photograph documents 
the intentional visual construction of Black Panther power that Huey Newton and 
his collaborators orchestrated to echo enthroned might.

Although the previous works of art are separated by time and place, subject and 
material, all are staged symbols of power. Beasley judiciously reaches back 
through history to create an installation that allows the viewer to consider notions
 of power and how it is presented, held, challenged, exhausted, or toppled. The
 space created waivers between indications of the domestic to suggestions of the
 sacred. Bathed in the dramatic light of the theater, Chair of the Ministers of
 Defense is an open stage in which to consider the circumstances and 
conventions used by those in control and those who challenge their authority.

Based in New York City, Kevin Beasley has emerged as among the most
 insightful and distinguished American artists of his generation. Through 
sculpture, installations, and performance art, he has captivated audiences by
 exploring challenging topics that address history, social injustice, power
 dynamics, and, ultimately, the dignity of Black men and women in America.
 Born in Lynchburg, Virginia, in 1985, Beasley attended the College for Creative
 Studies in Detroit (BFA, 2007) and Yale University School of Art (MFA, 2012). He 
captured critical attention at the 2014 Whitney Biennial and presented a solo 
exhibition in 2018. He has exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, the 
Studio Museum, Harlem, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Beasley’s 
work is included in many of the most important public and private collections 
across the United States and England, including The Joyner/Giuffrida Collection 
and The Rennie Collection.

This exhibition was made possible through the generosity of Pamela J. Joyner 
and Fred J. Giuffrida ND’73 and the Humana Foundation Endowment for
 American Art.