Rashid Johnson: Within Our Gates, Moscow

The artist's biggest installation yet transforms Garage Museum of Contemporary Art into a forest

Moscow contemporary art museum Garage moved into its permanent home last summer: a derelict 1960s Soviet Modernist restaurant in Gorky Park, renovated by Rem Koolhaas’ OMA Design and now covered in a translucent polycarbonate façade. The spacious entrance hall—visible from all floors—has a unique job beyond greeting visitors. The Garage Atrium Commissions brings in artists to create new site-specific artworks that respond to the 9.5 meter high and 11 meter wide foyer. The third and latest commission is from American artist Rashid Johnson, who has installed a living, green sculpture for “Within Our Gates.”

A smaller version of this was seen during the artist’s 2014 exhibition “Islands” at David Kordansky Gallery; “Plateaus” (2014) listed plants, ceramic, concrete, plastic, brass, burned wood, grow lamps, CB radios, shea butter, rugs and books as the materials on the steel grid structure. In Russia, Johnson places similar found and made objects (even a screening of “Rocky IV”) between luscious ficus and ferns, as the structure forms a maze. The show’s title takes inspiration from the 1920 silent film “Within Our Gates”—an ambitious effort from African-American filmmaker Oscar Micheaux to portray the complexities of racism through a constrained medium, all the while entertaining the audience. The visually striking labyrinth finds a tender balance between what’s been artificially constructed and what simply exists and breathes and lives—thanks to the light streaming in through the atrium.

Within Our Gates” runs through 31 August 2016.

Installation shots courtesy of Rashid Johnson: Within Our Gates, © Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, 2016; Garage exterior image courtesy of OMA