Jennifer Packer: Every Shut Eye Ain’t Sleep
MOCA, Los Angeles
July 01, 2021 – February 21, 2022
Over the past five years, New York–based artist Jennifer Packer has received increasing acclaim for her portraits and allegorical tableaux, including a series of commemorative floral still lifes. Rendered in virtuosic lyrical style and layered intensity, Packer’s drawings and canvases surface representations of intimacy, embodiment, and loss. They mark an important new direction in figurative painting and were featured prominently in the 2019 Whitney Biennial. Organized by MOCA Senior Curator Bennett Simpson, this exhibition presents new and recent works by Packer and is her first exhibition on the West Coast.
Over the past half-decade, Jennifer Packer has garnered increasing acclaim for her intensely lyrical and emotionally nuanced portraits of friends and family memvers, as well as floral paintings memorializing lives stopped by police violence. Right away, Packer’s prioritization of Black figures asserts a political imperative: to care, by the way of representation, for subjects traditionally absent from the history of portraiture.
She expresses an important part of this care, however, in the slow, unfolding, mid-feeling nature of her work – in her virtuosic manipulation of narrative detail, composition, and line, and in a use of color that seems both candy and bruise. Featuring a selection of few and recent paintings and works on paper, Every Shut Eye Ain’t Sleep is Packer’s exhibition on the West Coast. Produced in our present period of incalculable grief – one shaped by the ravages of COVID and the continuing state of harm through which people of color have navigated what it means to see and be seen – the exhibition turns a vernacular phrase in its title anf holds a canny attention to its moment.
What is a shut eye, if not sleep? A looking away or within? A barrier to the observation of others? A grace that is also refusal? Packer’s many depictions of figures in recline and reflection bring to mind the agonizing pace of life during the past year. But they speack too of perseverance, wonderment, and poise in the face of rampant, and in this sense the mya be portrayals of love.
Jennifer Packer: Every Shut Eye Ain’t Sleep is organized by Bennett Simpson, Senior Curator, with Anastasia Kahn, Curatorial Assistant, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.