Walking into All Street Gallery, tucked away on a residential block in the East Village, the art on the walls is not immediately recognizable as “Black art,” and that’s the point. Although the series of multimedia works are in conversation with each other, there appears to be no instantly apparent narrative; the current exhibition is a world of chaos built by various architects that seek to abstract the building materials gifted to them beyond recognition. In All Street’s Chaos Theory: the spectrum of black abstraction, seven artists explore Blackness as a seemingly chaotic yet intricately constructed phenomenon through abstraction, a genre that is contradictingly opaque and open to subjective interpretation. (Curated by Ciaran Short and Jabari Butler, the exhibition features work by Austin Sley Julian, Christl Stringer, C. J. Jackson, FAITH McCorkle, Freddie L. Rankin II, Garry Grant and Shangari Mwashighadi.)

Art by Austin Sley Julian exhibited at CHAOS THEORY (C) All Street Gallery
Art by Christl Stringer at CHAOS THEORY (C) All Street Gallery

The gallery has taken the opportunity to question a uniform notion of Blackness during Black History Month, a time when Black accomplishments and culture are prominent in institutions, organizations, businesses, and social discourse. Most visibly, Black culture is vibrant, animated, and boisterous, but beyond its façade, it’s also countless other conflicting adjectives. In its mainstream representation, however, Blackness is depicted most poignantly as a monolith, particularly in arts, media, and entertainment. When Black artists challenge this singular narrative by sharing their personal perspectives, progress is slowly made; however, undoing assumptions and prejudice rooted in hundreds of years of precedent is a tall task.  

Art is a crucial way to communicate and exemplify the nuance and subtlety that exists within the spectrum of Black experience and, essentially, serves as a means of resistance against misinformation. At the same time, the function of art as a political tool places the onus of an activist or socially conscious framework onto the practices of all Black creatives. Due to the context of their work’s origin – a hierarchical society embedded with stark identity prejudice – Black creatives often face the pressure that their output must have something significant to say. Although well-intentioned, the desire for the work of any marginalized artist to provide socio-political commentary can stifle creativity and, ultimately, strip an artist’s freedom. 

Art by Garry Grant at CHAOS THEORY (C) All Street Gallery
Artist FAITH McCorkle and friends view her piece at CHAOS THEORY (C) All Street Gallery

Black Artists And Abstraction: The Legacy Of Jean-Michel Basquiat

The upper echelons of creative industries operate identically to other profit-driven sectors and thus, strict rules emerge in order to maximize earning potential. Often, these commercially-driven interests determine who gets the opportunity to exhibit in the hopes of garnering interest from collectors. As an example, Jean Michel-Basquiat revolutionized the fine art world, employing a blend of abstraction and street art, situating him as an ambitious outsider with a fresh perspective on art. His mainstream success – which has manifested in global posthumous fame as well as exorbitant auction prices – has resulted in Basquiat becoming the gold standard for Black artists in terms of influence and staggering commercial success.

Yet while Basquiat made a name for himself by being different, he has essentially now created a style that scores of young artists attempt to imitate, hoping to achieve similar recognition. While Basquiat made art accessible to a wider audience, the strength of his legacy often dwarfs those of other Black artists. This has resulted in many artists thinking their only chance for success is to mimic Basquiat, and the fine art world enforces that bias by uplifting narratives of the artist’s exceptionalism and rendering him the highest-selling Black artist. 

Art by Freddie L. Rankin II at CHAOS THEORY (C) All Street Gallery

The Potential To Explore Blackness And Black History In Abstract Art

Within the realm of abstraction, mimicry is extremely counterintuitive, as abstract art provides the opportunity for limitless experimentation. Particularly when considering the potential freedom it can provide to Black artists, abstraction can serve as both an answer and escape to having a single piece encapsulate a state of being that cannot be contained representationally. Through an exchange of simultaneous withholding and offering of vulnerability, multitudes of meaning can coexist without being overtly depicted, allowing Black artists to move beyond the expectation of spoon feeding social relevance and giving space to audiences to actually contemplate and digest the work. 

In my own personal artistic practice, it is most difficult for me to surrender control and embrace ambiguity, thereby trusting the imagined viewer to take an active role in trying to understand. As a result, when curating a group show of other artists, I sought to challenge myself by finding work that not only embraces ambiguity, but also uses it as a catalyst for internal reflection. 

Abstract art has great potential to investigate notions of quiet. Silence, withholding, vagueness, and mystery don’t inherently mean a lack of information or ability; instead, it is perhaps the most open way to represent an overwhelming concoction of feeling that no realistic depiction could do justice. This expression of the interior is what binds the works on view at All Street Gallery’s black history month exhibition, Chaos Theory: the spectrum of black abstraction

Chaos Theory: the spectrum of black abstraction is currently on view at All Street Gallery’s East Village location, 77 East Third Street, New York, NY 10003, through February 29, open daily from 1-7 pm. The exhibition was curated by Ciaran Short and Jabari Butler, featuring work by Austin Sley Julian, Christl Stringer, C. J. Jackson, FAITH McCorkle, Freddie L. Rankin II, Garry Grant and Shangari Mwashighadi.

For more about All Street Gallery, visit allstnyc.com.

(C) All Street Gallery


Written By:

Ciaran Short is a multimedia artist, writer, and activist born and raised in NYC. He co-founded All ST NYC, a protest group and alternative art gallery in the East Village utilizing art to raise visibility and support social justice movements. For more about Ciaran, visit allstnyc.com.

@all.st.nyc (IG)


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Jabari Butler

Austin Sley Julian

Christl Stringer

FAITH McCorkle

Freddie L. Rankin II

Garry Grant


Featured image: Artist FAITH McCorkle at the CHAOS THEORY premiere (C) All Street Gallery