Writers, artists, and most creatives, especially those in their respective indie scenes, often struggle with navigating what it means to be an artist, and if their work is valid if it’s not recognized by formal institutions. The stars of This Is Modern Art are no different. All three are young men of color, and each finds himself at a crossroads of where he is with his art, where he wants to go, and how that relates to the art world at large.
Seven, who is basically the protagonist (though all three are heavily featured), is angry that one must be within the walls of a museum to be recognized as a modern artist. He also has a white girlfriend who serves as an attempted foil to discuss racial privilege. This issue is touched on through their relationship, but ultimately doesn’t go as far as I would have liked, given the deeply racialized history of graffiti and our current charged racial politics.
JC is the group’s intellectual side, voice of reason, and history buff. He was inspired by artists as a child and is often the one spouting facts about the graffiti world to educate the audience. These speeches are highly informative when it comes to the basics of graffiti terminology and history, making it relatively easy for someone with little to no knowledge of the scene to follow the plot.
Dose serves as comic relief for the group, constantly cracking jokes and emphasizing his lackadaisical priorities. Out of the three, he’s the least focused on the artistic merit of what he does, instead doing it for the joy and the recognition of it, however brief, though he does take issue with those who create on “permission walls” instead of out in the real world.
The highlight of the show was the set and light work. The Jones Theater isn’t large by any means, but the set of “This Is Modern Art” uses that to its advantage. A single scaffolding conveys an apartment, a city parking lot, a rooftop, and so much more. Lights projected on the walls and ceiling change the setting more than anything else. Through these effects, we get to see the stars in the city, and learn about different styles of tags, with just a flip of a switch.
“This Is Modern Art” is a play that wants to be about a lot of things: the elitism of the art world, the history of graffiti, the meaning of rebellion, the validity of “the canon,” race, and class. It isn’t entirely successful on a lot of these fronts, but it has heart, and the actors clearly give it their all. Their earnestness comes across, and is mostly endearing, despite the cheesiness that often sneaks through.
This is Modern Art runs through April 15, and tickets start at $25. Get more info here.
Photos courtesy of DCPA