Reyes | Finn is pleased to participate in the 2021 edition of Art Basel Miami Beach with a solo presentation of new work by gallery artist Maya Stovall, on view December 1-5. An Art Basel debut for both the gallery and the artist, the presentation will showcase two distinct series within Stovall’s ongoing neon sculpture and research project, Neon Theatre (2019-present).
Neon Theatre is in the lineage of Stovall’s acclaimed project, Liquor Store Theatre (2014-2019)—a series of video-recorded dance performances and conversations staged in front of liquor stores in her McDougall-Hunt neighborhood in Detroit. In an area with few operating storefronts, liquor stores are iconic representations of post industrial, racialized, gendered, ableist socioeconomic violence, and yet have become de-facto centers of commerce—additionally selling snacks and consumer products—and a place residents repurpose as a public square. Dance is not the objective, but a prompt for conversation with longtime Detroiters on the city’s past, present, and potential futures.
Stovall’s Neon Theatre project catches this momentum of reconsidering the city and opens it up at scale, inviting the viewer to reevaluate ideas of cognition, time, and history. Expressing what the artist terms “global critical race theory in neon lights,” neon mediates a long overdue retelling of history. Across thousands of years, global geographies, and into the future, Neon Theatre inverts representations of ownership, entrepreneurship, authority, and claims to space, place, and time.
1526 (NASDAQ: FAANG)—the ﬁrst of two Neon Theatre series on display within the artist’s Art Basel solo presentation—documents essential moments in human history, represented as numerical years illuminated in neon. The series begins with 1526, the year of the ﬁrst successful rebellion by African American human traﬃcked survivors in mainland North America. Presenting eight new works from the series, the artist documents events such as the publishing of Sketches of the Higher Classes of Colored Society in 1841—one of the ﬁrst known book-length studies to formally detail wealthy African American people’s lives—and 2040, the date by which MIT scientists predicted society as we know it would collapse due to industry induced climate catastrophe.
With this series, Stovall asks: “What data is typically presented in bright lights? What data is typically obscured? Beginning with 1526 South Carolina, where ancestors of my maternal great-grandmother lived before coming to Detroit, the body of work highlights a number of signiﬁcant moments from that year to the present day. The moments are signiﬁcant for a variety of reasons, including cultural, political, economic, and aesthetic themes. Drawing from tens of thousands of pages of archives, an obsession with data—stories and numbers; numbers and stories—is machined into a series of dates and cards. Drawing from NASDAQ: FAANG aesthetics, links between information, knowledge, power, and the notion of truth, are contemplated, meditated, and brought into a clear and present focus. As I researched the archive and compiled the dates, I’d often cry. The tears were/are absolutely not tears of sadness nor of euphoria. They were/are tears of clarity—tears of legibility—tears of information. Tears of naming, perhaps. But the viewer is able to decide that which is named.”
Stovall pairs each neon date with an explanatory postcard, where brief details or archives oﬀer mass market consumption of the date. Rendering both the printed and neon dates in Helvetica Neue, Stovall stealthily probes the presence of capital markets, ﬁnance, data, marketing and design through human historical epochs, and oﬀers a possibility for experiencing the world as it is through deeper understanding of structures and systems across space and time. Stovall’s use of Helvetica is an example of how she recruits marketing strategies and familiar consumer aesthetics across Neon Theatre, linking capital markets and ﬁnancialization to questions concerning space, place, time, and cognition.
The artist deliberately disrupts the chronological sequence of the numerical pieces with a new work from A____ that deﬁes gravity, a concurrent series that uses abstraction as a means to investigate space and time as intuitions and concepts, bringing into focus the dichotomy between illumination and mystery. Using varied colorways of low-glow neon tubes, the artist asks the viewer to reﬂect on what happens after theorizing space, place, and time, and allow new ways of thinking, knowing, and being to emerge.