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The New Yorker: Art, Ellsworth Ausby

In 1972, this Afrofuturist abstract painter—who died in Brooklyn in 2011—wrote of his desire to “mirror the dynamo of our antecedent heritage despite the temerarious and presumptuous canons of the established art world.” Those poetic words introduce the artist’s current show, at the Eric Firestone gallery, echoing the blazing refinement, the style, and the priorities of the vivid works on view, made between 1969 and 1979. Ausby introduced the forms and the palette of traditional African art into both the geometric sensibility of American hard-edge painting and, later, the post-minimalist sensuality of the Pattern and Decoration movement. The earliest pieces here, including the exhilarating “Moving It,” from 1970, suggest enlarged swatches of kente cloth. In subsequent multipart compositions—such as “Shabazz,” from 1974, with its rich hues and pointed barbell silhouette—Ausby liberated the canvas from its stretchers to stunning effect. These works seem to float, kitelike, on the white walls, giving fresh meaning to the exhibition’s title, which is borrowed from a Sun Ra song: “Somewhere in Space.”

— Johanna Fateman

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