I don’t understand abstract art. The way an artist can seemingly throw paint on a canvas in slaps and smears, carve out streaks of texture, then assign great meaning to it. But I love the ambiguity of it, how I, the viewer, have full permission to assign my own meaning. Especially with untitled pieces.

Artist Rushern Baker IV is one of four artists exhibited in “The Future is Abstract.” The exhibition curated by Dexter Wimberly is now on view at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture until July 8 among three others: “The Nature of Us,” “Harlem Notes” and “Father Figure.”

And before I walked into the gallery on Friday to take a look at one of Baker’s untitled pieces, I heard Wimberly describe abstract art. It sounded approachable the way he put it, as “paintings and images that aren’t easily discernible but are still imbued with so much information, and so much passion, and so much of a statement about politics and society and economics and who we are as human beings.”


In conceiving this show, he considered the country’s political climate and said, “I think we all can agree that the future did seem a bit abstract. And I knew that no matter what happened in November that idea of abstraction, that idea of not quite knowing where we’re going and, now that we’ve arrived someplace, not knowing, again, where we’re headed with still resonate with people.”

When taking in “The Future is Abstract,” you’ll find paintings that use canvas as well as found materials like chain-link fences, and Plexiglass.

“It’s a painting exhibition that’s also trying to deal with technology, trying to deal with – you’ll hear this word often – materiality,” Wimberly said. “You look at a thing and you think you know what it is, but if you haven’t touched it and smelled it and dealt with it you don’t really know what the materials are that you are experiencing.”

Baker’s works tend to address degrading urban environments or political unrest.

“My paintings often mix traditional media with building materials and compositions that build landscapes both real and feared,” he said.

His untitled pieces in this exhibition blend acrylic, spray paint, aluminum and ceramic tile adhesive on linen. The one I was drawn to hung at the end of his display, farthest from the gallery door. I stood in front of it.

And this is what his painting told me about our abstract future: It’s a little crooked, a little straight. A little dull, a little shiny. A little rough, a little smooth. A little blue, a little bright. A little dark, a little light.

That’s all I need to know for now.


Photos: Katie Toussaint