“A Portion Of That Field…” could be one of two things: a painful reminder that an Obama presidency represents but a small step in the Sisyphean integration of race or else a glorious prism through which to view art’s cannibalistic and self-reflexive tendency to devour and reconfigure popular culture. Though the show’s walkaway impression is one of postponed “I have a dream” hope, it’s obvious that the humorous sophistication of Somerville’s compositions and the historical breadth and depth of his scope suggest that the latter’s the case.
The exhibition’s tone is faux-strident and mock-scathing. One piece resembles a vintage ad for a vaudeville show. “Sing Out America,” features the head of an Al Jolson “Mammy”-singing figure replaced by a Klansman. Another satirizes the dream of a promised land. “The New Colossus” shows a large truncated acrylic painting of the Statue of Liberty (Beckoning? No, scared shitless) behind which stands a turnstile, as if African slaves were brought to America in an orderly manner. Other pieces suggest the business as usual activity once the show has closed. In “Double Not, for instance, an impossibly long coil of rope with nooses at the end suggests that, if you give someone enough rope, they’ll eventually hang themselves.
Somerville’s wry humor collates the components of racism and bigotry into an extravagant installation that suggests that it’s not the audience who laughs at the performances, it’s the performers (and us) who laugh at the audience (ourselves).