Get Lifted!
organized by Hilton Als
August 19-October 2, 2021

22 East 2nd Street
New York

Diane Arbus, Anthony Barboza, Peter Bradley, Jared Buckheister, Alice Coltrane, Somaya Critchlow, Brett Goodroad, Louise Fishman, Marley Freeman, Lee Friedlander, Reggie Burrows Hodges, Andrew Lamar Hopkins, Peter Hujar, Siobhan Liddell, Glenn Ligon, Jesse Murry, Ana Mendieta, Alice Neel, Senga Nengundi, Dan Nicoletta, Edward Owens, Paul Pfeiffer, Ntozake Shange, Gertrude Stein & Virgil Thomson, Tabboo!, Paul Thek, James Van Der Zee, Stacy Lynn Waddell, Kelley Walker, Frank Walter, and Jack Whitten

Karma is pleased to present Get Lifted!, an exhibition organized by Hilton Als.

In 1951, the painter Dorothea Tanning created Interior with Sudden Joy. In this detailed, haunting piece, the late American-born painter and poet focuses on two female figures, their arms around each other in an unidentifiable space. One of the young women plays with a shaggy dog, while the other looks toward a dark nude figure who clings to a tree or some other biomorphic shape. Beyond these three, there is another person, gender-nonspecific, standing in darkness beyond an open door and holding a light-filled sphere. Rendered with great precision, Interior with Sudden Joy emphasizes how light illuminates darkness and changes it. The painting is a depiction of the surprise and freedom that a work of art—or a dream—can generate.

Painted near the start of what feels like our permanent Cold War, Tanning’s work is a detail-rich explosion of energy and insight that grew out of a repressive time. Similarly, Get Lifted! is an examination and celebration of how, in dark times and just after, the artist’s creative process can reaffirm life in its effort to describe it. In this group exhibition featuring artists ranging from Diane Arbus and Peter Hujar to Louise Fishman and Reggie Burrows Hodges, the viewer is treated to works in a variety of media—painting, film, photography—that, essentially, describe faith: in the transgressive body, in political freedom, in ecclesiastical belief, in sexual forthrightness and desire, in the release from the corporeal to the spiritual and, thus, the ecstatic. 

Ecstasy, from the Greek ekstasis, meaning to “to stand outside or transcend oneself,” can be an opportunity of sorts for artists who are interested in carrying themselves and their audience beyond previously accepted forms of art, music, literature, dance, performance. Hard times can bring about an explosion of change, a view toward transformation. In Get Lifted!, visual artists such as Ana Mendieta and Paul Pfeiffer remake figures into something else, or make the figure disappear, while Jared Buckhiester and Stacy Lynn Waddell use the privacy of isolation as an occasion for their subjects to undergo some sort of transformation. Get Lifted! also showcases the work of creators who not only transformed their genre but mined the ecstatic over and over. The legendary pianist, harpist and composer Alice Coltrane, and the poet, performer, and playwright Ntozake Shange both, in their own way, expressed what Shange described so trenchantly in her 1972 poem, “My Father is a Retired Magician”:

my father is a retired magician
which accounts for my irregular behavior […]
& the reason i’m so peculiar’s
cuz i been studyin up on my daddy’s technique
& everythin i do is magic these days
& it’s very colored
very now you see it/ now you
dont mess wit me

 Collectively, these seminal artists had a profound effect on American culture from the 1940s on. Their work is a testament to the ecstatic and to how the ecstatic impulse can change not only art but the society that produces it. The visual artists of Get Lifted! demonstrate how art married to the spirit can lift us up collectively, one at a time. 

—Hilton Als