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Ken Gonzales-Day with his Erased Lynchings (2000-2020). Credit Andrew Harnik, AP Photo.

Ken Gonzales-Day’s interdisciplinary and conceptually grounded photographic projects consider the history of photography, the construction of race, and the limits of representational systems. Gonzales-Day is a Getty scholar and a Terra Foundation and Smithsonian Museum fellow.  In 2018, he was the subject of a solo exhibition at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. A former Chair and current professor of art at Scripps College, Gonzales-Day’s exhaustive research and book Lynching in the West, 1850-1935 (2006) led to a re-evaluation of the history of lynching in this country. The book shed light on the little-known history of frontier justice and vigilantism and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. The Erased Lynchings series of photographs was a product of this research, which revealed that race was a contributing factor in California's own history of lynching and vigilantism, and through which he discovered that the majority of victims were Mexican or, like him, Mexican-American. Gonzales-Day takes the same scholarly approach to his ongoing Profiled series, which looks to the depiction of race and the construction of whiteness in the representation of the human form as points of departure from which to consider the evolution and transformation of Enlightenment ideas about beauty, class, freedom, and progress. The series was awarded the first Photo Arts Council Prize (PAC) by LACMA and documented in a handsome monograph. It is Gonzales-Day’s continual engagement with history and his interest in peeling back the layers that makes his work so powerful and continuously relevant.

Gonzales-Day's work can be found in several prominent collections, including: Norton Museum of Art, Palm Beach, FL; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC; Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, CA; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; Santa Barbara Museum of Art; Minnesota Museum of American Art, St. Paul, MN; Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, Michigan State University; Eileen Norton Harris Foundation; 21C Museum, Louisville, KY; Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH; Williamson Gallery, Scripps College; L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris; Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris; Pomona College Museum of Art; City of Los Angeles; and Metropolitan Transit Authority, Los Angeles.

Ken Gonzales-Day Five Sculptures with Snakes: Roman, The Landsdowne Athlete, The Hope Herakles, The Hope Hygieia, The Bateman Mercury, Jean-Antoine Houdon, Seated Voltaire; with snakes (all LACMA), 2019

Ken Gonzales-Day
Five Sculptures with Snakes: Roman, The Landsdowne Athlete, The Hope Herakles, The Hope Hygieia, The Bateman Mercury, Jean-Antoine Houdon, Seated Voltaire; with snakes (all LACMA), 2019
Archival Ink on Canson PhotoSatin Paper
40 x 50 in.
Edition of 5, 2 AP

Ken Gonzales-Day Transformation: (left) Nepal, The Androgynous Form of Shiva and Parvati, (Ardhanarishvara); surrounded by, India, Head of Buddha Shakyamuni; Cambodia, Head of Buddha Shakyamuni; Indonesia, Brahma, the God of Creation; Pakistan, Buddha Shakyamuni; India, The Maharishi; India, Head of Buddha Shakyamuni; (center) Egypt, Figurine of the Goddess Bastet as a Cat, Royal Head, Nubian Female Figure, Statuette of Osiris, Foot, Baboon, Head of Osiris, Kneeling Priest Figurine in Worshipping Pose; (right) Japanese, Eleven-headed Kannon, Buddhist Layman, Melanesian with Drum, Amida Buddha; Unjudō Shumemaru, The Zen Priest Bukan; Japan, Monkey with Mermaid swimming to the Dragon King’s Palace (all LACMA), 2019

Ken Gonzales-Day
Transformation: (left) Nepal, The Androgynous Form of Shiva and Parvati, (Ardhanarishvara); surrounded by, India, Head of Buddha Shakyamuni; Cambodia, Head of Buddha Shakyamuni; Indonesia, Brahma, the God of Creation; Pakistan, Buddha Shakyamuni; India, The Maharishi; India, Head of Buddha Shakyamuni; (center) Egypt, Figurine of the Goddess Bastet as a Cat, Royal Head, Nubian Female Figure, Statuette of Osiris, Foot, Baboon, Head of Osiris, Kneeling Priest Figurine in Worshipping Pose; (right) Japanese, Eleven-headed Kannon, Buddhist Layman, Melanesian with Drum, Amida Buddha; Unjudō Shumemaru, The Zen Priest Bukan; Japan, Monkey with Mermaid swimming to the Dragon King’s Palace (all LACMA), 2019
Archival Ink on Canson PhotoSatin Paper
40 x 100 in.
Edition of 5, 2 AP

Ken Gonzales-Day Americas (Large constellation): Mexico (unless noted), Dog; Standing Dog; Dog with Human Mask; Baby Figure; Columbia, Figure with Ligatures on the Arms and Legs; Standing Female Figure; Standing Male Figure; Man Using Tumpline to Carry Vessel; Standing Couple, Male Figure; Seated Figure; Seated Female on Bench; Columbia, Hollow-slab Seated Femalewith Geom Designs; Seated Male Figure; Male Seated on Bench; Hunchback; Seated Couple; Joined Couple (all LACMA), 2019

Ken Gonzales-Day
Americas (Large constellation): Mexico (unless noted), Dog; Standing Dog; Dog with Human Mask; Baby Figure; Columbia, Figure with Ligatures on the Arms and Legs; Standing Female Figure; Standing Male Figure; Man Using Tumpline to Carry Vessel; Standing Couple, Male Figure; Seated Figure; Seated Female on Bench; Columbia, Hollow-slab Seated Femalewith Geom Designs; Seated Male Figure; Male Seated on Bench; Hunchback; Seated Couple; Joined Couple (all LACMA), 2019
Archival Ink on Canson PhotoSatin Paper
40 x 50 in.
Edition of 5, 2 AP

Ken Gonzales-Day Africa: (left) Republic of Congo, Mask; Mali, Mother and Child for the Gwan Assoc.; Kota Peoples, Obamba or Mindumu groups, Janus Reliquary Guardian Figure; Republic of the Congo, Figure of Hunter; Nigeria, Plaque; Republic of Congo, Figure; Liberia, Mask; (center) Indonesia, Magical Figure of the Toba Bakat, (Louvre); Cote d’Ivoire, Fetish Figure; Republic of Mali, Boli (Komo Society Altar) (all LACMA), 2019

Ken Gonzales-Day
Africa: (left) Republic of Congo, Mask; Mali, Mother and Child for the Gwan Assoc.; Kota Peoples, Obamba or Mindumu groups, Janus Reliquary Guardian Figure; Republic of the Congo, Figure of Hunter; Nigeria, Plaque; Republic of Congo, Figure; Liberia, Mask; (center) Indonesia, Magical Figure of the Toba Bakat, (Louvre); Cote d’Ivoire, Fetish Figure; Republic of Mali, Boli (Komo Society Altar) (all LACMA), 2019
Archival Ink on Canson PhotoSatin Paper
40 x 50 in.
Edition of 5, 2 AP

Ken Gonzales-Day Transformation: (left) Nepal, The Androgynous Form of Shiva and Parvati, (Ardhanarishvara); surrounded by, India, Head of Buddha Shakyamuni; Cambodia, Head of Buddha Shakyamuni; Indonesia, Brahma, the God of Creation; Pakistan, Buddha Shakyamuni; India, The Maharishi; India, Head of Buddha Shakyamuni; (center) Egypt, Figurine of the Goddess Bastet as a Cat, Royal Head, Nubian Female Figure, Statuette of Osiris, Foot, Baboon, Head of Osiris, Kneeling Priest Figurine in Worshipping Pose; (right) Japanese, Eleven-headed Kannon, Buddhist Layman, Melanesian with Drum, Amida Buddha; Unjudō Shumemaru, The Zen Priest Bukan; Japan, Monkey with Mermaid swimming to the Dragon King’s Palace (all LACMA), 2019Auguste Rodin, Left Hand of a Pianist (LACMA) , 2019

Ken Gonzales-Day
Transformation: (left) Nepal, The Androgynous Form of Shiva and Parvati, (Ardhanarishvara); surrounded by, India, Head of Buddha Shakyamuni; Cambodia, Head of Buddha Shakyamuni; Indonesia, Brahma, the God of Creation; Pakistan, Buddha Shakyamuni; India, The Maharishi; India, Head of Buddha Shakyamuni; (center) Egypt, Figurine of the Goddess Bastet as a Cat, Royal Head, Nubian Female Figure, Statuette of Osiris, Foot, Baboon, Head of Osiris, Kneeling Priest Figurine in Worshipping Pose; (right) Japanese, Eleven-headed Kannon, Buddhist Layman, Melanesian with Drum, Amida Buddha; Unjudō Shumemaru, The Zen Priest Bukan; Japan, Monkey with Mermaid swimming to the Dragon King’s Palace (all LACMA), 2019Auguste Rodin, Left Hand of a Pianist (LACMA) , 2019
Archival Ink on Canson PhotoSatin Paper
40 x 50 in.
Edition of 5, 2 AP

Ken Gonzales-Day Americas (Large and Small Constellation): Mexico (unless noted), Dog; Standing Dog; Dog with Human Mask; Baby Figure; Columbia, Figure with Ligatures on the Arms and Legs; Figure of Xipe Totec; Figure, Male; Standing Figure; Standing Female Figure; Standing Male Figure; Male Standard Bearer; Man Using Tumpline to Carry Vessel; Standing Couple, Male Figure; Seated Figure; Seated Female on Bench; Columbia, Hollow-slab Seated Female with Geom Designs; Figurine Whistle of Seated Elite Female with Cranial Deformation, Facial Scarification, and Forehead Jewel; Seated Male Figure; Male Seated on Bench; Seated, Toothless Male with Protruding, Wrinkled Belly (Aged God); Hunchback; Seated Couple; Joined Couple (all LACMA), 2019

Ken Gonzales-Day
Americas (Large and Small Constellation): Mexico (unless noted), Dog; Standing Dog; Dog with Human Mask; Baby Figure; Columbia, Figure with Ligatures on the Arms and Legs; Figure of Xipe Totec; Figure, Male; Standing Figure; Standing Female Figure; Standing Male Figure; Male Standard Bearer; Man Using Tumpline to Carry Vessel; Standing Couple, Male Figure; Seated Figure; Seated Female on Bench; Columbia, Hollow-slab Seated Female with Geom Designs; Figurine Whistle of Seated Elite Female with Cranial Deformation, Facial Scarification, and Forehead Jewel; Seated Male Figure; Male Seated on Bench; Seated, Toothless Male with Protruding, Wrinkled Belly (Aged God); Hunchback; Seated Couple; Joined Couple (all LACMA), 2019
Archival Ink on Canson PhotoSatin Paper
40 x 70 in.
Edition of 5, 2 AP

Ken Gonzales-Day Liberty: Stephan Sinding, The Slave; Jean- Baptiste Carpeaux, Why Born a Slave (Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen); encircled by Hendrick de Keyser, Mars; Guillaume Boichot, Seated Hercules; Pierre -Jean David d Angers, Philopoemen; and Francois Rude, Head of the Genius of Liberty (LACMA, unless noted), 2019

Ken Gonzales-Day
Liberty: Stephan Sinding, The Slave; Jean- Baptiste Carpeaux, Why Born a Slave (Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen); encircled by Hendrick de Keyser, Mars; Guillaume Boichot, Seated Hercules; Pierre -Jean David d Angers, Philopoemen; and Francois Rude, Head of the Genius of Liberty (LACMA, unless noted), 2019
Archival Ink on Canson PhotoSatin Paper
40 x 50 in.
Edition of 5, 2 AP

Ken Gonzales-Day Auguste Rodin, Left Hand of a Pianist (LACMA) , 2019

Ken Gonzales-Day
Auguste Rodin, Left Hand of a Pianist (LACMA) , 2019
Archival Ink on Canson PhotoSatin Paper
40 x 50 in.
Edition of 5, 2 AP

Ken Gonzales-Day Mermaid: Willem Danielsz. Van Tetrode, Mercury; Mexico, Colima, Seated Figure; Egypt , Statuette of Osiris; Hendrick de Keyser,Mars; Republic of the Fiji Islands, Female Figure; Mali, Mother and Child for the Gwan Assoc.; Republic of Congo, Figure; Antonio Canova, Hercules and Lychas; Japan, Mermaid; (all LACMA),  2019

Ken Gonzales-Day
Mermaid: Willem Danielsz. Van Tetrode, Mercury; Mexico, Colima, Seated Figure; Egypt , Statuette of Osiris; Hendrick de Keyser,Mars; Republic of the Fiji Islands, Female Figure; Mali, Mother and Child for the Gwan Assoc.; Republic of Congo, Figure; Antonio Canova, Hercules and Lychas; Japan, Mermaid; (all LACMA),  2019
Archival Ink on Canson PhotoSatin Paper
40 x 50 in.
Edition of 5, 2 AP

Ken Gonzales-Day Rodin: Auguste Rodin, The Age of Bronze (Auguste Ney) aka The Awakening Man (PAFA, Philadelphia); encircled by Rodin’s The Shade, Kneeling Female Faun, Eve, Marsyas aka Torso of The Falling Man, and Monumental Head of Pierre de Wissant (LACMA), 2019

Ken Gonzales-Day
Rodin: Auguste Rodin, The Age of Bronze (Auguste Ney) aka The Awakening Man (PAFA, Philadelphia); encircled by Rodin’s The Shade, Kneeling Female Faun, Eve, Marsyas aka Torso of The Falling Man, and Monumental Head of Pierre de Wissant (LACMA), 2019
Archival Ink on Canson PhotoSatin Paper
40 x 50 in.
Edition of 5, 2 AP

Ken Gonzales-Day Aphrodite: (center) Plaster, Aphrodite; surrounded by (top to bottom) plasters of ‘ Venus Genitrix’ and Antonio Canova, Venus Italica (Royal Cast Collection, Copenhagen); Roman Lady as Venus (Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen); Unidentified, model; Aphrodite/Venus, and Venus de Medici (Cast Collection, PAFA, Philadelphia, unless noted), 2019

Ken Gonzales-Day
Aphrodite: (center) Plaster, Aphrodite; surrounded by (top to bottom) plasters of ‘ Venus Genitrix’ and Antonio Canova, Venus Italica (Royal Cast Collection, Copenhagen); Roman Lady as Venus (Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen); Unidentified, model; Aphrodite/Venus, and Venus de Medici (Cast Collection, PAFA, Philadelphia, unless noted), 2019
Archival Ink on Canson PhotoSatin Paper
40 x 50 in.
Edition of 5, 2 AP

The photographic images were the result of recent forays into the collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art (PAFA), The Louvre in Paris, and The Royal Cast Collection and Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, both in Copenhagen.  Objectsfrom these collections have been individually documented and assembled into “constellations”. 

 

As in previous bodies of work, Gonzales-Day engages with historical objects as part of his ongoing research into the history of modern racial formation.  Many of the historic works are rarely on public display; are used for teaching; or are being redefined within the museum and the field of art history, as is the case with, for example, African and Egyptian Art, Latin American Art and Art of the Americas, and so on.  Nearly all of the works Gonzales-Day photographed were once displayed as part of a universalized humanist approach that could be said to begin with the Enlightenment project’s notion of progress. 

 

Today, some of these art objects might be characterized as “possessions,” spiritual objects, or ancestor figures.  In representing these works, Gonzales-Day invites us to consider the dual role of every museum object—part visual expression of the maker or makers and part historical artifact within a larger cultural, institutional, disciplinary narrative—what Michel Foucault characterized as the politics of the imagination.  If for Foucault, the museum was a culture machine, then for Gonzales-Day, it is precisely the site from which to begin any critical excavation, artistic recuperation, or cultural reconciliation. 

 

Rather than creating “new” sculptural objects, Gonzales-Day has assembled this series as a response to the vast under-representation of the struggles of black, brown, queer, and variously abled bodies in the majority of publicly funded museum collections. However, Gonzales-Day does not simply echo the importance of applying a critical framework for thinking about museum collections, he also provides a model when he employs LACMA’s encyclopedic museum collection in order to bring attention to works already in the collection. The mermaid, the slave, the hunchback, the toothless Mexican or aged god, the androgynous form of Shiva and Parvati are just a few the idiosyncratic or problematic typologies the artist has identified. 

 

For Gonzales-Day, these and other objects suggest the recuperative potential of a proposition which sees the ever-expanding universe of museum collections as a universe filled with its own dying stars and dark holes from which to highlight, not only what is present, but what is missing as well. 

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