Radcliffe Bailey’s “Thirst Traps”: On the Visual Aesthetic Musicality of Black Art
Nikki A. Greene
Professor of Art History, Wellesley College
In this lecture, Nikki A. Greene theorizes how “visual aesthetic musicality,” a newly coined term, reflects sonic associations in Black art. Taking liberty with the contemporary slang, “thirst trap,” Greene explores Radcliffe Bailey’s glitter-laden multimedia works as African diasporic self-presentations created to attract audiences by calling attention to the surface. From Michael Jackson’s Jheri curl in the 1980s to Bailey’s own appearance in Arrested Development’s music video, “Tennessee,” in 1992 to Kehinde Wiley’s portrait of Barack Obama in 2018, thirst traps abound that muse on Black identities, popular music, and visual culture.
Nikki A. Greene, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor of Art History at Wellesley College and the Visual Arts Editor of Transition magazine. Her forthcoming book, Grime, Glitter, and Glass: The Body and The Sonic in Contemporary Black Art (Duke University Press) presents a new interpretation of the work of Renée Stout, Radcliffe Bailey, and María Magdalena Campos-Pons, and considers the intersection between the body, black identity, and the sonic possibilities of the visual using key examples of painting, sculpture, photography, performance, and installation.
Greene has written for art museums, including The Studio Museum in Harlem, The Guggenheim Museum, Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, among others. Her essays have appeared in American Studies Journal, Aperture, Panorama: Journal of the Association of Historians of American Art, The Delaware Review of Latin American Studies, and WBUR Boston. She published “Thomas McKellar sous rature: John Singer Sargent’s Erasure of a
Black Model,” for the recently opened exhibition, Boston’s Apollo: Thomas McKeller and John Singer Sargent at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (February 2020). She is currently organizing two exhibitions: the first retrospective exhibition of the abstract painter Moe Brooker at the Woodmere Art Museum in Philadelphia (2022) and an exhibition on contemporary performance art by black female artists.
Greene is the recipient of numerous fellowships, including the Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship at Wellesley College, the Woodrow Wilson Career Advancement Fellowship, the Richard D. Cohen Fellowship in the W. E. B. DuBois Research Institute at the Hutchins Center for Research in African and African American Culture at Harvard University, a Ucross Foundation Residency Writing Fellowship in Wyoming, and a Summer Faculty Fellow at the Newhouse Center for the Humanities at Wellesley College.