Isaac Julien | Once Again . . . (Statues Never Die) | 2024 Whitney Biennial | Artist Interview

May 15, 2024

Isaac Julien provides insight into his contribution to the 2024 edition of the Whitney Biennial: an installation called Once Again . . . (Statues Never Die). 

Unfolding across five screens, Once Again . . . (Statues Never Die) reflects on the life and thought of Alain Locke (1885–1954), philosopher, educator, and cultural critic of the Harlem Renaissance (played by André Holland) who urged members of the African diaspora to embrace African art in order to reclaim their cultural heritage. The installation includes sculptures by Richmond Barthé (1901–1989) and Matthew Angelo Harrison (b. 1985), opening up a conversation about Black artists’ legacies that extends across modern history. Julien has described the work as a form of “poetic restitution,” speaking to the ways museums have collected African art. The artist refines this critique by creating a visual and sonic meditation as a “diasporic dream-space.”

In the work, Locke contemplates the Pitt Rivers Museum at the University of Oxford—where he was the first Black Rhodes Scholar—and the Barnes Collection in Philadelphia, founded by one of Locke’s interlocutors, Albert C. Barnes (1872–1951), played by Danny Huston. Barnes also debates a skeptical Locke on his heritage, a sequence that distills many of the questions that the installation raises: Who gets to define Black modernism? Who has the authority to speak? How do men negotiate power, or queer desire? 

Whitney Biennial 2024: Even Better Than the Real Thing is co-organized by Chrissie Iles, Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Curator, and Meg Onli, Curator at Large, with Min Sun Jeon and Beatriz Cifuentes.