David Castillo presents Kalup Linzy: Polaroids, a presentation of the artist’s Polaroid grid pieces.
Kalup Linzy’s practice is steeped in a highly layered, character-driven narrative of his own invention, unfolding across interrelated performances, videos, photographs, and music that follow the lives and lineages of the fictional Queen Rose family across generations. Donning costumes to transform himself in character studies inspired heavily by drag, soap operas, and reality television, Linzy portrays the majority of the protagonists and supporting characters in these works. In this Polaroid series, the artist grouped grids of what appear to be personal snapshots taken of his characters posing alone or among friends and family, on outings in nature or in cities, and simply living their daily lives. Nodding to Andy Warhol—who produced an extensive collection of Polaroids during his career, chronicling his life through the people and places he encountered—Linzy treats these Polaroids as documents that support the richly detailed and complex backstories of the personages they capture, bringing them closer to life.
In one such Polaroid grid, Linzy plays both Katonya and Kaye, two characters—a visual artist and a musician, respectively—who recur throughout the storylines of his works. In the photographs, they can be seen at art openings and other events, scenes that are recognizable from the artist’s video series As Da Art World Might Turn and in many ways mirror the happenings of Linzy’s own life and career as an artist and performer. In another grid, Linzy interprets the role of the fictional Paula Sungstrong, a legendary blues and jazz singer who exists in the same universe as the Queen Rose family. This character, elegantly outfitted yet posed somberly, can be seen across a grid of sepia-toned photos that appear to have been taken during an earlier era. These Polaroids and their older appearance meticulously reinforce the narrative of Paula’s life: Born in 1923, her entertainment career began when she was only 14 years old, spanning nearly six decades before her retirement in 2004; she died in 2012.
The interplay between Linzy and his characters, and the at-times convoluted and disorienting divide between that which is real and that which is fiction, is furthered in subsequent works: In 2020, for example, Linzy released Paula Sungstrong Legend Recordings, an album of songs that he recorded as the character of Paula Sungstong, featuring numbers from her storied career. The recordings, in reality created by Linzy, are in their fictional context said to have been released by Paula Sungstrong’s estate, managed by her granddaughter, a curator and art consultant named Breena Cowill—yet another character played by Linzy.
Polaroids traces the exuberance of Linzy’s practice, his virtuosity as a storyteller across a diversity of media, and the skillful ways in which he puts on and takes off identities while deftly navigating the lives and relationships of his many characters.
Kalup Linzy (b. 1977, Florida) lives and works in Tulsa, OK. His work has been shown nationally and internationally across exhibitions, screenings, and projects at The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley, CA; LAXART, West Hollywood, CA; MoMA PS1, Long Island City, NY; MASS MoCA, North Adams, MA; Sundance Film Festival, Park City, UT; The Garage Center for Contemporary Culture, Moscow, Russia; Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Australia; La Conserva Centro de Arte Contemporaneo, Murcia, Spain; McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, TX; Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art, Indianapolis, IN; Oklahoma Contemporary, Oklahoma City, OK; Museum of the African Diaspora, San Francisco, CA; The Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, FL; USF Contemporary Art Museum, Tampa, FL, and many others. He is a past recipient of the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Grant, the Art Matters Foundation Grant, the Jerome Foundation Grant, the Creative Capital Foundation Grant, and others. Linzy has held teaching positions at the School of the Visual Arts; New York, NY, New York University, New York, NY; Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, and others. His work is held in public collections including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Whitney Museum of Art, New York, NY; Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY; and the Rubell Family Museum, Miami, FL, among many others.