by DJ Pangburn
When iconic musician and pop star Prince passed away in April, the tributes rolled in. Around this time, writer, critic and curator Glen Helfand decided he wanted to organize his own tribute for the Purple One. The result is After Pop Life, an exhibition of Prince-inspired art now on at Minnesota Street Project in Oakland.
Helfand tells The Creators Project that After Pop Life is a follow-up to an exhibition he organized back in 1993. At the time, Helfand was a Prince fanatic and making his way in the art world. Wanting to explore how Prince created a musical and visual universe, he enlisted friends to make art in honor of Prince. Though he drifted away from Prince’s more recent records, Helfand was again inspired by the late artist’s Oakland show in March of this year. And when Prince passed away, Helfand was struck by the outpouring of grief, so he posted an announcement to the first show, then felt encouraged enough by the responses to update the project.
In Rex Ray’s “cross piece,” the artist forms a religious icon of related hand gestures taken from album covers by Prince, David Bowie, and Roxy Music. In The Artist, Luke Butler creates a paper doll piece that Helfand says “speaks to the idea of how we manipulate our idols, we can literally play with his sexiness, transcendence, and flash.”
“The video by XUXA SANTAMARIA, a musical collaboration by Sofia Cordova and Matt Kirkland, captures that feeling of being alone in your childhood bedroom bonding with a song—it gives me goosebumps,” says Helfand. “Maria Guzman Capron’s sculpture does something similar... Tamra Seal describes her glowing orb piece as a drop of purple rain on a patch of like-colored astroturf; it’s a portal to another dimension.”
Elsewhere, Jason Lazarus shows a text-based piece that recounts how Prince got the Super Bowl Halftime Show. According to Helfand, Prince likened to the situation to what it’s like for an artist to have a studio visit. In another piece, artist Didi Dunphy crafts a cushioned purple skateboard that would have been fit for Prince’s plush persona and lifestyle.
“I am happy to have included works by artists working in studios for developmentally disabled artists as there is often deep identification with famous figures in that work,” Helfand notes. “William Scott, an artist who works with Creative Growth in Oakland, is noted for his works honoring soul music, and with that painting he anticipates Prince’s rebirth. Yukari Sakura, who works with Creativity Explored in San Francisco, makes paintings of desserts in honor of deceased celebrities, and here she offers a pie and a cake.”
Helfand also worked with a young collective called Bonzanza, who work in various media, including fashion. Currently they are at work on a show for the closing party. Titled 23 Positions in a One Night Stand, Bonanza are planning to invoke 23 Prince looks, including the yellow buttless pants that Prince wore on the MTV Music Awards while performing “Gett Off.” “It’s going to be glittering and sexy,” Helfand says.
Ideally, Helfand hopes that with After Pop Life people can ponder and appreciate Prince as a meaningful artist, not just a pop star. He also hopes that visitors are able to think about how people “claim” certain artists.
“The most obvious way this happens is through karaoke, and Jenifer Wofford’s Dearly Beloved Karaoke Chapel is literally a place of worship that is giving people a site to both grieve and feel joy,” he says. “Jenifer was one of the key people who encouraged me to mount this show. But other artists in the show, Rodney McMillian, XUXA SANTAMARIA, and Laura Hyunjhee Kim each made videos in which they somehow ‘own’ a Prince song.”
“With 38 artists in the show, I also wanted people to experience a sense of abundance, of the pleasure of seeing a lot of colorful (purple), sexy artwork to offer some solace for the passing of a great artist and some respite during this tense political moment.”