Berkeley-based artist Libby Black's new solo exhibit at Guerrero Gallery, titled Little Girl Blue—a reference to Janis Joplin's famous version of that popular song—is her own radically subtle response to the political and social events that link our past with the tumultuous present.
Through her signature painted paper sculptures, paintings, and creative installations, Black—whose hot-glued renditions of luxury goods you've no doubt seen in previous exhibitions around the city over the past 10-plus years—comments on this particular moment in history by honing in on cultural responses to topics including domesticity and gender roles, LGBT culture, activism, and material desires.
"I hope viewers can have a tender moment—a moment of truth and reflection on what is happening now and what has happened in the past," Black says. "I remake all these things to draw attention to them, to put them together, things that maybe don't usually go together. It is kind of like a song that gets remixed with a different beat, but you are familiar with it in the beginning."
Such familiar moments come in a series of 19 paper baseball caps emblazoned with logos—the Raiders, Gucci, Rhythm Nation, Peppermint Patty—meant to represent all different kinds of people coming together; the personalities here are the audience and the choir, perhaps a crowd in protest, raising their silent voices before a music stand with sheet music open to Little Girl Blue.
Why that song? Black says she recognizes how easy it is to feel down and helpless in such changing times ("Sit there and count your fingers, what can you do"), but hopes to inspire viewers to stand on their own legs, to push on—hence the Joplin reference. On the 1969 Kozmic Blues album, her version of the Rodgers & Hart classic importantly left out the original end verse: "Why won't somebody send a tender blue boy to cheer up little girl blue."
"To imply that women need a man to cheer us up seems crazy to me," says Black, "so of course I am drawn to that song."
It's here that Black the woman, Black the lesbian activist, shines through. This aspect of the artist's own persona is made apparent in the exhibit's paper apron and broom sculptures that allude to "women's work;" in a painting depicting the response at the famous Stonewall Inn to the 2016 shooting inside the Orlando gay club Pulse; and another that depicts Black herself, along with her partner, Jennifer Lovvorn, and their son, at the Women's March in New York last year—each of these pieces connecting the dots from one moment to the next in the women's and LGBT rights movements.
"Libby's perspective will always be relevant, but in our current times, her voice speaks volumes," says Andres Guerrero, the gallery's director and a long-time supporter of Black's. "Her work is considerate, intimate, vulnerable, honest and, most importantly, represents life."
But while it all sounds so serious, there is plenty of humor here, too, with hot pink paper sandals, paintings of accessorized statuary, and vibrant colors lending plenty of levity and moments of sheer delight. "I guess I just want people to have hope—and know you don't need a boy to cheer you up."