Jennie C. Jones (b.1968) was born in Cincinnati, OH and lives and works in Hudson, NY. Her interdisciplinary practice seeks to engage viewers visually and aurally. Drawing on painting, sculpture, sound, and installation, Jones’s conceptual works reflect on the legacy of modernism and minimalism. Their unconventional materials and reductive compositions highlight the perception of sound within the visual arts.
After graduating from Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts in 1996 with her MFA, Jones created a series of drawings and collages that directly reference music and listening technologies. Featuring exactingly rendered line drawings of speakers and cables and found image collages of sound systems, these works led Jones to begin to break down the components of audio devices. Elaborating on these drawings, in the 2000s, Jones began to use acoustic ephemera (cables, noise canceling instruments, CD jewel cases, etc.) in her artwork—what she has referred to as the “physical residue of music.” Transforming these prosaic materials into elegantly spare sculptures and installations, looping cables so that they became graphic lines, she adopted the conceit of sculpture as drawing in space. At the same time, these works capitalize on the potential of repurposed sound equipment to suggest audibility through its absence. In contrast, her most recent large-scale sculptures are mechanisms to produce sound—their forms capable of being played by the wind.
Further articulating the relationship between sound and physical matter, Jones’s ongoing series of Acoustic Panel Paintings incorporate noise-absorbing acoustic panels. The minimalist works juxtapose these panels with solid and two-tone expanses of color, and draw on imagery that recalls the geometry of musical notation, including bars, crescendos, and measures. Developing alternative ways to illustrate sonic experiences, other paintings from the series boast narrow strips of pigment applied along the edges of their canvases—an effect that causes their compositions to resonate with an echoed glow of color. Meanwhile, more recent Acoustic Panel Paintings interact with the architecture of the spaces they inhabit, escaping the confines of the wall and becoming sculptural as they engage with the floor. Encouraging viewers to anticipate sound even in the quietest of environments, Jones states that the acoustic panels in the paintings are always “active.” As she explains, “I always say they’re active even when there’s no sound in the room; they are affecting the subtlest of sounds in the space—dampening and absorbing even the human voice.” Reinforcing this connection, the Acoustic Panel Paintings frequently use musical devices—e.g. the tritone—as organizing principles for their structure. Seamlessly integrating visual practices with auditory ones, the works underscore the connection between minimalism and music, recovering the legacy of the black avant-garde.
In support of this recovery, for more than a decade, Jones has created sound pieces that microsample and distort disparate recordings. The resulting audio collages, which take black avant-garde sonic movements as their source material, continue the artist’s project of challenging the dominant narrative of modernism by foregrounding African American cultural histories. Expanding on the conceptual ideologies that shaped these histories, Jones’s newest works, which debut this year at The Arts Club of Chicago, IL; Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA; and Prospect.5, New Orleans, LA, combine sound with large-scale installations and sculpture. These expansive pieces challenge the vernacular of modernism, emphasizing the artist’s interest in, in her own words, “the merger of art history and music history … [and] exploring the abstract languages they construct.” Advocating for a holistic approach to the twentieth-century canon, these works and others by Jones ultimately bring to light the systemic inequalities that shape who and what is seen and heard.
Jennie C. Jones’s solo exhibitions include Jennie C. Jones: Constant Structure, The Arts Club of Chicago, IL (2020); Compilation, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, TX (2016); Absorb/Diffuse, The Kitchen, New York, NY (2013); Directions: Jennie C. Jones: Higher Resonance, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. (2013); Counterpoint, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, CA (2011); and RED, BIRD, BLUE, Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, GA (2009), among others. Her work has been included in countless group exhibitions, including Prospect.5: Yesterday we said tomorrow, New Orleans, LA (2020); Ground/work, Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA (2020); Riffs and Relations: African American Artists and the European Modernist Tradition, The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. (2020); The Shape of Shape, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY (2019); Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, MO, traveled to National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C. (2017); The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL (2015), traveled to Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA (2016); Outside the Lines; Black in the Abstract, Part 2: Hard Edges/Soft Curves, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, TX (2014); and Silence, The Menil Collection, Houston, TX (2012), traveled to Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, University of California, CA (2013). Jones’s work is in the collections of the Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Perez Art Museum, Miami, FL; Rose Art Museum, Waltham, MA; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY; Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA; and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN, among others. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Rose Art Museum, Ruth Ann and Nathan Perlmutter Artist-in-Residence Award (2017); Robert Rauschenberg Award (2016); Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant (2013); The Studio Museum in Harlem, Joyce Alexander Wein Artist Prize (2012); and William H. Johnson Prize (2008).