Steve Locke’s ongoing series Homage to the Auction Block (2019–present) marks a significant formal departure from the artist’s earlier works. Re-envisioning Josef A. Albers’s 1950–1976 Homage to the Square series with an ominous charge, Homage to the Auction Block abstracts a slave auction block to its most basic geometric silhouette—reflecting Locke’s belief that “the basic Modernist form is indeed the slave auction block.” Queering the pure formalism and color theory of Albers, Homage to the Auction Block unpicks the intertwined histories of race and modernism.
According to Locke, “The application of flat color, the use of the grid, and the reliance on ‘primary structures’ have art historical meanings central to Western Modernism and its notion that form could be separated from its content. The works retain some residue of their conception with guided and gridlines at times visible in the hand painted surface. Proportion and chromatic relationships are explored to varying visual effect. The use of the ‘auction block’ motif literally organizes these modernist relations around the central symbol of chattel slavery in the Americas. The work reframes the work of modernism around the shape that made it possible.”