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National Gallery of Canada

As part of its Contemporary Projects initiative, the National Gallery of Canada approached Rashid Johnson to create a major work for the building’s glass-domed main entrance. The resulting work, Capsule, is the largest pyramidal steel sculpture Johnson has produced to date.

The installation consists of a series of stacked cells filled with plants, books, fiberglass and shea-butter sculptures, video monitors and grow lights. It functions like a brain, incorporating and connecting autobiographical, intellectual, musical, art historical, and literary sources, which are embedded within the objects occupying the minimalist form. 

"Art has a long story to tell… it is an incredibly effective delivery system and tool for change… it gives us an opportunity to have a voice," says Rashid Johnson.

The majority of plants are housed in hand-built ceramic pots made and decorated by the artist with recurring imagery also found in his paintings. The installation features carved blocks of shea butter, one of the artist’s signature materials that was a fixture in his childhood home. The carefully selected stacked books explore tensions and experiences related to issues of race and class.

Johnson has incorporated a pathway through the monumental installation, offering visitors unexpected vantage points. He has also included a performance space at its heart to accommodate live performances. It is his hope that the work will solicit experiences and responses that can be at once emotional, intellectual and critical.