Cameron Rowland: “D37” at MOCA Grand Avenue

 Cameron Rowland Passport and Social Security Card, 2018 Unregistered IDs 2 3/16 x 3 7/16 and 2 3/16 x 3 7/16 inches (5.55 × 8.73 cm and 5.55 × 8.73 cm)
 Cameron Rowland Group of 11 Used Bikes – Item: 0281-007089 , 2018 Group of 11 Used Bikes sold for $287 45 x 130 x 54 inches (114.30 × 330.20 × 137.16 cm) Rental at cost

Unregistered citizenship documents are used to evade enforcement of “legal status.” These documents are illegal and operate in resistance to the exclusionary definitions of national citizenship. Citizenship documents that have not been issued by a national government disrupt the registration of citizenship. 42 USC § 1981, “Equal rights under the law,” last updated in 1991, maintains white citizenship as the standard for legal protection in current U.S. statute law: (a)   Statement of equal rights. All persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right in every State and Territory to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of persons and property as is enjoyed by white citizens, and shall be subject to like punishment, pains, penalties, taxes, licenses, and exactions of every kind, and to no other. [1]Courtesy the artist and ESSEX STREET, New York

[1] Equal Rights Under the Law, 42 U.S.C. § 1981.


In The Object Stares Back: On the Nature of Seeing (1996) art historian James Elkins wrote that there is no such thing as just looking. Looking is never neutral. Rather, it conjures power dynamics and fraught desires, including the force we call pain. And pain, both inflicted and lingering, is the experience confronting visitors at Cameron Rowland’s “D37”.

On view at Los Angeles’s MOCA Grand Avenue, the exhibition follows a similar track that the artist has used in the past. Like his 2016 show “91020000” at Artists Space in New York which included courtroom benches and an office desk manufactured by inmates at American prisons, “D37” is aesthetically sparse but conceptually superabundant. The exhibition relies heavily on an explanatory text as a result, which is distributed as a pamphlet and was written by the artist himself. Without it, some visitors might thoroughly miss, or misunderstand, the dense lesson in racist, government-sponsored disenfranchisement constellated in the room before them; even when inescapable oppression is literally put on display.

That “D37” is visually boring is hardly a point of interest or contention; questions regarding what pleases the eye wither in light of the important issue under consideration: the history of ignoble and continuing systemic racism in the United States. If anything, its boringness reveals the plight of the conceptualist who makes art about atrocity: how does one frame a conversation around barbarism that respects human dignity and avoids entertainment? In this case, by documentary means combined with an everyday object methodology.

For example: there is certainly nothing entertaining about the framed wall piece Passport and Social Security Card (2018) that contains illegal, unregistered IDs. The accompanying text which explains the IDs are politically disruptive because they circulate as false records in violation of the US Governmental registration system, but, nonetheless, index the precarity lived by those for whom citizenship, and its attendant privileges, is all but guaranteed or protected. Nor is there any humanity to be found when reading, through the retinal afterimage haze of Rothko paintings one passes on the way to “D37”, the three mid-nineteenth-century receipts in Assessment (2018) that list slaves among taxable assets like cattle and clocks.

Nearby, two piles of bicycles lean against the walls, loosely piled on top of one another, with a few old chains on them. One might interpret them as symbols were they not concrete representations of mobility, freedom, and the possibility of flight denied. Titled Group of 8 Used Bikes–Item: 1284-018213 and Group of 11 Used Bikes–Item: 0281- 007089 (both 2018), their ten-digit serial numbers indicate that the bicycles were sold at a police auction after confiscation by police, the sick twist being that the proceeds of the auction sales go to the police. Rowland uses the bicycles to highlight this circuitous, self-serving power trip and address the historical abuse of legal authority known as “civil asset forfeiture” that allows law enforcement officers to so easily seize property – to take from the poor to give to themselves to sell to themselves to give to themselves again.

Private property, not propriety, drive the powers that be to treat humans like objects that stare with little recourse while their land is stolen, their possessions are whisked away, their lives are torn apart. Private property and its sins are at the heart of the exhibition. They are the source of its name and the site of its execution, as revealed in the artist’s description of 2015 MOCA REAL ESTATE ACQUISITION (2018): D37 refers to a section of Los Angeles called Bunker Hill that was subjected to urban redevelopment in the mid-twentieth century on the logic that the area where its low-income residents, most of whom were non-white, lived constituted a slum. Classism and racism brought dispossession, eviction, and demolition to Bunker Hill, displacing thousands of residents. Today, the Museum of Contemporary Art sits at the district’s centre, neighboured by financial centres and luxury hotels.

“D37” is no passive collection of auratic art objects. It is material evidence of America’s greatest ills, which are insufficiently but accurately described as inequality. Rowland asks viewers to move past the questions of exhibitionary presentation, past the gruesome facts outlined by its content, and into an awareness of their own responses. Whether one feels guilty or confused, or stricken by grief, history remains the same. Slavery happened and the conditions remain the same: racism is synonymous with American culture. Restitution for past and current injustice is the loudest subtext here, roiling within the bowels of a museum.




In the United States, property seized by the police is sold at police auction. Auction proceeds are used to fund the police. Civil asset forfeiture originated in the English Navigation Act of 1660.[1] The Navigation Acts were established to maintain the English monopoly on the triangular trade between England, West Africa, and the English colonies.[2] As Eric Williams writes, “Negroes, the most important export of Africa, and sugar, the most important export of the West Indies, were the principal commodities enumerated by the Navigation Laws.”[3] During the seventeenth century, the auction was standardized as a primary component of the triangle trade to sell slaves, goods produced by slaves, and eventually luxury goods. The auction remains widely used as a means to efficiently distribute goods for the best price.[4] Police, ICE, and CBP may retain from 80% to 100% of the revenue generated from the auction of seized property. Rental at cost: Artworks indicated as “Rental at cost” are not sold. Each of these artworks may be rented for 5 years for the total price realized at police auction. Courtesy the artist and ESSEX STREET, New York

[1] Caleb Nelson, “The Constitutionality of Civil Forfeiture,” The Yale Law Journal 125, no. 8 (June 2016), https://

[2] Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1944), 56–57.

[3] Williams, 57.

[4] Brian Learmount, A History of the Auction (London: Barnard & Learmount, 1985), 30–31.



October 14, 2018 – June 24, 2019