With a precise visual style, Tony Cokes (b. 1956) investigates the representations of race, gender, and class in popular media. The artist’s minimalist strategy is one of fragmentation and repositioning. Cokes typically layers fragments from essays, speeches, or journalism over color-block backgrounds, with accompanying soundtracks of soul, hip-hop, punk, and techno music.

Still from Tony Cokes, Evil.35: Carlin / Owners, 2012. HD video, color, sound. Running time: 00:07:56. Courtesy of the artist and Hannah Hoffman, Los Angeles; Greene Naftali, New York; and Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York.

Market of the Senses in the Media Arts Watch gallery features two of the artist’s works of video art that use words and music as abstract forms, making room for new meanings and experiences to take shape. Evil. 35: Carlin/Owners (2012) layers two songs by British post-punk band Gang of Four over snippets from a 2005 routine by American stand-up comedian George Carlin. In The Queen is Dead…Fragment 2 (2019), Cokes combines excerpts from articles that address the political significance and legacy of American singer Aretha Franklin, and combines them with her music and techno-visual animated backgrounds by the electronic music producer and DJ, Floorplan/Robert Hood.

For Cokes, listening is more than hearing; it is a personal meditative exercise that invites viewers of his art to consider aspects of language and interpretation that are often overlooked. By placing words in different audiovisual contexts, they overload the senses. The recontextualizations and rereadings make possible new meanings and experiences. Although apparently simple in form, the artist’s audiovisual exercises complicate how we approach language and popular culture.

You voted, and the results are in! For the first time in our history, we invited visitors to choose an artwork for the museum to purchase for its permanent collection. Audience members voted for their favorite of the two Tony Cokes videos on view in the Media Arts Watch Gallery September 1, 2021–January 9, 2022. And the winner is… “The Queen is Dead…Fragment 2″ (2019)!

About the artist

Tony Cokes (b. 1956, Richmond, VA; lives and works in Providence, RI). He received a B.A. from Goddard College, Vermont, participated in the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program, and gained an M.F.A. from Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond. He has received grants and fellowships from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council for the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, and the Getty Research Institute.

Cokes’ video and multimedia installation works have been included in exhibitions at The Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Guggenheim Museum Soho, The New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, Documenta X, Kassel, Germany, and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia. Recent solo exhibitions and screenings have taken place at Basis for Active Knowledge (BAK), Utrecht, Netherlands, Hammer Museum, University of California, Los Angeles, Dia Art Foundation, New York, and Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Cambridge, MA. Cokes is Professor of Modern Culture and Media at Brown University. He lives in Providence, Rhode Island.


This exhibition is sponsored by the Rubens Family Foundation and James Tabbi, with additional support from the Thomas and Marion Hawks Memorial Fund, the Robert L. and Mary L. Sproull Fund, and the Nancy R. Turner Fund for Special Exhibitions.

Audio design provided by the University of Rochester Events and Classroom Management. The Memorial Art Gallery would like to thank Hannah Hoffman.