'A Picture of War is Not War', we read in Hito Steyerl's iconic film November (2004), an essayistic Super 8 film tackling the definition of terrorism constructed around the figure of the artist's best friend Andrea Wolf, who was killed as a terrorist in 1998 in Eastern Anatolia after she joined the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party). Mixing documentary...
There has been a flurry of triennial and biennial art activity in Japan this year. The Aichi Triennale opened in Nagoya this August, sparking a national debate about the shutting down of a display of formerly censored works—the result of public backlash against a burnt image of Emperor Hirohito and a statue commemorating the women forced into...
Hans Hartung and Art Informel at Mazzoleni London (1 October 2019-18 January 2020) presents key works by the French-German painter while highlighting his connection with artists active in Paris during the 50s and 60s. In this video, writer and historian Alan Montgomery discusses Hartung's practice and its legacy.Born in Leipzig in 1904, Hans...
London is the place to be this week with the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair and Frieze London underway. The fourth edition of 1:54 is open Oct. 6-9 at Somerset House. According to the fair, 40 exhibitors are presenting more than 130 African and African diasporan artists, alongside a program of lectures, panel discussions, film screenings, artist encounters and book events. In the courtyard of the historic building, Black and Blue: The Invisible Man and the Masque of Blackeness (above), an amazing installation by British-born Zak Ove is on view.
Drawing on art historical, political and personal references, Njideka Akunyili Crosby creates densely layered figurative compositions that, precise in style, nonetheless conjure the complexity of contemporary experience. Akunyili Crosby was born in Nigeria, where she lived until the age of sixteen. In 1999 she moved to the United States, where she has remained since that time. Her cultural identity combines strong attachments to the country of her birth and to her adopted home, a hybrid identity that is reflected in her work.
On initial impression her work appears to focus on interiors or apparently everyday scenes and social gatherings. Many of Akunyili Crosby's images feature figures - images of family and friends - in scenarios derived from familiar domestic experiences: eating, drinking, watching TV. Rarely do they meet the viewer's gaze but seem bound up in moments of intimacy or reflection that are left open to interpretation. Ambiguities of narrative and gesture are underscored by a second wave of imagery, only truly discernible close-up. Vibrantly patterned photo-collage areas are created from images derived from Nigerian pop culture and politics, including pictures of pop stars, models and celebrities, as well as lawyers in white wigs and military dictators. Some of these images are from the artist's archive of personal snapshots, magazines and advertisements, while others are sourced from the internet. These elements present a compelling visual metaphor for the layers of personal memory and cultural history that inform and heighten the experience of the present.
While the artist's formative years in Nigeria are a constant source of inspiration, Akunyili Crosby's grounding in Western art history adds further layers of reference. Religious art, the intimism of Edouard Vuillard's intoxicatingly patterned interiors, the academic tradition of portraiture and, in particular, still life painting become vehicles for delivering, Trojan horse-like, new possible meanings.
These are images necessarily complicated in order to counter generalisations about African or diasporic experience. Talking about her work, Akunyili Crosby notes, 'In much the same way that inhabitants of formerly colonised countries select and invent from cultural features transmitted to them by the dominant or metropolitan colonisers, I extrapolate from my training in Western painting to invent a new visual language that represents my experience - which at times feels paradoxically fractured and whole - as a cosmopolitan Nigerian.'
Akunyili Crosby was born in Enugu, Nigeria in 1983 and currently lives and works in Los Angeles. She was awarded Financial Times' Women of the Year, 2016, alongside the Future Generation Art Prize 2017 Shortlist. She is the recipient of the Prix Canson Prize, 2016, Foreign Policy's Leading 100 Global Thinkers of 2015, the Next Generation Prize, New Museum of Contemporary Art, 2015, the Joyce Alexander Wein Artist Prize, 2015, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum's James Dicke Contemporary Art Prize, 2014. Recent solo exhibitions include Njideka Akunyili Crosby: Predecessors, Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, 15 July–1 October 2017, travelling to Tang Museum at Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, NY, 14 October–31 December 2017; Portals, Victoria Miro, London, 2016, I Refuse to be Invisible, Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, 2016, and The Beautyful Ones, Art + Practice, Los Angeles, 2015, staged concurrently with a solo presentation at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, 2015. Akunyili Crosby has recently displayed work at institutional venues including the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2016; the New Museum, New York, 2015; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, 2014; Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, 2014; Landcommandery of Alden-Biesen, Bilzen, Belgium, 2014; BRIC, New York, 2013; Bronx Museum, New York, 2013; and the Museum of New Art Detroit, 2012. Her work is in the collections of major museums including Yale University Art Gallery, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, The Studio Museum in Harlem, The Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Tate, The Norton Museum of Art, Zeitz MOCAA, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, MOMA, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Njideka Akunyili Crosby is the recipient of a 2017 MacArthur Fellowship.
Chris Ofili is best known for his mix of religious and secular elements in work that complicates distinctions between the sacred and the profane. While his paintings and works on paper often comprise an assortment of materials—from paint, gold leaf, resin, glitter and map pins to elements of collage—it is the artist's use of elephant dung that has been the cause of much debate. Ofili's use of the material in The Holy Virgin Mary (1996), along with his depiction of a Black Madonna surrounded by pictures of female genitalia sourced from adult magazines, became the subject of a large controversy. Following its inclusion in the Brooklyn Museum leg of the Sensation exhibition (1999), the work incited condemnation from New York City's then-mayor Rudy Giuliani as well as a series of protests in the United States.
Back home across the Atlantic, Ofili—a member of the Young British Artists (YBAs) alongside figures such as Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas—was no stranger to controversy, having established himself amidst a milieu of Britain's most contentious art-world agitators. And yet in spite of the controversies Ofili was awarded the Turner Prize in 1998 as a mark of his contribution to contemporary art. He was the first Black artist to win the prestigious award. In 2003 Ofili was chosen to represent Great Britain at the 50th Venice Biennale in Italy, where he mounted 'Within Reach'—a suite of paintings set in an immersive kaleidoscopic space designed by the Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye.
The artist's earlier works—produced during and soon after his student years at Chelsea College of Arts and the Royal College of Art in London—were intricately patterned, vibrantly multi-coloured and textured abstract compositions. His later work, produced from the mid-1990s onwards, marked the creation of his now-signature style of figurative painting, fusing influences from a variety of sources including religious iconography, 'Blaxploitation' cinema, jazz, hip hop, comics, African cave painting (inspired by a trip to Zimbabwe in 1992) and the work of Romantic poet William Blake. Ofili deployed this diverse array of source material alongside his heady mix of media to create complex and challenging images of Blackness in both its contemporary and historical manifestations. As an artist of Nigerian ancestry and a member of the African diaspora, his forays into the intricacies of identity can be read as both a personal meditation and a political commentary.
Following his move to Trinidad in 2005, Ofili created the 'Blue Rider' series, named after the short-lived 20th-century German Expressionist group. Much like its namesake, the series is a synthesis of visual, musical and folk art influences. Ofili's large blue and silver paintings of this period marked a significant change in his practice, seeing him adopt a darker, more pared-back palette, evoking dreamlike scenes set in the moonlit landscapes of his new Caribbean environment.
Chris Ofili's works are represented in prominent collections internationally, including the British Museum, London; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate, London; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Since 2005, Ofili has been living and working between Port of Spain, Trinidad; London; and Brooklyn.
Protest is an exhibition of historical and contemporary works by sixteen artists concerned with the socio-political issues of their day, who question the status quo and the power structures found within societies, and who take the language of protest as a means to explore its potency.
Taking as a starting point Alice Neel’s 1936 painting, Nazis Murder Jews, which depicts a Communist party torchlight parade through the streets of New York City, the exhibition presents historical works in addition to new and recent works by artists who address issues including migration, censorship, struggles for equality and democracy. These do not document protests per se. Rather, through image, composition, gesture, material, form or concept they serve as meditations on contemporary issues or as calls to action – inspiring consideration of possibilities for a life of freedom and unity, an insistence on human rights, and continued dialogue around the immediate social and political issues which confront our global community.
The power of words – slogans, graffiti, signs, newspaper stories – and the interpretive space opened up between their transmission and reception are explored in works such as Homage to the Walls of Athens 1941-19…, 1958, by Vlassis Caniaris (1928 - 2011), a palimpsest of sacking, wax and cloth saturated with whitewash plaster in which we see fragmentary hand-painted letters – including the letter E, for Eleftheria (freedom), for Ellás (Greece), for EAM, the National Liberation Front, the main movement of the Greek Resistance during the Axis occupation during World War II. Ian Hamilton Finlay’s La Rèvolution est un Bloc, 1992 – a wooden block carved with the words of the title and a central aperture reminiscent of a guillotine’s lunette – refers in content and form both to advances in secular democracy and social progress, and the bloodshed and unrest brought about by the French Revolution. Doug Aitken’s Free, 2016– a sculptural text work lined with shattered mirror – takes a single word and, through the actions of light and reflectivity, turns a ‘quick read’ into an endlessly shifting experience. Rirkrit Tiravanija's sculpture untitled 2013 (no no america), features a slogan used in chants and on banners by groups of Shia and Sunni military and civilians in Iraq over the past two decades.
How words are altered by context is a theme shared by Sarah Sze’s Calendar Series, 2013. When elements of the work were rejected by censors ahead of its inclusion in a biennial in China, rather than withdraw Sze created Calendar Series China Revision, 2015, applying strips of black acrylic paint to cover the content proscribed by the censors – all news references to China. For Protest, Sze represents the same New York Times covers, redacting all the written content except for references to China.
An example of his 'eraserhead' works, Christian Holstad’s She Was Fired for Questioning, 2011, introduces 24-carat gold leaf to the newspaper page, embellishing already jarring encounters between hard hitting news stories and advertisements for luxury goods while offering a commentary on ideas of class and status, politics and power that tends towards the surreal. Juxtaposing images of heated demonstrations with erotic or pornographic images, in the series Untitled (protest), 2012 – 2014, Richard Prince finds meaning itself is something to be stymied and subverted as a Dada-esque act of protest.
Borders, boundaries and thresholds are also a focus. Yayoi Kusama’s enveloping sculpture Prisoner’s Door, 1994, places the viewer in a space defined equally by forces of containment and release. The broken structure of Elmgreen & Dragset’s installation Prison Breaking / Powerless Structures, Fig. 333, 2002, imagines a moment of natural or manmade disaster, when the cell becomes physically powerless and the concept of captivity becomes meaningless. Flying above the gallery entrance, Chris Ofili’s Union Black, 2003, is inspired by David Hammons’ African-American Flag, 1990, based on the colours for the pan-African flag suggested by Marcus Garvey: red, black and green for African blood, skin and natural resources.
In Throw, 2016, by Wangechi Mutu, the eruptive gesture of demonstration merges with the (violent) placement of paint on a wall, referring to the languages of action painting and performance as well as to the act of throwing used in defiant protest.
Questions about what art that deals with newsworthy issues, or protests against the suffering of others should look like are asked by Isaac Julien who, in WESTERN UNION: Small Boats (The Leopard), 2007, brings together baroque pageantry and metaphor in a work that, referring to journeys made across the Mediterranean by Asians and Africans trying to enter Europe by sea, experiments with notions of cultural entanglement and the dissent between aesthetics and politics. In the series of works on paper Tell Me Your Thoughts on Police Brutality Miss ‘Spank Me Harder’, 2015, Kara Walker conflates different eras, idioms and attitudes to explore racism, its symbols and legacy from the American Civil War to very recent killings and assaults that have fuelled the Black Lives Matter campaign.
If how we make visible the plight of others and keep their stories debated and alive is one strand of the exhibition, tied up with this are ideas about how we defend and celebrate the freedoms we possess. Wolfgang Tillmans’ photograph NICE HERE: but ever been to KYRGYZSTAN? Free Gender-Expression WORLDWIDE, 2006, highlights the disparity between the growing freedoms enjoyed in progressive countries and worsening or non-existent rights in others. Jules de Balincourt’s painting Study for Idol Hands, 2015, depicts a throng holding aloft banners, each bearing a portrait of a different person – perhaps an “idol” as indicated by the title, though equally one thinks of the banners held aloft by relatives of the missing and disappeared in places such as Chile and Mexico.
For this exhibition, the gallery is proud to be working with a charitable partner, Reprieve, committed human rights defenders who provide free legal and investigative support to some of the world’s most vulnerable people.
Frieze London brings together the world’s leading galleries, showcasing today’s most significant artists across its main and curated sections, alongside the fair’s celebrated non-profit programme of ambitious new artist commissions and talks. Frieze London coincides with Frieze Masters and the Frieze Sculpture...
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