lynette yiadom-boakye - complication

FEATURING “ILLUSTRATED BOOKS, art-themed fiction, artist biography, nonfiction about the art world, original photography and original artwork,” the New York Times published its first-ever art-themed Sunday Book Review section today (June 28, 2015). The print version arrived in this morning’s paper, but the reviews began appearing online Wednesday and a specially designed web page featuring all of the content in the issue went live early on Friday.

nyt sunday book review - art issueSeveral black artists are featured in the literary supplement. The special issue includes reviews of Lynette Yiadom-Boakye‘s first monograph, a new volume on Jacob Lawrence‘s ‘Migration Series,’ and two books about the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat. The issue’s hallmark is a series of visual book reviews by five artists, Wangechi Mutu and Jacolby Satterwhite, among them.

Art critic Holland Carter’s review of four volumes about contemporary painting and the state of 21st century art offers some context about the cultural and commercial fluctuations of the art world.

In the 1980s Carter writes, “With the market in disarray, some gate-crashing happened and new kinds of art came in. Work by ­African-American, Asian-American and Latin American artists finally gained admission, bringing politics with it. AIDS and the culture wars intensified the politics. For the first time in memory, art felt fused to life.”

He adds: “But the racial and ethnically uniform art establishment — museums, big galleries, major collectors, mainstream critics — never really went for any of this. And when the economy got back on track, it didn’t have to. By the turn of the millennium the old machinery was up and juiced.”

“Afrodizzia (2nd Version)” (1996), a painting by Chris Ofili, accompanies Cotter’s review, but the most compelling image in the issue is a Marilyn Minter photograph of Mutu, the result of a collaboration between the two artists. Tightly focused on the Mutu’s nose and mouth—her skin is dusted with flecks of gold and her top lip is bright blue, while gold paint covers her teeth and flows over her bottom lip. “Wangechi Gold 4” (2009) illustrates a review of the exhibition catalog “Marilyn Minter: Pretty/Dirty.”

wangechi gold 4
MARILYN MINTER, “Wangechi Gold #4,” 2009 (c-print) via Salon 94.

Isabel Wilkerson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration,” was tapped to review the recently published “Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series.” The volume by Leah Dickerman and Elsa Smithgall was released on the occasion of “One-Way Ticket: Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series and Other Visions of the Great Movement North” opening at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (April 3 – Sept. 7, 2015).

“Lushly illustrated and deeply archival in approach, the main chapters recount the era in which Lawrence’s career began and trace the journey of the series into the art world and the public consciousness. Readers learn of the challenges that black artists faced in the Works Progress Administration and how Lawrence wound up working on those small boards, rather than the murals associated with the W.P.A,” Wilkerson writes.

She notes a revealing story documented in the book that would greatly influence the direction of Lawrence’s practice and quite possibly his critical and commercial success. When Lawrence was hired by the WPA in late 1930s he was considered too young to be entrusted with his own mural project so he was assigned to the easel division.

“It would set him on a course of storytelling through smaller, serial images that suggest scenes of a film rather than a single tapestry,” Wilkerson writes.

“It would set [Jacob Lawrence] on a course of storytelling through smaller, serial images that suggest scenes of a film rather than a single tapestry.”
— Isabel Wilkerson, NYT Sunday Book Review

About “Lynette Yiadom-Boakye,” reviewer Faye Hirsch writes that Yiadom-Boakye’s subjects inhabit numerous crisp, full-page illustrations that do full justice to their subtleties¬ As opposed to the black sitters cast by old and modern “master” painters as noble savages and enlightened exceptions, Yiadom-Boakye’s characters exemplify a condition more ordinary and multifaceted — call it human, as many observers do.”

Hirsch continues: “Yiadom-Boakye’s own words are the most valuable in the volume. In the interview, she speaks of contemporary influences — the British artists Chris Ofili and Isaac Julien, and the American painter Lisa Yuskavage, whose own invented characters are as high-keyed in color as Yiadom-Boakye’s are subdued. She also speaks of her love for the oil medium: ‘It moves like a skin when you paint.’”

The Migration Series
JACOB LAWRENCE, “The Migration Series,” 1940-41, Panel 1: “During the World War there was a great migration North by Southern Negroes,” (casein tempera on hardboard). | The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C. Acquired 1942. © 2015 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photograph courtesy The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.

Reviewer Holly Bass considers “Jean-Michel Basquiat: Now’s the Time” edited by Dieter Buchhart and Franklin Sirmans’s “Basquiat and the Bayou,” which was published at the end of last year, during “Prospect 3.” Sirmans, a curator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, served as artistic director of the citywide New Orleans exhbition.

“Each monograph speaks to the impact of place on both the creation of work and the viewing of said work. In this case, the French influences in New Orleans and Toronto’s remarkable ethnic diversity echo [Basqiat’s] own culturally hybrid background,” Bass writes.

“Basquiat’s canvases continue to speak, gibing at us, inspiring us — all those halos and crowns. The canvases demand our attention, all the while insisting we can do better and reminding us there’s no time to waste.”

“Basquiat’s canvases continue to speak, gibing at us, inspiring us — all those halos and crowns. The canvases demand our attention, all the while insisting we can do better and reminding us there’s no time to waste.”
— Holly Bass, NYT Sunday Book Review

For the historic issue, editors sought an innovative approach to the traditional book review, asking artists to offer visual reactions to selected titles. For “Five Artists, Five Book Reviews,” each “pathbreaking” artist created an original piece of art in response to a work of poetry, fiction or philosophy that inspires them and discussed the book in a brief video.

Satterwhite chose “Mature Themes” by Andrew Durbin. Kader Attia explores “African Art as Philosophy: Senghor, Bergson and the Idea of Negritude” by Souleymane Bachir Diagne

Mutu reviews “The God of Small Things” by Arundhati Roy. Born in Kenya, the New York-based artist says she first read the book “many, many years ago, at a time when I was considering the idea of what home meant to me.”

In a video for the Times project, Mutu says, “If a book really inspires me, I guess it blends with my belief system. I find a way to make what I’ve just read an integral part of a visual vocabulary I am interested in exploring.” CT

TOP IMAGE: LYNETTE YIADOM-BOAKYE, “Complication,” 2013 (oil on canvas). | Courtesy of the artist, Corvi-Mora, London, and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York via New York Times