THE NORTON MUSEUM OF ART is celebrating Black History Month by mounting an exhibition of recent acquisitions by black contemporary artists. “Spotlight: Recent Acquisitions” features eight works—recently executed paintings by Njideka Akunyili Crosby and Mickalene Thomas, photographs and a sculpture by Willie Cole, and a drawing by Kerry James Marshall—all brought into the museum’s collection in 2015 and 2016.
Nigerian-born, Los Angeles-based Akunyili Crosby has an important connection to the Norton. Last year, the West Palm Beach, Fla., museum organized, “I Refuse to be Invisible,” her first-ever survey exhibition. A large-scale, mixed-media painting of a lone female figure, “Super Blue Omo” (2016) by Akunyili Crosby was purchased last summer at Art Basel from Victoria Miro Gallery, which represents the artist.
According to the gallery, the name of the painting has a specific cultural reference. The title “refers to a well-known brand of washing powder, with a long-running advertisement that ran on Nigerian television during the artist’s childhood in the 1980s (which can be seen on the TV set in the work), it is also the jumping off point for an extended meditation on chromatic and psychological states of ‘blueness’ – the glow of the room and its atmosphere of introspection.”
Last fall, “Super Blue Omo” was presented in “Portals,” at Victoria Miro, Akunyili Crosby’s first solo exhibition in Europe. Now the Norton is debuting the acquisition in “Spotlight.”
A MAJOR PAINTING by Brooklyn-based Thomas is on display, too. Celebrating the beauty and power of black women, her rhinstone-embellished works have on occasion featured famous figures including First Lady Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Condoleezza Rice, and Solange. “Naomi Looking Forward #2” (2016) depicts supermodel Naomi Campbell. “She is in the pose of a concubine in a harem popularized in the renderings of female nudes by the early 19th-century French artist, Jean Auguste Dominque Ingres,” according to the museum.
The Norton has also acquired a work on paper by Kerry James Marshall. One of the most consequential painters working today, “Mastry,” his 35-year survey was on view at the Met Breuer in New York. The exhibition closed at the end of January and is traveling to the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, opening on March 12. Featured in the Norton show, Marshall’s “Study for Untitled” (2014) is an ink drawing depicting a seated, bikini-clad female figure gazing off into the distance.
In the hands of Willie Cole, ordinary consumer objects such as shoes and clothes irons are transformed into unique sculptural forms. Composed of steam irons and cords, “American Beauty” (1989) “evokes the appearance of a traditional African sculpture suggesting not only its inspiration to the development of Cubism and such modern artists as Picasso and Braque, but also the previously exclusive definition of American beauty–blonde, white-skinned females.” On Feb. 12 at the museum, Cole is discussing his practice and the ways in which identity and representation and the history and memory of objects factor into his works.
In a statement about the Akunyili Crosby acquisition, Hope Alswang, executive director of the Norton noted that the painting was “helping the museum accomplish its mission to expose audiences to diverse art by pursuing an inclusive approach toward collecting and exhibiting.” The museum’s commitment to that long pursuit is evidenced in “Spotlight.,” on view through March 5. CT
TOP IMAGE: NJIDEKA AKUNYILI CROSBY, “Super Blue Omo,” 2016 (acrylic, transfers, colored pencils and collage on paper). | Purchase, through the generosity of Jim and Irene Karp, 2016.178, © Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Courtesy Victoria Miro Gallery