EMERGING FROM HER SUCCESSFUL THESIS SHOW with the sole painting she presented selling to prominent Miami collectors, Nina Chanel Abney (b. 1982) has never looked back since earning her MFA from Parsons in New York. The aforementioned painting, “Class of 2007,” helped her secure gallery representation and appeared in “30 Americans,” the traveling group exhibition featuring works by African American contemporary artists from the Rubell Family Collection. Abney was the youngest artist in the popular show.
She went on to mount her first solo gallery exhibition and first solo UK and Italian exhibitions, and over the years participated in countless group shows. She recently joined a new gallery, Jack Shainman, where once again she is nearly the youngest artist surrounded by an impressive slate of practitioners she has studied and been inspired by. Next week, Abney is conquering another major milestone—her first solo museum show opens at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.
“Nina Chanel Abney: Royal Flush” is a 10-year survey featuring about 30 paintings, watercolors and collages. A next-generation storyteller, Abney’s bold and improvisational works employ a mix of abstraction and figuration. Exploring race, sex, police violence, art history, and the latest news sensation, she documents the complexities of contemporary culture and its fast and furious pace.
“WE ARE SO EXCITED to introduce this important young artist to wider audiences,” said Marshall N. Price, curator of modern and contemporary art at the Nasher and curator of the exhibition. “In her monumental paintings, Abney takes on some of the most pressing issues today from racial dynamics and criminal justice to consumerism and celebrity culture. Her seductive visual language is comprised of a jumble of figures, words and shapes to the point of information overload. With this as her backdrop, Abney creates paintings that explore some of the deeper recesses of human nature.”
“We are so excited to introduce this important young artist to wider audiences. …In her monumental paintings, Abney takes on some of the most pressing issues today from racial dynamics and criminal justice to consumerism and celebrity culture.” — Nasher Curator Marshall N. Price
IN ADVANCE OF THE FEB. 16 OPENING, the museum launched a mini-website dedicated to Abney’s exhibition. The Nasher has designed websites for its major exhibitions as an interim measure while its main site is being overhauled. The museum’s new website is scheduled to relaunch in about 11 months, according to Wendy Hower, director of engagement and marketing at the Nasher.
The Abney site provides an informative preview. It features a full description of the exhibition, several images of works appearing in the show, mention of the coinciding catalog due March 20, and a robust schedule of events related to “Royal Flush.” There is an opening party, gallery tours and talks. Abney is giving an artist talk on April 11. Other programs speak to and animate the myriad issues she raises in her work, including several screenings, among them, Ava DuVernay’s film “The 13th,” which links the legacy of slavery, the criminalization of African Americans, and the mass incarceration boom; book discussions about the new graphic novel “Black Panther” by Ta-Nehisi Coates; and a panel conversation about “Art, Activism, Race, and the Law.”
NINA CHANEL ABNEY, “Untitled (Yo 123),” 2015 (unique ultrachrome pigmented print, spray paint, and acrylic on canvas). | Private collection. Courtesy of Kravets Wehby Gallery, New York, New York. © Nina Chanel Abney
OVER THE PAST DECADE, the Nasher’s programming has been among the most inclusive in the country and pioneering in its support of individual African American artists. Under the stewardship of Trevor Schoonmaker, who joined the Nasher as founding curator of contemporary art in 2006 and was elevated to chief curator in 2013, the museum has acquired works by critically recognized and emerging African American artists, presented the work of black artists in group shows alongside their aesthetic and subject-matter contemporaries, and organized major solo exhibitions featuring Barkley L. Hendricks, Wangechi Mutu, Archibald Motley, and Abney, in the soon-to-open show.
The Hendricks exhibition sparked renewed and sustained interest in his cool and captivating 1960s and 70s portraits. Kenyan-born, Brooklyn-based Mutu’s show was her first U.S. survey. Meanwhile, curated by Duke University art historian Richard Powell, “Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist” was the first retrospective of “one of the most significant, yet least visible 20th-century artists.” Abney is in good company. CT
EXHIBITION: “Nina Chanel Abney: Royal Flush” is on view at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, from Feb. 16-July 16, 2017. After debuting at the Nasher, the show is traveling to the Chicago Cultural Center and then to Los Angeles, where it will be jointly presented by the Institute of Contemporary Art and the California African American Museum.
Accompanying her first solo museum exhibition, the forthcoming catalog “Nina Chanel Abney: Royal Flush,” documents the artist’s 10-year career.