GIVE THE GIFT OF ART. Many highly regarded artists are designing functional art objects that would make perfect gifts for the art lovers on your list. Culture Type has assembled more than a dozen fabulous finds that fit any budget and would thrill family, friends and even the most scrutinizing art collectors. Who wouldn’t want to wrap up in a luxurious cotton beach towel designed by Glenn Ligon or toast the holidays with a bottle of fine red wine boasting a label created by Mickalene Thomas?

$49 or less


Glenn Ligon “I Am a Man” Journal. $8.36 each
Jotting down notes and ideas takes on new meaning with this notebook featuring Glenn Ligon’s 1988 work “I Am a Man” on the cover. Ligon’s practice examines history and identity largely by borrowing poignant language from African American literary and cultural figures and through repetition and isolation presents the phrases for optimum effect and consideration. His “I Am a Man” painting was the first to focus on text. Inspired by signs carried in 1968 by more than 1,000 Black sanitation workers striking in Memphis, the work draws on a confluence of cultural history. The slogan is adapted from the first line of Ralph Ellison’s prologue to “Invisible Man”; Photographer Ernest Withers documented the strikers bearing the signs securing the image’s prominence in civil rights history; And Martin Luther King Jr. traveled to Memphis to address the sanitation workers and he was assassinated the next day. Released in 2014, the journal’s interior contains ruled pages.


Whitfield Lovell Boxed Notecards. Prices Vary
Whitfield Lovell’s mixed-media installations evoke history and memory. This boxed set of blank notecards includes four fine examples of his work: “Strive” 2000, “Fortune” 2000, “Wise Like That” 2000, and “Tea” 2001 (shown on the cover of the box). Lovell’s contemporary practice relies on vintage photographs of anonymous African Americans taken between Emancipation and the modern Civil Rights era. He draws their portraits on wood panels and creates a narrative “tableaux” by combining the images with found objects. The collection includes 20 cards and envelopes (five of each design), perfect for sending a special note or for framing as affordable art. Issued in 2003 by Pomegranate, this item is available via third-party sellers.


Women Artists T-shirt. Prices Vary
Paying tribute to Lorna Simpson, Carrie Mae Weems, Wangechi Mutu, Mickalene Thomas and Kara Walker—five of the most highly regarded and innovative artists working today—this clever t-shirt was created by Aisha Thurman, a former museum-based arts educator. Celebrating the groundbreaking achievements and insightful practices of these accomplished black women, the modern tee is available in a variety of unisex colors and styles, as well as baby onesies. Proceeds benefit The Black Girl Project, Thurman’s nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering young women and girls.


Mickalene Thomas x Bedell Wine. $18
Bedell Cellars is offering bottles of its First Crush Red 2013 with a label designed by Mickalene Thomas. Based in North Fork, Long Island, Bedell is known for its artist collaborations which have included and Chuck Close, Eric Fischl and Barbara Kruger. When Michael Lynne, the winery’s CEO asked Thomas if she would like to create a label, she knew immediately that it would be inspired by “Tete de Femme,” her exhibition of new works at Lehmann Maupin Gallery in June. The show’s title translates to “head of a woman” and the featured collage paintings explore female beauty. Thomas adapted one of the works “Untitled #3,” an abstracted, make up-enhanced image of a woman’s face for the red wine label. The collaboration was announced last month. Made with sustainably farmed young vine fruit, First Crush Red is a blend of Merlot and Cabernet.
EDITORS NOTE: Hyperlinks have been updated to available 2018 vintage.


iraaa - buy black cover
International Review of African American Art Subscription. $42 per year
The latest issue of the International Review of African American Art (IRAAA) features a list of the top 10 influencers in the Black art market, an interview with Nigel Freeman of Swann Auction Galleries (who is No. 8 on the list), and a report about the changing demographics of African American art collectors. Founded by artist Samella Lewis, the first issue of the magazine appeared in 1976. Initially called Black Art: An International Journal, IRAAA is published by Hampton University Museum. An important institution historically in the cultivation of Black artists and the collection of African American art, the HBCU’s museum is the oldest African American museum in the United States. Its holdings include rare works by celebrated 19th and 20th century artists and the print and online publication furthers its mission, offering discourse on contemporary African American art. Only one issue of IRAAA was published in 2014 when the quarterly was in transition. But the editorial staff confirms that it is back on track and will release four editions next year, beginning with a special January 2015 issue on the art of architecture.


Chris Ofili Tea Towels. $45 each (member discount available)
Tea towels never looked so funky and cool. A 2014 collaboration between Austrailia-based Third Drawer Down Studio and the New Museum in New York, this cotton linen pair is inspired by British-born Chris Ofili’s “Afromuses (Couple)” portraits produced between 1995 to 2005. A selection from the series of 180 watercolors is included in “Night and Day,” the artist’s first major U.S. museum survey currently on view at the museum in New York. Use the towels in the kitchen or as framable art.


$50 to $99


Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art Subscription. $50 per year (student discount available)
Presenting a thoughtful examination of African, African American and African Diasporic art, Nka publishes two issues annually. Through scholarly articles, reviews, interviews and roundtable conversations, the journal seeks to redress the lack of scholarly consideration of black art in critical art history. Nka “contributes significantly to the intellectual dialogue on world art and the discourse on internationalism and multiculturalism in the arts.” Nigerian-born Okwui Enwezor, director of the Haus der Kunst museum in Munich and artistic director of the 2015 Venice Biennale, founded the journal in 1994. Co-edited by leading scholars, curators and critics Salah Hassan of Cornell University, Chika Okeke-Agulu of Princeton University and Enwezor, a special issue this year was devoted to art collectives and recent articles have focused on John Outterbridge, Sonia Boyce and Wangechi Mutu. Nka is published by Duke University Press.


Jean-Michel Basquiat Candle. $48
Defined by a crown detail from Jean-Michel Basquiat’s 1987 color field painting “King Pleasure,” this perfumed candle has a fig fragrance by Givaudan. Basquiat frequently used crown images in his work, sometimes invoking the signature motif atop anonymous figures, but more often utilizing it symbolically to “crown” his heroes—legends such as Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali), Sugar Ray Robinson and a number of jazz musicians. Housed in a Limoges porcelain cup, the King Pleasure candle is one of eight Basquiat designs with various French fragrances.


K WILEY towel
Kehinde Wiley Beach Towel. $75 $95
Portraits by Kehinde Wiley juxtapose hip hop culture with Western art history. His paintings feature contemporary men of color in Renaissance-era poses against elaborately patterned backgrounds. The image on this beach towel—a young African American man in an oversized Harlem jersey surrounded by an ornate gold frame—exemplifies the central focus of Wiley’s practice. The Art Production Fund commissions and produces public art projects. To help further its mission, the nonprofit collaborates with artists, producing functional art towels inspired by their work. Part of its Works on Whatever (WOW) series, the Wiley towel was produced in 2008. This luxurious cotton towel is perfect for the pool or beach.


Glenn Ligon Beach Towel. $95
For nine years, the Art Production Fund has collaborated with contemporary artists producing fabulous cotton beach towels inspired by their work. Part of its Works on Whatever (WOW) series, the 2015 towels feature images by Glenn Ligon and James Renquist. Ligon’s bold pink design replicates “No. 417 (Sweetheart)” 1989, one of his signature text paintings that appeared in “Glenn Ligon: America,” his 2011 mid-career survey. The painted quality of the towel’s vivid background gives depth to the image which is defined by prose from a dream book. An early 20th century novelty common in African American communities, dream books translate symbols that appear in dream narratives into daily numbers. Proceeds benefit the fund’s public art mission.


$100 to $999


Glenn Ligon x MZ Wallace
Glenn Ligon x MZ Wallace Tote. $225
Produced in partnership with MZ Wallace, this generously-sized tote bag features the print from Glenn Ligon’s “Untitled (I Am Somebody),” a 1991 oil stick on canvas text painting. Ligon appropriated the phrase from a 1950s poem by civil rights activist Rev. William Holmes Borders and the mantra was later popularized by Rev. Jesse L. Jackson. The limited-run Metro tote is made of feather-light, quilted Oxford nylon. The collapsable, packable tote includes an interior travel pouch. All proceeds benefit the Studio Museum in Harlem’s education programs.


Mickalene Thomas Tray Set. $300
Packaged in a specially designed box, these four oval melamine trays were produced to coincide with “Origin of the Universe,” Mickalene Thomas’s first solo museum exhibition. Known for her powerful portraits of women, Brooklyn-based Thomas often depicts her female subjects in elaborate interiors rife colorful fabrics and vibrant printed wallpapers that inspired the trays. Issued in 2012, each tray features patterns from the artist’s vast collection of textiles and wall coverings. Limited edition of 250.


kara walker pitcher
Kara Walker Pitcher. $450
Kara Walker collaborated with Bernardaud and LizWorks to create a limited-edition porcelain pitcher. Reflecting the overarching themes of her practice, the two-sided object is designed with pair of silhouettes, images of a black woman wearing a handkerchief. The project commemorates “A Subtlety,” Walker’s first public art work which was installed at the Old Domino Sugar Factory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The sculpture, a monumental sugar sphinx, was on view for two months over the summer and drew more than 130,000 visitors. Walker is revisiting the project in “Afterword,” an exhibition currently on view at Sikkema Jenkins Gallery in New York. Issued in May, “Untitled” by Kara Walker was produced in an edition of 1,000 and can be used as a pitcher, a vase or displayed as an art object.


More than $1,000


Thomas_Lena Blanket_e
Mickalene Thomas Lena Blanket. $1,200
Similar to her Hair Portrait series, Mickalene Thomas’s Lena blanket explores Black female identity, beauty and adornment through hair. The image on the blanket depicts a model who is looking away from the viewer emphasizing her intricate cornrow hair style and oversized statement earring, rather than her face. Produced in collaboration with Pendleton Mills, the blanket is the first of four Thomas is designing for Artware Editions that will feature cornrow hair portraits. Introduced in 2014, a signed and numbered suede patch is attached to the wool blend blanket, which can serve as a throw, bed spread or textile wall hanging. Limited edition of 125.




NW-LM18261 Canned Smiles (Galleria Continua San Gimignano 2013) 01 hr

NARI WARD RECENTLY EMBARKED ON two creative ventures inspired by Italian artist Piero Manzoni’s “Artist Shit” project “calling into question the notion of faith in the artist’s vision and production process.” Rather than canning feces as Manzoni did in 1961, his interpretation involves capturing smiles which metaphorically “refers to the ‘canned’ cliché of the happy African American minstrel character whose expression is meant to reassure the dominant class/audience that all is well with the status quo.”

HIGH | Nari Ward Canned Smiles. $350 a pair
Nari Ward recruited his children to help him produce a series of Canned Smiles (above) last year. The Jamaican-born artist preserved his own smile in tin cans labeled “Made in Jamaica, Jamaican Smiles” and those of his son and daughter in cans marked “Made in America, Black Smiles.” Both designs state they are “Distributed in Italy.” The categorization of the captured smiles draws attention to the emphasis society places on racial classification and identity. Limited edition of 250. Produced in 2013, each edition includes a signed pair of cans.
sugar hill smiles
LOW | Nari Ward Sugar Hill Smiles Can. $10 each
In June, Nari Ward revisited his Canned Smiles project, taking it in a new direction. He set up shop on the streets of Harlem’s Sugar Hill neighborhood for several days enticing passersby to smile into mirror-bottomed cans. Then he sealed the gesture in cans bearing labels that read “Made in America” and “Distributed in Harlem.” The Sugar Hill Smiles concept (at right) responds to the influx of entrepreneurs and gentrifiers who are appropriating the Harlem brand without having any real allegiance to or pride in the community’s history and culture. The project was created and documented for “If You Build It,” a group exhibition organized by No Longer Empty and installed over the summer in Sugar Hill Development. The new mixed-use affordable housing building developed by Broadway Housing Communities (BHC) was designed by architect David Adjaye. Ward canned 2,000 Sugar Hill Smiles. Proceeds benefit BHC’s education programs.
Order via Paypal


LaToya Ruby Frazier boxset interior

LATOYA RUBY FRAZIER PUBLISHED her first monograph this fall. Frazier grew up in Braddock, Pa., a steel town adjacent to Pittsburgh, where she began documenting through photography the decline of industrial manufacturing, economic opportunity and her family’s health. Her book, “The Notion of Family,” reflects her practice which concentrates on her familial narrative, its political implications and how the pattern of municipal and corporate neglect is repeated in cities across America.

LaToya Ruby Frazier coverHIGH | LaToya Ruby Frazier Limited Edition Box Set. $2,500
This special boxed set (above) includes a signed copy of LaToya Ruby Frazier’s new book “The Notion of Family” and a 11 x 14 inch gelatin silver print of “Momma (Shadow)” 2008. Limited edition of 30. Each print is signed and numbered by Frazier.

LOW | LaToya Ruby Frazier “The Notion of Family.” $48
A beautiful cloth-bound volume, LaToya Ruby Frazier’s first monograph (at right) is richly illustrated with 100 duotone images and 32 video stills. Published by the Aperture Foundation, the 156-page book includes essays by Laura Wexler of Yale University and Dennis C. Dickerson of Vanderbilt University, along with an interview conducted by fellow photographer Dawoud Bey.




THE BEST GIFTS ARE EXPERIENTIAL. Why not take time during the holiday season to visit your favorite museums and galleries with your art crew? Or how about helping those on your list to support art institutions and enhance their cultural life with a gift of membership to the forthcoming Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Studio Museum in Harlem or their favorite local art museum?

Finally, browse the Culture Type Bookshelf to find an expansive selection of volumes by and about Black art and artists to add to your collection or gift to others. Much more than an aesthetic experience, enjoying art is an intellectual exercise enhanced by broadening our understanding of art history and artists’ ideas and motivations, insight ripe for the picking in countless books and catalogs. Happy Holidays! CT


Editor’s Note: The featured items are suggested finds, subject to availability. Stated prices reflect pricing at time of publication.


Do you enjoy and value Culture Type? Please consider supporting its ongoing production by making a donation. Culture Type is an independent editorial project that requires countless hours and expense to research, report, write, and produce. To help sustain it, make a one-time donation or sign up for a recurring monthly contribution. It only takes a minute. Many Thanks for Your Support.