MUST-SEE EXHIBITIONS featuring some of the most interesting black female artists working today are opening around the world this month. The first solo museum show of Los Angeles-based Martine Syms opens May 27 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In the same city, an amazing show of new portrait paintings by British artist Lynette Yiadom-Boakye is already on view at the New Museum. Julie Mehretu is presenting her first show in Portugal, a 20-year survey at Serralves Museum, and Wangechi Mutu is showing works at Lehmann Maupin Gallery in Hong Kong.

Also of note, the Knoxville Museum of Art, the hometown museum of Beauford Delaney (1901-1979), is exhibiting 40 works by the artist from its collection. For his latest series of portraits at Sean Kelly Gallery in New York, Kehinde Wiley’s subjects are fellow artists, including Glenn Ligon, Rashid Johnson, Mickalene Thomas, Kerry James Marshall, and Yiadom-Boakye.

And next week, the long-awaited debut of Mark Bradford’s representation of the United States at the 57th Venice Biennale will be unveiled. “Tomorrow is Another Day,” his socially charged, narrative exhibition at the U.S. Pavilion, officially opens May 13. Meanwhile, “Poolside Magic,” the Chris Ofili exhibition inaugurating Victoria Miro’s new Venice space coincides with the opening of the city’s international biennale. A selection of exhibition opening in May follows:


Installation view of LYNETTE YIADOM-BOAKYE, “Vigil For A Horseman,” 2017 (oil on linen, 3 parts), New Museum, New York, N.Y. | Photo by Victoria L. Valentine

“Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Under-Song for a Cypher” @ New Museum, New York, N.Y. | May 3-Sept. 3, 2017

Known for her portraits of imagined figures, British artist (and sometimes writer) Lynette Yiadom-Boakeye is presenting a new body of work in the exhibition, which is accompanied by a forthcoming publication. According to the museum, her paintings “embrace many of the conventions of historical European portraiture, but expand on that tradition by engaging fictional subjects who often serve as protagonists of the artist’s short stories as well.”


BEAUFORD DELANEY, “Knoxville,” 1969 (watercolor and gouache on paper). | Knoxville Museum of Art, purchase with funds provided by the Rachael Patterson Young Art Acquisition Reserve via KMA

“Gathering Light: Works by Beauford Delaney From the KMA Collection” @ Knoxville Museum of Art, Knoxville, Tenn. | May 5-July 23, 2017

This exhibition features about 40 drawings and paintings by Knowxville-born Beauford Delaney from the holdings of his hometown museum. The institution has been building a representative collection of Delaney’s works, making purchases directly from the artist’s estate between 2014 and 2016. Most of the works in the exhibition are on public view for the first time.


WHITFIELD LOVELL, “Hand XIII,” 1995 (oil stick and charcoal on paper). | © Whitfield Lovell. Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York

“Whitfield Lovell: What’s Past is Prologue, Early Works 1987-1998” @ DC Moore Gallery, New York, N.Y. | May 4-June 17, 2017

For the first time in decades, early monochromatic drawings by Whitfield Lovell are on view. This exhibition features more than 30 large- and medium-scale works on paper with largely personal references exploring love, loss, death and identity. Created between 1987 and 1998, the heavily symbolic images blend narrative and metaphor.


Installation view of KEHINDE WILEY’S “Trickster” exhibition featuring portraits fellow contemporary artists, including Yinka Shinabare and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. | Photo by Victoria L. Valentine

“Kehinde Wiley: Trickster” @ Sean Kelly Gallery, New York, N.Y. | May 6-June 17, 2017

A new series of portrait paintings by Kehinde Wiley is a departure from his practice which usually captures ordinary people from around the world recast in scenes from European history paintings. His new works depict fellow critically recognized black contemporary artists who are also diversifying the Western art history canon—Sanford Biggers, Nick Cave, Rashid Johnson, Glenn Ligon, Kerry James Marshall, Wangechi Mutu, Yinka Shonibare, Mickalene Thomas, Hank Willis Thomas, Carrie Mae Weems, and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye.


In a new series of drawings, JAYSON MUSSON “establishes a powerful personal lexicon; call it Haring meets Matisse.” | via Salon 94

Jayson Musson: Demon Drawings @ Salon 94 Freemans, New York, N.Y. | May 6-June 17, 2017

For his third exhibition at Salon 94, Bronx-born, Brookly-based Jayson Musson is presenting a series of new drawings: “On its face, Musson’s new body of work is unabashedly old-fashioned: a series of intimate coffee-stained gouaches that tackle both the negative currents in the zeitgeist—including violence and aggression—and his own personal demons. …The sinuous interlocked forms in ‘Demon All Day,’ done in primal black and red, resemble both ancient hieroglyphics and newly-minted alphabet letters.”


KEVIN BEASLEY, “Video still of Marshawn Lynch interview on ESPN SportsCenter, aired December 21,” 2014, Courtesy the artist via Casey Kaplan

“Kevin Beasley: Sport/Utility” @ Casey Kaplan Gallery, New York, N.Y. | May 2-June 17, 2017

Born in Lynchburg, Va., Kevin Beasley who lives and works in New York expresses himself through sculpture, performance, and sound installations. He is interested in symbols and images, established meanings and disruption of assumptions. Is a du-rag about hair conditioning or thuggery? Why was the head wrap banned by the NFL? For this exhibition, Beasley’s “manipulations of language and objects of sport and utility strive to subvert diametric systems of institutional control and reclaim an altered narrative.”


MICKALENE THOMAS, “Racquel Leaned Back,” 2013. | © Mickalene Thomas. Courtesy the artist; Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong; and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

“Muse: Mickalene Thomas Photographs and Tête-à-Tête | Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, Virginia Beach, Va. | May 12-Aug. 13, 2017”

This exhibition features photographs by Mickalene Thomas of the staged scenes and photographic portraits that form the basis of her practice and inspire her mixed media paintings. Nested within the show is a complementary presentation of images curated by Thomas, photographs by fellow artists—Derrick Adams, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Lyle Ashton Harris, Deana Lawson, Malick Sidibé, and Carrie Mae Weems, among others—whose practices have inspired her own.


NOVEMBER | “Gordon Parks: Segregation Story,” featuring a portfolio of 40 images from 1965, opens at High Museum in Atlanta.
GORDON PARKS, “Department Store, Mobile, Alabama, 1956,” 2013 (Archival pigment print). | © The Gordon Parks Foundation

“Gordon Parks: Segregation Story” @ Mount Dora Center for the Arts, Mount Dora, Fla. | May 12-July 28, 2017

In 1956, Gordon Parks traveled to Shady Grove, Ala., where he spent time photographing the members of an ordinary African American family. The color portfolio documenting the indignities of the Jim Crow South was published in Life magazine. The exhibition presents a selection of images from “Segregation Story,” his evocative series depicting the family’s perseverance and dignity despite daily encounters with racial and economic injustice.


Following the 2017 Venice Biennale, Mark Bradford’s “Tomorrow is Another Day” exhibition will be presented at the Baltimore Museum of Art (September 2018-January 2019). | Photo by Christopher Bedford, Courtesy Rose Art Museum

“Mark Bradford: Tomorrow is Another Day” @ 57th Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy | May 13-Nov. 26, 2017

Los Angeles-based Mark Bradford’s exhibition for the U.S. Pavilion at the Venice Biennale will advance the ideas that have shaped his two-decade practice. “Bradford’s longtime social and intellectual interests will be present in the Pavilion, most notably in his concern for marginalized people, both their vulnerability and their resiliency, and the cyclical threat and hope of American unfulfilled social promise. Coming at a moment of terrible uncertainty, ‘Tomorrow is Another Day’ is a narrative of ruin, violence, agency, and possibility, a story of ambition and belief in art’s capacity to engage us all in urgent and profound conversations, and even action.” Co-presented by the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) and Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University, the exhibition is commissioned by Christopher Bedford, director of the BMA, and co-curated by Bedford and Katy Siegel, a senior curator at the BMA.


HEATHER HART, “In progress view of The Oracle of Lacuna,” 2017, Part of “Outlooks: Heather Hart,” site-specific installation at Storm King Art Center. | Image courtesy of Storm King Art Center

“Outlooks: Heather Hart” @ Storm King Art Center, New Windsor, N.Y. | May 13-Nov. 26, 2017

Brooklyn-based Heather Hart is bringing a domestic rooftop to Storm King, an installation project she has previously presented at the Brooklyn Museum, Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park, and Franconia Sculpture Park in Minnesota. At the Hudson Valley location, the site-specific work is the first in the center’s “Outlooks” series to be accompanied by live programming and public participation. Visitors are able to walk on and sit and contemplate atop the roof structure, as well as access a “sanctuary” area via one of the dormer windows and hear audio of narratives reflecting the area’s migration and slavery history. In addition, Hart is planning collaborative events with local community organizations and will also host a Black Lunch Table conversation with African American artists.


WANGECHI MUTU, “The Sticks,” 2016 (red soil, paper pulp, wood, and wood glue). | Photo by David Regen, NYC. Courtesy the artist, Lehmann Maupin, Hong Kong, and Gladstone Gallery, New York via Lehmann Maupin

Wangechi Mutu @ Lehmann Maupin Gallery, Central, Hong Kong | May 18-July 8, 2017

Kenyan-born Wangechi Mutu splits her time between New York and Nairobi. She is working with Lehmann Maupin for the first time to present a new body of work in Hong Kong. The exhibition explores the relationship between humans and the natural world. Grounding the works culturally and geographically, the paintings and sculpture in the show are composed of materials—rocks and minerals, iron rich soil, roots, and branches—sourced from various locales in East Africa.


CHRIS OFILI, “Poolside Magic 8,” 2012 (charcoal, watercolour and pastel on paper). | via Victoria Miro Gallery, London

“Chris Ofili: Poolside Magic” @ Victoria Miro, Venice, Italy | May 10-July 1, 2017

Coinciding wth the 57th Venice Biennale, London-based Victoria Miro is inaugurating a new space in Venice with a presentation of works by British painter Chris Ofili. The exhibition features a suite of pastel, charcoal and watercolour works on paper. Shown together for the first time, the images are inspired by the lush landscapes and vibrant culture of Trinidad, where Ofili currently lives and works.


ALICE NEEL, “Benjamin,” 1976 (acrylic on board). | © The Estate of Alice Neel via Victoria Miro

“Alice Neel, Uptown,” Curated by Hilton Als @ Victoria Miro, London | May 18-July 29, 2017

Among the many portraits of family, friends, neighbors, creatives, activists, and students by Alice Neel, are paintings of African Americans and other people of color she knew and admired in her neighborhood. Curated by New Yorker writer Hilton Als, this exhibition features works painted over a span of five decades.


ISAAC JULIEN, Detail of “Pas de Deux with Roses (Looking for Langston Vintage Series),” 1989/2016. | via Victoria Miro

“Isaac Julien: ‘I dream a world’ Looking for Langston @ Victoria Miro Gallery, London | May 18-July 29, 2017

Nearly 30 years ago at the height of the AIDS crisis, London-based Isaac Julien shot “Looking for Langston” (1989/2017) in monochrome. The exhibition “I dream a world: Looking for Langston” presents a new series of large-scale, silver gelatin photographic works from the film and related archival material at Victoria Miro. A coinciding special installation of the award-winning film at Photo London (May 18-21) is presented alongside large-scale works and silver gelatin prints.


JULIE MEHRETU, “Mumbo Jumbo,” 2008 (ink and acrylic on canvas). | Photo by Tim Thayer via White Cube Gallery

Julie Mehretu: A Universal History of Everything and Nothing @ Serralves Museum, Porto, Portugal | May 19-Sept. 3, 2017

This is Julie Mehretu’s first exhibition in Portugal. Surveying two decades of painting and drawing from 1996 to present, it presents a comprehensive look at the career of one of the most critically recognized contemporary artists working today. Known for her monumental approach to abstraction, Mehretu’s mark making and mapping structure explore time and space and issues of identity and globalization.


POPE.L, “Crawling to Richard Pryor’s House,” 1994 (acrylic, ballpoint, collage, stuffed animal and wood glue on wooden board). | © Pope.L, Courtesy of the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, NY

“Pope.L: Proto-Skin Set” @ Mitchell-Innes & Nash, Madison Avenue, New York, N.Y. | May 23-June 30, 2017

Generally made with pen and ink on graph paper, Pope.L’s Skin Set works from the late 1990s and into the 2010s offer sharp, sometimes witty critiques of the absurdity of racial stereotypes and references to skin color (i.e “Black People are the Window and the Breaking of the Window,” “Blue People Cannot Conceive of Themselves,” “White People Are Angles on Fire”). This exhibition of early works executed on local newspapers, billboards, and advertisements anticipates the artist’s Skin Set works. In a series of works dating from 1979-1994, Pope.L explores issues including race and masculinity and the function of language and materiality in his practice. The artist is also currently presenting work in the Whitney Biennial.


RASHID JOHNSON, “Untitled Collision,” 2017 (vinyl, spray enamel, black soap, wax). | © The artist. Courtesy Hauser & Wirth, Photo by Jamie Woodley via Hauser & Wirth

“Rashid Johnson: Stranger” @ Hauser & Wirth Somerset, Bruton, UK | May 26-Sept. 10, 2017

Rashid Johnson’s multidisciplinary practice explores and is inspired by a range of issues, from art history, literature and philosophy to personal and cultural identity. Johnson, who lives and works in New York, has been an artist in residence in Bruton in advance of the exhibition. The majority of the works he is presenting, including paintings, sculpture, installation and drawings, were created during the residency and will be in view in all five of the gallery spaces.


MARTINE SYMS, “Incense, Sweaters, and Ice” 2017 (film still). | Courtesy the artist and Bridget Donahue, New York

“Projects 106: Martine Syms” @ Museum of Modern Art, New York, N.Y. | May 27-July 16, 2017

This is the first U.S. solo museum show of Martine Syms. Describing herself as a “conceptual entrepreneur,” the Los Angeles-based artist works in performance and video and is a publisher. The exhibition centers around “Incense, Sweaters, and Ice,” a new feature-length film that follows three people on a Great Migration-like journey from Mississippi up through the Midwest and onto Los Angeles. “As they move between watching, being watched, and remaining unseen. …Syms shows how identity production and image production are intertwined activities in contemporary life.” The immersive presentation includes a suite of prints superimposing stills from the film on found movie posters.


ADAM PENDLETON’s latest exhibition is inspired by a poem by Ron Silliman. | Image via Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art

Adam Pendleton: shot him in the face” @ Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, UK. | May 27-Sept. 10, 2017

This show is a monumental work executed in black-and-white on a wall cutting across the length of the exhibition space. Richmond, Va.,-born, New York-based Adam Pendleton utilizes the opening words of the poem “Albany” by Ron Silliman: “If the function of writing is to ‘express the world.’” In the long, autobiographical prose poem composed of 100 clipped sentences, Silliman details his working-class upbringing in Albany, Calif. Pendleton’s wall installation repeats the opening phrase and layers the verse with posters, collages, and other materials from the his archive.


BETYE SAAR, “Lest We Forget; The Strength of Tears, The Fragility of Smiles, The Fierceness of Love, 1998 (mixed media). | via CAFAM

“Betye Saar: Keepin’ It Clean” @ Craft & Folk Art Museum (CAFAM), Los Angeles | May 28-Aug. 20, 2017

This exhibition features 24 washboard assemblage works dating from the 1990s to the present by Betye Saar. The Los Angeles-based artist utilizes the washboard “as a symbol of the unresolved legacy of slavery and the subsequent oppressive systems facing Black Americans today, particularly Black women.” Saar will be in conversation at the museum with UCLA’s Steven Nelson on June 25. CT


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