The art world is mourning artist Jack Whitten (left) and curator Kynaston McShine.


THE WORLD OF ART lost two important figures in January—inventive abstract painter Jack Whitten (1939-2018) and pioneering MoMA curator Kynaston McShine (1935-2018). In “Jack Whitten: Five Decades of Painting,” the catalog published to coincide with Whitten’s career-spanning survey (2014-15), the artist mentions the curator in a Q&A with Robert Storr. Asked about his decision to abandon drawing by hand in favor of “tools” Whitten said: “Yeah, I had to develop another way of drawing, which involved tool making, the first one being the afro comb. I had successfully put down a slab of paint. That was my first objective. That’s all I wanted to do, a slab of acrylic paint. One day—I had a decent afro, and we used to wear a pick in our afro—I’m thinkin’, ‘Wow, this is an interesting thing.’ And I started drawing into the paint with the afro comb. Kynaston McShine saw some of these paintings in the studio and loved them. At that time, The Museum of Modern Art had an art-lending service. They had a little gallery set aside for this purpose. And Kynaston took three or four of them to show… They were designed to be tacked to the wall. The afro-comb paintings were successful. Immediately I knew that I was onto something.”

The following review of January 2018 presents a snapshot of the latest news in African American art:


Ever present at runway shows across the globe, street style fashion photographer Nabile Quenum had a fondness for Japanese brands.


LIVES | French street style fashion photographer Nabile Quenum (1985-2017) dies in late December. News of his passing is publicized in early January. Quenum, 32, contributed to New York, GQ, and Vogue magazines and shared his work on his blog J’ai Perdu Ma Veste (which means “I lost my jacket”).

“[Nabile Quenum] was great at capturing style because he had such great style himself and he recognized great style in others. He also had a great ability to flow between street-style cliques, he was a glue that helped hold the street-style community together.” — Scott Schuman, The Sartorialist

APPOINTMENT | Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan nominates Iris Leigh Barnes to a four-year term on the Maryland Commission on African American History Culture. The appointment requires state senate confirmation. Barnes is the curator of Morgan State University’s Lillie Carroll Jackson Civil Rights Museum

< MAGAZINE | A self-portrait of Kia LaBeija graces the January 2018 cover of Artforum. When the magazine’s editor first saw the work of Kia LaBeija, a New York-based photographer and performance artist, he described her as “an artist I immediately needed know.”

LIVES | Pioneering museum curator Kynaston McShine (1935-2018) dies Jan. 8 in Manhattan. He was 82. When the museum world was virtually all-white, Trinidad-born McShine was organizing groundbreaking exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art and Jewish Museum. Read obits here, here, and here.

ACQUISITION | Through a gift/purchase arrangement, the Philadelphia Museum of Art acquires 24 works of art from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation in Atlanta. The works are by African American artists from the U.S. South, including Thornton Dial, Ronald Lockett, and Lonnie Holley, and Quilters from Gee’s Bend, Ala.

NEWS | The Studio Museum in Harlem closes to the public in anticipation of its new building being constructed on its current site, where it is expected to re-open in 2021. Jan. 15 is last day to visit the museum to view exhibitions, including “Fictions,” part of its signature series of group exhibitions featuring emerging artists.

MAGAZINE | The New Yorker profiles artist Sanford Biggers in Jan. 15 edition. In “The Playful, Political Art of Sanford Biggers: An under-sung artist upends received ideas about race and history,” Vinson Cunningham asks the artist about the unique challenges of trying to convey humor in visual art. Biggers says: “Maybe the audiences aren’t necessarily coming for that. …And a lot of times, I think, black artists can be held back—not being able to be abstract, humorous, visceral, abject.”


British designer Wales Bonner took inspiration from artist Jacob Lawrence for her latest runway collection. | Photos by Yannis Vlamos, via Vogue


FASHION | For her Autumn/Winter 2018 men’s collection Wales Bonner was inspired by a sailor returning home. To present the concept, she created fabric referencing Jacob Lawrence paintings and enlisted Harlem-based Eric N. Mack to created an installation for the runway show staged in London on Jan. 7.

MAGAZINE | Marking Martin Luther King Jr. Day, The New Yorker puts the civil rights leader on the cover of its Jan. 15 edition taking a knee with football players. Mark Ulriksen, the San Francisco-based artist who envisioned the image, says he is glad Colin Kaepernick and Michael Bennett are bringing politics into sports and that the idea came about after he asked himself “What would King be doing if he were around today?”

APPOINTMENT | On Jan. 16, the Baltimore Museum of Art announces the appointment of Amy Sherald as a board trustee. The Baltimore-based artist officially joins the board Feb. 20.

AWARD/HONOR | On Jan. 16, United States Artists announces 2018 Fellows chosen to receive unrestricted awards of $50,000. Representing a range of disciplines, the group of 45 includes visual artists Abigail DeVille, Vanessa German, Pepón Osorio, Ebony G. Patterson, Dread Scott, and Cauleen Smith.

LIVES > | Philadelphia-based curator, art critic, and artist A.M. Weaver (1954-2018) dies and services are held in Philadelphia Jan. 27. She recently curated “Gardens of the Mind: Echoes of the Feminine View” (Oct. 6, 2017-Jan. 16, 2018), featuring artists Barbara Bullock, Martha Jackson Jarvis, E.J. Montgomery, Joiri Minaya and Glynnis Reed, at the African American Museum in Philadelphia.

APPOINTMENT | Filmmaker Charles Burnett is joining the faculty of Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. Burnett, whose films include “Killer of Sheep,” “To Sleep with Anger,” and “Selma, Lord Selma,” will be a Visiting Artist in Residence in the Film and Electronic Arts Program during the spring and fall 2018 semesters.


Trailer for “Wild Wild West: A Beautiful Rant by Mark Bradford,” a Sundance Official Selection 2018 directed by Dime Davis and co-produced by Elle Lorraine.


FILM | The short film “Wild Wild West: A Beautiful Rant by Mark Bradford” screens at Sundance Jan. 20-25. A collaboration between Dime Davis (who writes for the Showtime series “The Chi”) and Elle Lorraine, “through paper, percussion, and one provocative artist” the film seeks to answer the question “Where do artists come from?”

LIVES | Jack Whitten (1939-2018), the pioneering and inventive abstract painter dies Jan. 20 in New York. He was 78. Read more here, here, and here.

MEDIA | Beginning on Jan. 23, Harvard University professor and art historian Sarah Lewis takes over the Instagram account of The New Yorker’s photo department for a few days. Lewis, who guest edited the Vision & Justice issue of Aperture magazine in Summer 2016, seeks to answer this question: “What are 15 images that chronicle America’s journey towards a more inclusive level of citizenship?”

ACQUISITION | Huntsville Museum acquires portrait of jazz and blues singer Ethel Waters by Luigi Lucioni and announces Feb. 1 unveiling at African American History Month celebration.

AWARD/HONOR | The Foundation for Contemporary Art in New York announces 2018 grantees across a range of disciplines on Jan. 23. Visual artists include EJ Hill, Simone Leigh, and Dave McKenzie. The foundation was established half a century ago by John Cage and Jasper Johns.

REPRESENTATION > | On Jan. 24, Alexander Gray Associates announces its representation of painter Frank Bowling, whose practice is “defined by an integration of autobiography and postcolonial geopolitics into abstract compositions.” The news was shared a couple of weeks after “Frank Bowling: Mappa Mundi” concluded at Haus der Kunst in Munich. The Guyanese-born artist splits his time between London and New York, where his first show with the gallery is scheduled for September 2018. (Photo by James Proctor)

NEWS | On Jan. 24, the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) releases a series of case studies on museum diversity. To better understand how to address issues of equity, inclusion, and outreach, Ithaka S+R, a research and strategic guidance service, partnered with AAMD and the Mellon Foundation, and examined the practices of 20 museums where people of color are relatively well represented as educators, curators, conservators, and in museum leadership.

To better understand how to address issues of equity, inclusion, and outreach, Ithaka S+R, a research and strategic guidance service, partnered with AAMD and the Mellon Foundation, and examined the practices of 20 museums where people of color are relatively well represented as educators, curators, conservators, and in museum leadership.

ACQUISITION | The San Antonio Museum of Art acquires three works by Kevin Beasley, Rodney McMillian, and Martine Syms. The announcement is made Jan. 24 and the works are on view in the museum’s contemporary art galleries.


From left, The New Yorker imagines what Martin Luther King Jr., would do in our contemporary moment; Juxtapoz Winter 2018 issue features a painting by Kerry James Marshall the cover of its Jan. 15 edition.


MAGAZINE | Kerry James Marshall‘s 1995 painting “Our Town” is featured on the cover of the Winter 2018 issue of Juxtapoz magazine. Inside, he talks about what he has been up to since his Mastry survey concluded and plans for his Rythm Mastr comic series.

APPOINTMENT | The Crystal Bridges Museum of Art in Bentonville, Ark., announces the appointment of Allison Glenn as assistant curator for contemporary art on Jan. 25. She comes to the museum from Prospect New Orleans.

AWARD/HONOR | On Jan. 25, The College Art Association announces recipients of its 2018 awards for distinction which will be presented Feb. 21, at the organization’s annual convention in Los Angeles. The honorees include Pepón Osorio (Distinguished Artist Award for Lifetime Achievement), Firelei Báez (Artist Award for Distinguished Body of Work), Kellie Jones (inaugural Award for Excellence in Diversity), and Lowery Stokes Sims (inaugural Distinguished Feminist Award-Scholar).

AWARD/HONOR | Recognizing the role art can play in raising issue awareness and promoting civic participation, the Rubin Foundation awards grants to 60 organizations working at the intersection of art and social justice. Recipients include The Bronx Museum of the Arts, Center for Book Arts, Creative Time, The Laundromat Project, No Longer Empty, Nuyorican Poets Cafe, Recess, Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation, Studio Museum in Harlem, Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling, Visual AIDS for the Arts, and Weeksville Heritage Center.

< APPOINTMENT | The art fair VOLTA NY (March 7-11) announces Mickalene Thomas and Racquel Chevremont are co-curating its 2018 Curated Section. Titled The Aesthetics of Matter, the exhibition will feature a small group of artists who “explore ideologies of collage.”

AWARD/HONOR | Design of the Year goes to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, according to the Beazley Designs of the Year awards, administered by the Design Museum in London. Architect David Adjaye, the lead designer, is lauded for his vision, which was realized in partnership with three other architecture firms—Davis Brody Bond, The Freelon Group and SmithGroupJJR. The competition spans categories, from fashion and graphic design to transportation and architecture.

REPRESENTATION | Adam Pendleton joins Galerie Max Hetzler in Berlin. Charles Gaines is also on the gallery’s roster. New York-based Pendleton is well-represented by galleries around the globe: Pace Gallery, the New York-based gallery with multiple international locations, Shane Campbell (Chicago), Galerie Eva Presenhuber (Zurich and New York), and Galeria Pedro Cera (Lisbon).

NEWS > | In honor of Black History Month, the U.S. Postal Service releases a Forever stamp paying tribute to Lena Horne on Jan. 30. The Hollywood legend and civil rights activist is the 41st historic figure to be featured on a Black Heritage series stamp. The image is adapted from a black-and-white photograph of Horne from the 1980s, which was taken by Christian Steiner and colorized by Kristen Monthei.

APPOINTMENT | Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh taps Koyo Kouoh, founding director of RAW Material Company, a center for art, knowledge and society in Dakar, Senegal, to organize advanced programming for the 57th Carnegie International which opens in October 2018. CT


IMAGES: Top, Jack Whitten in front of his painting “Atopolis: For Édouard Glissant” (2014). | Photo by John Berens, © Jack Whitten Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth; Kynaston McShine. | Photo by Marc Ohrem-Leclef, Museum of Modern Art; Above left, Mickalene Thomas and Racquel Chevremont. | Photo by Guillermo Cano, Courtesy VOLTA NY


“Jack Whitten: Five Decades of Painting” masterfully documents the artist’s practice. Published on the occasion of Whitten’s first career-spanning exhibition, the catalog features a lengthy interview with Whitten conducted by Robert Storr. Over the course of his career, curator Kynaston McShine edited and contributed to many exhibition catalogs. “Frank Bowling: Mappa Mundi” documents Bowling’s recent survey of large-scale paintings, rare and never-before-exhibited works on view at Haus der Kunst in Munich.


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