ACQUISITIONS | Julie Mehretu, “Epigraph, Damascus,” 2016. | Los Angeles County Museum of Art, gift of Kelvin Davis and Hana Kim through the 2018 Collectors Committee, © Julie Mehretu, Photo by Malcolm Varon

The following review of the past week presents a snapshot of the latest news in African American art and related culture:

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has dedicated $970,000 to support technology staff at eight U.S. art museums. The talent “will be chiefly responsible for helping their respective institutions conceive, plan and implement digital strategies that improve the visitor experience and expand audiences.” New positions include Director of Technology Innovation at The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture in Charlotte, N.C.; Tech + New Media Curator at the The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit; and Director of Museum Technology at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA).

The Institute of Contemporary Arts London announced a new Independent Film Council that will “advise and advocate for cinema dedicated to independent film and artists’ moving image works.” Council members include Tabitha Jackson, director of the documentary film program at the Sundance Institute, and Los Angeles-based multidisciplinary artist Martine Syms.


The Obama Foundation made two announcements regarding its international programming. The foundation is inaugurating a new training initiative for emerging leaders in Africa. Launching in Johannesburg with a July 14-18 convening, the one-year Obama Foundation Leaders Program: Africa will provide 200 change makers with training in leadership development and civic engagement, helping to empower them to address the most pressing problems in their communities, countries and continent. Coinciding with the convening, President Barack Obama will deliver the 16th annual Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture July 17 at the Ellis Park Arena in Johannesburg. The Obama Foundation and Nelson Mandela Foundation made the joint announcement. Marking the centennial of Mandela’s birth, the theme of the lecture is “Renewing the Mandela Legacy and Promoting Active Citizenship in a Changing World.”


AWARDS/HONORS | Luke Willis Thompson, Installation view of “Autoportrait,” Chisenhale Gallery, 2017. | Photo by Andy Keate, Courtesy of the artist


ArtTable, which is “dedicated to advancing the leadership of women in the visual arts,” held its annual benefit and award event April 26. The ceremony honored gallerist Marian Goodman, who was introduced by artist Julie Mehretu, who is represented by Goodman’s gallery; and Naima J. Keith, deputy director of the California African American Museum in Los Angeles, who was introduced by curator Christine Y. Kim. Johnnetta Betsch Cole, the former director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, delivered the keynote address.

The four artists shortlisted for the 2018 Turner Prize have been announced. After the historic selections of Hurvin Anderson and Lubaina Himid last year, who made the shortlist after age restrictions for the prize were lifted (Himid won the 2017 Turner Prize), this year’s list includes unique choices. Forensic Architecture is a research agency comprised of 15 architects, journalists, filmmakers, and others, recognized by the jury for “developing highly innovative methods for sourcing and visualising evidence relating to human rights abuses.” The nomination is a departure because the collective does not include artists. Portrait photographer Luke Willis Thompson also made the shortlist. The jury noted the “meditative nature of Willis Thompson’s black and white 35mm portrait of Diamond Reynolds,” who streamed the police killing of her boyfriend Philando Castile on Facebook Live in 2016. Born in London and raised in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Thompson lives and works in New York, where he is pursuing a Ph.D. at Columbia University. He is also participating in the Berlin Biennial.

MacDowell Fellowships were awarded to 84 artists working in seven disciplines. A dozen visual artists were recognized, including Annette Lawrence, Kambui Olujimi, and Clifford Owens. 2018 fellows receive an eight-week summer residency at MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, N.H.

Since 2014, Dazed magazine has been charting the visionaries shaping pop culture. This year’s Dazed 100 list includes The Met’s Kimberly Drew, artist Eric N. Mack, photographer Ruth Ossai, and the collective Justice4Grenfell, which advocates for the families of Grenfell Tower who lost their homes and in some cases loves ones in the London apartment building fire. Artist Khadija Saye, 24, was among the 71 people who died in the tragedy.


ART FAIRS/BIENNIALS | From left, Claire Tancons is co-curating the Sharjah Biennial in the United Arab Emirates. | Photo by Nicola Bustreo, Courtesy Sharjah Foundation; Gabi Ngcobo heads the curatorial team organizing the Berlin Biennial. | Photo by Masimba Sasa


The Berlin Biennale announced 46 participating artists, including Liz Johnson Artur, Belkis Ayón, Firelei Báez, Minia Biabiany, Dineo Seshee Bopape, Tony Cokes, Keleketla! Library, Natasha A. Kelly, Grada Kilomba, Moshekwa Langa, Las Nietas de Nonó, Simone Leigh, Tessa Mars, Elsa M’bala, Herman Mbamba, Oscar Murillo, Gabisile Nkosi, Okwui Okpokwasili, Thierry Oussou, Julia Phillips, Sondra Perry, Mildred Thompson (1936-2003), Emma Wolukau-Wanambwa, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, and Portia Zvavahera. About half the artists are of African descent. The biennial is curated by Gabi Ngcobo. An independent curator born in Durban, South Africa, she is a founder of the Johannesburg-based NGO – Nothing Gets Organised and Center for Historical Reenactments, which was active 2010–14. Titled “We don’t need another hero,” the biennial is Sept. 6-9, 2018.

An initial list of 23 emerging and established artists selected for the Sharjah Biennial was released. Participants include Nigerian-born, Antwerp-based Otobong Nkanga, a visual and performance artist; Isabel Lewis, a Dominican-American artist and choreographer based in Berlin; Lebonese-born, Los Angeles-based painter, sculptor, and clothing designer Huguette Caland; and British artist Lubaina Himid, who won the 2017 Turner Prize. Titled “Leaving the Echo Chamber,” the international gathering opens March 2019 in the United Arab Emirates. Featuring three complementary exhibitions curated by Claire Tancons, Zoe Butt, and Omar Kholeif, the biennial “explores the possibilities and purpose of producing art when history is increasingly fictionalised, when ideas of ‘society’ are invariably displaced, when borders and beliefs are under constant renegotiation and our material culture is under the constant threat of human destruction and climate degradation.” Additional artists will be announced later this year.

The #00Bienal de La Habana, Havana’s Alternative Biennial, was organized after the government-sponsored Havana Biennial was canceled in the wake of Hurricane Irma in 2017. The independent exhibition, which runs May 5-15, 2018, announced approximately 70 participating artists. A list of about 50 was released. According to Artforum, “Many international artists traveling to the island for the event were omitted from the artist list as a precautionary measure. There is concern that they could be refused entry into Cuba.”

Artists participating in the Bienal de São Paulo (Sept. 7-Dec. 9, 2018) have been announced. The artistic director, Gabriel Pérez-Barreiro is taking a unique approach to this year’s edition, selected seven artists to each curate an exhibition that suits their vision. Nigerian-born, Austin, Texas-based Wura-Natasha Ogunji is among the artists organizing a themed show. Titled “sempre, nunca” (“always, never”), her presentation features five other artists including Lhola Amira and ruby onyinyechi amanze.


ACQUISITIONS | The Royal B.C. Museum purchased a major painting by Grafton Tyler Brown who is regarded as the first African American artist to make landscapes of the Pacific Northwest, California and British Columbia. Shown, Grafton Tyler Brown’s “Giant’s Castle Mountain: A.L. Fortune Farm, Enderby, B.C. Oct. 6, 1882.” | Photo via Royal B.C. Museum, Victoria


The Los Angeles County Museum of Art announced 10 new acquisitions during its Collectors Committee Fundraiser. The committee’s 96 members voted on the works selected to bring into the collection, including “I’ll Bend But I Will Not Break” (1998) by Betye Saar, Julie Mehretu’s “Epigraph, Damascus” (2016); “Forest Spirit Figure,” a monumental 19th century sculptural figure from Nigeria; and a collection of 29 ceremonial barkcloth paintings made in the 20th century by the Mbuti people of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria, B.C., acquired “Giant’s Castle Mountain: A.L. Fortune Farm, Enderby B.C. Oct. 6, 1882,” a major painting by Grafton Tyler Brown. A 19th century painter, lithographer and cartographer, according to Kelowna Capital News, Brown is recognized as the first African American artist to make landscapes of the Pacific Northwest, California and British Columbia. The museum’s collection already includes Brown’s British Columbia catalogue and a rare portrait. According to the Times Colonist, “Giant’s Castle Mountain” is the artist’s most significant depiction of British Columbia and was purchased in March for $44,000 from Uno Langmann Fine Art Ltd.

More than 1,500 works of art have been gifted to the Bowdoin College Museum of Art from the collections of Marion Boulton “Kippy” Stroud (1939–2015), founder of the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia, and artist Walter Pach (1883-1958), one of the original organizers of the European section of the Armory Show. The Stroud donation will add works by artists such as Dawoud Bey, Willie Cole, and Carrie Mae Weems, not currently represented in the museum’s collection. CT


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