“The Music of Color: Sam Gilliam, 1967-1973” recently opened in Basel, Switzerland.


THE GALLERIES OF KUNSTMUSEUM BASEL are alive with color in the form of 45 abstract paintings by Sam Gilliam. “The Music of Color: Sam Gilliam, 1967-1973” is the Washington, D.C.-based artist’s first solo survey exhibition in a European museum. The show is devoted to a particularly creative and innovative seven-year period when Gilliam, 84, first produced the Beveled-Edge and Drape paintings for which he is most recognized.

The Switzerland museum is also hosting “Theaster Gates: Black Madonna.” Spread across two museum venues, the engaging exhibition “will explore the cult of the Black Madonna, examining both its significance in the history of religion and its aesthetic and metaphorical tenor.” It’s an ambitious enterprise for which Chicago-based Theaster Gates, 44, is harnessing various aspects of his practice—from presenting objects as sculpture, considering architectural context and mining collections and archives, to planning artistic collaborations, an active studio space and printing workshop, and a variety of live programming.

Both the Gilliam and Gates exhibitions opened on June 9. The presentations coincide with the latest edition of Art Basel (June 14-17) and provide the most recent example of growing European interest in African American art and artists.

As the art world has become increasingly global, institutional and market recognition of African American artists in Europe has followed long overdue appreciation of the artists at home in the United States. In recent years, a select group of critically acclaimed African American artists—long-established, mid-career, and some younger figures—is enjoying significant exposure across Europe through biennials, museum exhibitions, gallery shows, art fairs, auctions, fellowships, residencies, and prizes, and international representation.

In recent years, a select group of critically acclaimed African American artists—long-established, mid-career, and some younger figures—is enjoying significant exposure across Europe through biennials, museum exhibitions, gallery shows, art fairs, auctions, fellowships, prizes and awards, and international representation.

From left, THEASTER GATES, “From the archives of the Johnson Publishing Company,” n.d. provided. | Photography by Moneta Sleet, Courtesy of Theaster Gates; THEASTER GATES, “From the archives of the Johnson Publishing Company,” n.d. provided. | Courtesy of Theaster Gates


Curatorial and collector interest is paralleling trends in the United States, with efforts being made to revisit the work of historic African American artists whose contributions did not receive adequate consideration in their lifetimes and celebrating living artists in the sunsets of their careers receiving long-deserved examination and attention. At the same time, African American artists who have followed them, figures who came to prominence in the 1990s and Millennials, are encountering a more open landscape, where an opportunity in London may be as likely as one in Los Angeles.

The shift in art world acceptance reflects changes in the culture at large, where diversity is generally the accepted norm. Artists from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Caribbean, and Latin America also have a greater presence on the world stage. What is particularly unique about experiencing the work of African American artists in a European context is that often the themes deal with social and cultural issues particular to the history of the United States.

Two major museum exhibitions recently explored the intersection of art and politics during the Jim Crow, civil rights, and Black Power eras. “The Color Line: African American Artists and Segregation” at Le musée du quai Branly in Paris (2016), and “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power,” organized by the Tate Modern in London (2017), featured works by dozens of African American artists and offered rare opportunities for European audiences to view the myriad ways the artists expressed themselves during the fraught and contentious periods in American history.

Gilliam and some of his contemporaries are featured in “Soul of a Nation” which has since traveled to the United States after being organized in London. Among them, Betye Saar recently had her first exhibition in Italy, “Easy Dancer” (2016-17) at the Prada Foundation in Milan. “More Dimensions Than You Know: Jack Whitten, 1979–1989” (2017) at Hauser & Wirth gallery was Jack Whitten’s first-ever solo exhibition in London. He died two months after it closed. “Faith Ringgold: Paintings and Story Quilts, 1964-2017,” Ringgold’s first European exhibition was on view earlier this year at Pippy Houldsworth Gallery in London.


SAM GILLIAM, “Rondo,” 1971 (acrylic on canvas on oak beam, 103 x 144 x 78 inches). | Photo by Lee Thompson, Courtesy the artist, Kunstmuseum Basel and David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles. © 2018, ProLitteris, Zurich


For Carrie Mae Weems, Rome inspired one of her most memorable series, in which she photographed herself with her back to the camera facing monumental institutions and architectural sites around the Italian capital. Titled “Roaming” (2006), the series explores issues of vulnerability and agency.

Weems discussed the images with Art21. She said: “Architecture in its essence, much of the fabric of it, is very much about power. If we think about a place like Rome, where I did a residency a few years ago, what one is made to feel is the power of the state in relationship to the lower subject, to the general populace. You are always aware that you are a sort of minion in relationship to this enormous edifice, the edifice of power. What is this relationship of power to you and what is your relationship to power and how do you contest it?”

“Roaming” led to Weems’s “Museum Series” (2007-present) in which she has similarly positioned herself before cultural institutions, including prominent European museums, the Louvre, British Museum, and Tate Modern, among them. With these images she is raising questions about the art world establishment, exhibition and collecting practices, and the marginalization of certain artists based on race and gender.

In the “Museum Series,” Carrie Mae Weems photographed herself before prominent European museums, the Louvre, British Museum, and Tate Modern, among them. With these images she is raising questions about the art world establishment, exhibition and collecting practices, and the marginalization of certain artists based on race and gender.

CARRIE MAE WEEMS explains her “Roaming” series of photographs taken around Rome, Italy, that explores the power of architecture and individual agency. | Video by Art21


For generations Black American visual artists have largely been welcomed throughout Europe for study opportunities, or living out their entire lives or major periods of their careers. During these years, African American artists, whether based stateside or in Europe, may have had the opportunity to exhibit their work, but in the past decade or so they are showing with more regularity and in more important institutions and high-profile venues.

In advance of “Kerry James Marshall: Mastry,” the artist’s 30-year survey that opened in Chicago and traveled to New York and Los Angeles, Marshall had a major exhibition in Europe—his biggest on the continent. “Kerry James Marshall: Painting and Other Stuff” (2012-14) was organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp (M HKA) in Belgium, Kunsthal Charlottenborg in Copenhagen, Denmark, Fundació Antoni Tàpies in Barcelona, and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid. The four institutions showed Marshall’s paintings for which he is renowned, but also wanted to emphasize the depth of his practice by displaying the “other stuff,” the many other mediums through which he has expressed himself, including sculpture, photography, installation, drawing, collage, video, printing and animated film.

The directors of the museums co-wrote the foreword to the “Painting and Other Stuff” catalog and said in part: “The structure of the art world from the mid-1950s until the mid-1980s, and up to the advent of globalisation, was indeed all about a highly exclusive and hierarchical canon in which New York took the lead, with Western Europe taking the supporting role. Since then, we have seen the rise of a multipolar world. If we are serious about this we have to find a way not only to mark the past canon with the sense of relativity that went along with its demise, but to radically replace it.” CT


TOP IMAGE: Installation view of “Music of Color: Sam Gilliam, 1967-1973” at Kunstmuseum Basel (June 9-Sept. 30, 2018). | Photo by Julian Salinas, Courtesy Kunstmuseum Basel


The following provides a snapshot of selected exhibitions and activities of African American artists across Europe since 2016.


Installation view of the Alexander Gray Associates booth in the Unlimited section at Art Basel 2018. Shown, from left, works by Sam Gilliam, Frank Bowling, Melvin Edwards, Lorraine O’Grady, Edwards (foreground), and Jack Whitten. | via Alexander Gray Associates


Theaster Gates created a buzz at Art Basel in 2013 when he sold 100 marble “bank bond” blocks inscribed with the words “In Art We Trust.” The marble was salvaged from a crumbling Chicago bank building, transformed into art objects, and sold to support the renovation of the abandoned building, which is now the Stony Island Arts Bank, a space for exhibitions and public programming that houses various collections and Gates’s Rebuild Foundation.

African American artists have been a central attraction this year, too. A number of galleries are presenting works by African American artists. In the Unlimited section, Alexander Gray Associates is showing historic and recent works by eight pioneering artists, including Sam Gilliam, Frank Bowling, Melvin Edwards, Lorraine O’Grady, and Jack Whitten. Later this year, the New York gallery is mounting solo shows with Bowling and O’Grady.

At Stephen Friedman, works by Kehinde Wiley and Deborah Roberts are featured. The London gallery recently announced its representation of Roberts, the Austin, Texas-based artist whose collage works depict African American girls as “hybrid figures” and explore issues of identity, strength, vulnerability, beauty, and subjectivity.

Works by McArthur Binion are on view at Lehmann Maupin. Blum & Poe brought paintings by Henry Taylor and Robert Colescott. Elsewhere, galleries are showing works by Gates, Sanford Biggers, Ellen Gallagher, Rashid Johnson, Gary Simmons, and Lorna Simpson, among a few others.

Younger artists who have established a foothold in the market are represented too, including Nina Chanel Abney (Jack Shainman Gallery), Jordan Casteel and Kevin Beasley (Casey Kaplan Gallery) and Martine Syms (Sadie Coles HQ/Bridget Donahue Gallery).

Brisk sales have been reported for popular African American artists whose work commands prices north of a million dollars, including Kerry James Marshall, Mark Bradford, and Barkley L. Hendricks. “Greg,” a 1975 portrait by Hendricks sold at Jack Shainman Gallery for $1.8 million.

Meanwhile, the David Kordansky booth, in the Unlimited section, is draped in a series of un-stretched canvases by Gilliam. The gallery told ARTnews a major European institution was among the buyers.


Berlin Biennial: MILDRED THOMPSON, Untitled (Woodwork), 1969 | © The Mildred Thompson Estate, Courtesy The Mildred Thompson Estate and Galerie Lelong & Co., New York via Berlin Biennial


Berlin Biennial
Gabi Ngcobo is curating this year’s Berlin Biennial (June 9-Sept. 9, 2018). The South Africa artist and curator selected 46 international artists to participate, most of whom are of African descent, including U.S.-born artists Mildred Thompson (1936-2003), Simone Leigh, and Sondra Perry. Thompson’s exhibition includes a series of wood assemblages and a suite of abstract paintings, both from the early- to mid-1970s. She began both series while she was living and teaching in Düren, Germany, and they were exhibited across Germany. When she returned to the United States, works from the series were featured in a solo show at her alma mater, Howard University in 1977.

Sam Gilliam
“The Music of Color: Sam Gilliam, 1967-1973” (June 9-Sept. 30, 2018) at Kunstmuseum Basel is the artist’s first solo exhibition in Europe. The show gathers some of Gilliam’s most fascinating work from public and private collections, including his Martin Luther King Jr. series and Yves Klein Blue (2017), which was featured at the 57th Venice Biennale in 2017. Gilliam became the first African American artist to show his work at the Venice Biennale in 1972, when he was featured in a group show organized by Walter Hopps in the American Pavilion. Gilliam returned last year, when he was represented in the international exhibition curated by Christine Macel. In 2015, David Kordansky devoted its entire booth at Frieze Masters in London to Gilliam. The artist’s renewed attention came after he joined Los Angeles-based gallery, three years earlier.

Arthur Jafa
For his first exhibition in Germany, Jafa is presenting “Arthur Jafa: A Series of Utterly Improbable, Yet Extraordinary Renditions” at the Julie Stoschek Collection in Berlin. A filmmaker, cinematographer and artist, Jafa is also featuring the work of artists Ming Smith, Frida Orupabo, and Missylanyus in the show. The title references “the sense of absence that Jafa observes as haunting Black life. The word ‘rendition’ refers to the artist’s interpretation of the aesthetics associated with Black being, which are historically-inscribed in images, objects and artefacts. By re-performing these narratives in the present, Jafa imagines and constructs new possibilities for making them visible. The exhibition was organized in collaboration with Serpentine Galleries in London, where it was on view in 2017.

Glenn Ligon
Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Ligon has a solo exhibition currently on view at Thomas Dane Gallery in Naples, Italy. “Glenn Ligon: Tutto poteva, nella poesia, avere una soluzione / In poetry, a solution to everything” (April 24-July 28, 2018) is the artist’s first solo exhibition in Italy. In the UK, Ligon organized “Encounters and Collisions” at Nottingham Contemporary and Tate Liverpool. “Glenn Ligon: Call and Response” at Camden Arts Centre in London was the artist’s first exhibition in a UK public gallery.

Multiple Artists
British-Ghanaian artist Yinka Shonibare assembled an impressive slate of international artists for an exhibition at Stephen Friedman Gallery in London. Curated by Shonibare, “Talisman In The Age Of Difference” (June 5-July 21, 2018) is a group show that “explores ideas of magic and subversive beauty in work by artists of African origin and across the diaspora and artists who empathise with the spirit of African resistance and representation.” More than 40 artists are featured, including African American artists spanning generations, Benny Andrews, Romare Bearden, Genevieve Gaignard, David Hammons, Whitfield Lovell, John Outterbridge, Faith Ringgold, Deborah Roberts, Betye Saar, Mickalene Thomas, Bill Traylor, and Kehinde Wiley, among them.

Multiple Artists
Anna Marra Contemporanea in Rome, Italy, is presenting works by African American artists who hail from New York City. A group show curated by Larry Ossei Mensah and Serena Trizzino, “Postcard from New York – Part II” (June 6-July 27, 2018) features Derrick Adams, Firelei Báez, Abigail DeVille, Alexandria Smith, Paul Anthony Smith, and William Villalongo.


Installation view of “Theaster Gates: Black Madonna,” Kunstmuseum Basel (June 9-Oct. 21, 2018). Shown, from left, THEASTER GATES, “Images from the Johnson Publishing archives,” (2) n.d. provided, with THEASTER GATES, “The Madonnas / A Cross Between Finance and Pastoral Care,” 2017-18 (framed digital prints with silkscreen/terra-cotta, maggia gneiss, iron plate). | Photo by Julian Salinas, Courtesy Kunstmuseum Basel


Theaster Gates
The photography archives of Ebony and Jet magazines are a central component of Gates’s multifaceted “Theaster Gates: Black Madonna” (June 9-Oct. 21, 2018) exhibition at Kunstmuseum Basel. He is the recipient of the 2017 Kurt Schwitters Prize of the Lower Saxon Sparkassenstiftung, which will be presented June 22, 2018, at Sprengel Museum Hannover in Hannover, Germany. Gates’s gallery representation includes London-based White Cube and he has had extensive exposure throughout Europe in recent years. Characterized as the UK’s leading prize for international contemporary art, Gates was awarded the Artes Mundi in 2015 at the National Museum Cardiff. The first time Gates publicly displayed his collection of Negrophilia, historic objects that depict African Americans in a stereotypical manner many view as racist, was in Bregenz, Austria. Titled “Black Archive” (April 23-June 26, 2016), the show was presented at Kunsthaus Bregenz. “Theaster Gates: True Value” (July 7-Sept. 25, 2016) at the Prada Foundation was his first exhibition in Milan.

Venice Architecture Biennial
Artist Amanda Williams and Andres L. Hernandez, an artist, designer, and educator, in collaboration with Shani Crowe, an interdisciplinary artist, are among the teams of architects and designers representing the United States at the Venice Architectural Biennial (May 26-Nov. 25, 2018). All three hail from Chicago. Williams, who had her first museum show last year, trained as an architect before becoming an artist. For a recent project, she painted eight houses threatened with demolition in bold bright colors. Her sculpture and photography “respond to changing urban environments.” For the exhibition in the U.S. Pavilion, which is called “Dimensions of Citizenship,” the team has installed an intervention in the courtyard of the pavilion that considers the phenomena from the standpoint of spatial injustice. (The Starbucks incident in Philadelphia is an example.) The work (“Thrival Geographies: In My Mind I See a Line”) is based on the fact that, “African American ownership of property and use of public space for personal enjoyment has been historically perceived as transgressive behavior, and often met with punitive legal action, violence, and, at times, death.”


Installation view of EDGAR CLEIJNE & ELLEN GALLAGHER, “Highway Gothic” (2017), Bonniers Konsthall. | Photo by Jean-Baptiste Béranger via Bonniers Konsthall


Ellen Gallagher
“Better Dimensions” (April 25-June 3, 2018) was Gallagher’s first major Swedish exhibition. Hosted by Bonniers Konsthall, a nonprofit arts institution in Stockholm, the show consisted of three film installations, immersive works produced with artist Edgar Cleijne. “Ellen Gallagher: AXME,” a 20-year survey at the Tate Modern, was the artist’s first major solo show in the UK. Born in Providence, R.I., Gallagher splits her time between New York City and Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

Martin Puryear
For his first museum show in Europe, Puryear presented an overview of 50 years of sculptural work at Voorlinden Museum & Gardens (Jan. 20-May 27, 2018) in Wassenaar, The Netherlands. Many works by Puryear are in the collection of the Voorlinden Museum. Last fall, for his first-ever solo exhibition in London, he showed works that span 40 years—more than 30 sculptures, along with rarely seen works on paper—at the Parisol Unit Foundation for Contemporary Art in London (Sept. 18-Dec. 6, 2017). Born in Washington, D.C., Puryear lives and works in the Hudson Valley region of New York.

Faith Ringgold
Ringgold was in conversation with Tate Modern Curator Zoe Whitley at Humboldt University of Berlin on April 23. The program complemented the New Jersey-based artist’s show at Weiss Berlin (April 26-June 16, 2018). Her first solo exhibition in Germany showcases a wide-range of works and mediums from various periods of her career. Earlier this year, “Faith Ringgold: Paintings and Story Quilts, 1964-2017,” her first-ever solo show in Europe, was on view at Pippy Houldsworth Gallery in London.


FAITH RINGGOLD, “Black Light Series #7, Ego Painting,” 1969 (oil on canvas, 76 x 76 cm, 30 x 30 inches), was on view in her solo exhibition at Weiss Berlin gallery. | via WeisS Berlin


Lorna Simpson
After joining, Hauser & Wirth last year, Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Simpson presented her first exhibition with the gallery in London. “Lorna Simpson: Unanswerable” (March 1-April 28, 2018) featured paintings, photographic collages and sculptures. Known for her conceptual photography, Simpson recently transitioned her practice, introducing a new foray into large-scale painting at the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015, under the artistic direction of Okwui Enwezor. Her new book, “Lorna Simpson: Collages,” was published this month.

Fred Wilson
For his first exhibition at Pace London, Wilson presented “Afro Kismet” (March 23–April 27, 2018). The exhibition featured a body of work he originally conceived for the 15th Istanbul Biennial in fall 2017. In 2003, New York-based Wilson became the second African American artist to represent the United States with a solo exhibition at the Venice Biennale. (The first was Robert Colescott (1997); Mark Bradford was the third (2017).


This teaser offers a preview of MARTIN PURYEAR’s first museum show in Europe (Jan. 20-May 27, 2018). Presented at the Voorlinden Museum & Gardens in Wassenaar, The Netherlands, it opened 50 years after his first-ever solo exhibition in 1968 and provides an overview of his singular sculptural practice in the intervening years. | Video by Voorlinden

LAST YEAR (2017)

Jean-Michel Basquiat
“Basquiat: Boom for Real” (Sept. 21-Jan. 28, 2018) at the Barbican Centre in London was the Brooklyn, N.Y.-born artist’s first large-scale exhibition in the UK. The show featured more than 100 works drawn from public and private collections and included film, photography and archival materials documenting the life and work of Basquiat (1960-1988).

Ed Clark
“Ed Clark: Extended Viewing” (Dec. 14,2017-Jan. 28,2018) presented a selection of Clark’s paintings from the late 1970 through about 2013 at Weiss Berlin gallery. Born in New Orleans, the New York City-based abstract painter lived in Paris for five years in the early 1950s.

Mark Bradford
Los Angeles-based Bradford represented the United States at the 57th Venice Biennale in 2017, installing his solo exhibition, “Mark Bradford: Tomorrow is Another Day” (May 13-Nov. 26, 2017), in the American Pavilion. He achieved a huge artist record at auction in March 2018 when his monumental painting, “Helter Skelter I” (2007), sold for nearly $12 million (including fees) at Phillips London. At the time, it was the most expensive sale at auction for a work by a living African American artist.


HENRY TAYLOR, “Untitled,” 2017 (acrylic on canvas), was among the artist’s portraits presented at Galerie Eva Presenhuber (June 11-July 22, 2017) in Zurich, Switzerland. | via Galerie Eva Presenhuber


Henry Taylor
Los Angeles-based Taylor presented a new body of work at Galerie Eva Presenhuber in Zurich, Switzerland last summer. “A Portrait Show” (June 11-July 22, 2017) featured 13 portraits executed in his signature style of abstract figuration. In October 2017, his gallery, Blum & Poe, mounted a solo exhibition of his paintings at FIAC, the international art fair in Paris. Hanging out in the gallery’s booth, Taylor met Brigitte Macron, the French president’s wife.

Jack Whitten
“More Dimensions Than You Know: Jack Whitten, 1979 – 1989” (Sept. 27-Nov. 18, 2017) was Whitten’s first-ever solo exhibition in London. Presented at Hauser & Wirth, a year after he joined the gallery. The show focuses a particularly creative time. As the gallery notes, “These years marked a period of intense experimentation for the artist and reflect his intellectual engagement with contemporary changes in science and technology.”

Kehinde Wiley
In advance of the unveiling of his portrait of President Obama at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., Wiley presented nine new paintings and his first three-channel video installation at Stephen Friedman Gallery in London. “Kehinde Wiley: In Search of the Miraculous” (Nov. 24, 2017-Jan. 27, 2018) featured a series of seascapes and maritime paintings, a departure from the portraits for which he is recognized. A painting from the show, “Ship of Fools” (2017), was acquired by Royal Museums Greenwich and became the first work by the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based artist to enter a public collection in the UK. Featuring paintings and stained-glass works, “Kehinde Wiley: Lamentation” (Oct. 20, 2016-Jan. 15, 2017) at Petit Palais, the City of Paris Fine Art Museum was his first solo show in France.


After debuting at “Kehinde Wiley: In Search of the Miraculous” at Stephen Friedman Gallery in London, KEHINDE WILEY’s “Ship of Fools” 2017 (oil on canvas), was acquired by the Royal Museums Greenwich, becoming the firs work by the artist to enter a public collection in the UK. | via Stephen Friedman Gallery


David Hammons
Described as the first major show of Hammons’s work in Greece and his first survey show in Europe, “David Hammons: Give Me a Moment” (June 13-Sept. 30, 2016) at The George Economou Collection in Athens presented a broad range of the artist’s work made over the past half century in Los Angeles and New York. The show featured body prints, paintings, sculptures, and materials documenting his performances and public projects.

Betye Saar
A career-spanning survey, “Betye Saar: Uneasy Dancer” (Sept. 15, 2016-Jan. 8, 2017) at the Prada Foundation in Italy was Los Angeles-based Saar’s first exhibition in Italy. Curated by Elvira Dyangani Ose, who now serves as senior curator at Creative Time, the show presented more than 80 assemblages, collages, sculptures and installations from 1966-2016.


THEASTER GATES talks about “Black Madonna” (June 9-Oct. 21, 2018) his exhibition/project at Kunstmuseum Basel in Basel, Switzerland, and its accompanying programming. | Video by Kunstmuseum Basel


A catalog has been announced to accompany “The Music of Color: Sam Gilliam, 1967-1973,” published by Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, with contributions from artists Rashid Johnson and Lynette Yiadom Boakye, among others. “Sam Gilliam: 1967-1973” documents Sam Gilliam’s 2017 exhibition at Mnuchin Gallery, his first solo show in New York in 25 years. Published earlier this year, “Theaster Gates: Black Archive” coincides with the artist’s exhibition at Kunsthaus Bregenz in Austria. “Theaster Gates” is the first monograph documenting the practice of the Chicago-based artist. “Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video,” documents her 30-year retrospective and features her “Roaming” and “Museum Series” images. “Betye Saar: Uneasy Dancer” complements the artist’s 50-year survey at the Prada Foundation in Milan. Accompanying his European museum exhibitions, “Kerry James Marshall: Painting and Other Stuff” features an extensive interview with the artist.


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.