Thokaza township, Johannesburg (1991). Photo by Graeme Williams

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

New York-based artist Hank Willis Thomas has been accused by South African photographer Graeme Williams of using an iconic image he took in Thokoza township, Johannesburg, in 1991, without permission. Thomas questions whether Williams has rights to the image, as opposed to the subjects of the documentary photo. The work in question, which Thomas altered by removing the color and changing the tones to emphasize one aspect of the photo over another, was displayed at the Goodman Gallery booth at the JoBurg Art Fair (Sept. 7-9).

A Chicago alderman, the city’s arts commissioner, and local artists are all in agreement about a public arts registry being proposed to the city council. The ordinance would not only sanction street murals, but it would celebrate and promote them. Chicago could become the “American capital of street art,” Alderman Brian Hopkins said.

Some of the clothes Aretha Franklin wore performing onstage and to special events are being sold. More than 30 dress and accessories, including hats owned by the Queen of Soul, will be auctioned Nov. 9-10 at the Icons & Idols: Rock ‘n’ Roll sale held by Juliens Auctions.


Ruby Washington was the first black woman hired as a staff photographer at the New York Times. She worked at the newspaper for four decades. (Shown in 2014 at a farewell gathering hosted by the Times picture desk.) | Photo by Chang-W. Lee, The New York Times


Ruby Washington, the first black female staff photographer at the New York Times has died of cancer. She was 66. Washington covered a broad range, including breaking news, crime, and the arts, about which she was passionate. She retired in 2014. According to the Times, Washington started in the mid-1970s, working in the back copy department. Soon enough, she moved to the lab and, later, staff.” The Times does not state what year she joined the newspaper or was promoted to staff photographer, or the date she died. Described as intensely private, she won awards but didn’t attend the galas to pick them up. She was also said to be patient: “Her best-known image—an over the shoulder shot of then-Secretary of State Colin Powell reading a note of congratulations for making the case for the Iraq invasion at the United Nations—came from such patience.”


Hamza Walker is organizing the Talks and Music programming at the first edition of Frieze Los Angeles; Curator Juana Williams joined the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art (UICA). | Photos: By Esteban Pulido, Courtesy UICA


Hamza Walker, executive Director of LAXART in Los Angeles, has been named inaugural curator of Frieze Los Angeles Talks and Music. Frieze is presenting its first fair in Los Angeles Feb. 14-17, 2019, at Paramount Pictures Studios in Hollywood. The host committee for Frieze Los Angeles has also been announced and it includes influential figures such as collector Pamela J. Joyner; Eileen Harris Norton, co-founder of Art + Practice; tennis champion Serena Williams and Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit; and collector V. Joy Simmons.

Juana Williams is the new exhibitions curator at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art (UICA) at Ferris State University’s Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, Mich. An independent curator, she most recently served as assistant to the chair of the College of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts at Wayne State University in Detroit.


Martine Syms has been awarded the Future Fields Commission in Time-Based Media by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Turin, Italy.

Artist Mickalene Thomas is being honored at ICP Spotlights, the International Center of Photography’s annual benefit luncheon and auction which pays tribute to female visual artists working in photography and film. Thomas will be in conversation with Spelman College Professor Beverly Guy-Sheftall at the Oct. 23 event in New York City.

A review of “Odyssey: Jack Whitten Sculpture, 1963–2017” at the Baltimore Museum of Art earned Dereck Stafford Mangus the 2018 Frieze Writer’s Prize.


Installation view of “In broad daylight” by Tavares-Strachan at the Baltimore Museum of Art. | Photo by Maximillian Franz


The Baltimore Museum of Art has installed a new site-specific commission on its facade, “In broad daylight,” a neon work by Tavares Strachan. Read more about the artist and his work.


The Souls Grown Deep Foundation of Atlanta has initiated a paid internship program for undergraduate students of color with the New Orleans Museum of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. The foundation collects and preserves art by African American artists from the South and has partnered previously with these museums to place works from Souls Grown Deep in their collections through gift/purchase agreements. Additional internships with more museums are expected to be announced.

The City of New York is introducing a pilot program designed to beautify the more than 300 miles of construction fences and sidewalk sheds found throughout the city alongside building sites. A collaboration among the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA), the New York City Department of Buildings, and the Office of the Mayor, the City Canvas program will install visual art on the temporary protective structures. DCLA is seeking a not-for-profit cultural organization(s) to implement the pilot. Applications are due Oct. 12. CT


Forthcoming in October, “Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal” surveys the interdisciplinary artist’s career. Published a decade ago, “Hank Willis Thomas: Pitch Blackness” is the artist’s first monograph. Released last year, “A City Refracted” by photographer Graeme Williams reflects his observations of the transformation of Johannesburg over the past two decades. Black South Africans from rural areas used to flock to the city. Now, as white South Africans are vacating the urban center, it is increasingly attracting immigrants from throughout Africa. Generally known for her large-scale, embellished paintings celebrating black womanhood, “Muse: Mickalene Thomas: Photographs” is the first volume “to gather together her various approaches to photography, including portraits, collages, Polaroids and other processes.” A new publication, “Mickalene Thomas: I Can’t See You Without Me,” will be published next month.


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