SIMONE LEIGH, Rendering of “After Anarcha, Lucy, Betsey, Henrietta, Laure, and Anonymous” 2019. Leigh’s proposed design for a public artwork to replace the Central Park monument to J. Marion Sims the 19th-century physician who experimented on slaves, was selected by a juried panel of experts. | Courtesy the artist

 
The following review presents a snapshot of recent news in African American art and related black culture:
 

NEWS
New York City’s plans to replace the monument to physician J. Marion Sims (1813-1883) in Central Park with a new sculpture by a contemporary artist faced some challenges over the weekend. (Considered a pioneer in 19th-century gynecology, Sims’s advancements were based on surgical research conducted on enslaved black women without anesthesia.) In December 2018, the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs issued an open call to artists to propose a replacement for the contested public statue. The four finalists were Simone Leigh, Wangechi Mutu, Kehinde Wiley, and Vinnie Bagwell. All of them are African American. The first three currently have major, recently installed public artworks on view in the city. (Leigh on the High Line; Mutu at The Met; Wiley in Times Square.) Born in Yonkers, Bagwell is a New York-based sculptor who has previously produced public works. (See the four proposals here.) On Oct. 5, at a hearing intended as a celebration event announcing the selection, the process went sideways when a juried panel voted in favor of Leigh’s design and a coalition of community activists from the Beyond Sims Committee backed Bagwell’s. Community members weren’t happy and made it known. Days later, the situation was resolved when Leigh said she would step aside. She issued a statement yesterday saying she did so in order to let the community’s wishes prevail. As a result Bagwell’s proposal will be realized. Hyperallergic and artnet News

A group exhibition in South African has raised controversy. “All in a Day’s Eye: The Politics of Innocence” at the University of Pretoria’s Javett Art Center prompted a protest by the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT). The group objects to the inclusion of “The Wedding Party” (1996) by Zwelethu Mthethwa, saying it is an affront to victims of gender-based violence. The South African photographer was sentenced to 18 years in prison in 2017. He was convicted of beating sex worker Nokuphila Kumalo to death in 2013. On the same grounds as SWEAT, South African artist Candice Breitz has withdrawn her work from the exhibition. The curators issued a statement explaining, and standing by, their decision to display the work. Artforum

 


VINNIE BAGWELL, Rendering for “Victory Beyond Sims,” 2019. Bagwell’s proposal envisioning a “majestic angel” to replace the Central Park monument to J. Marion Sims was favored by representatives of the community and ultimately emerged as the city’s official choice. | Courtesy the artist

 

ACQUISITIONS
Eleven works from South African artist Zanele Muholi‘s “Faces and Phases” (2006-present) portrait series were acquired by Nottingham Castle Museum & Art Gallery through the Frieze London 2019 art fair, courtesy of the Contemporary Art Society’s Collections Fund. Frieze

 

APPOINTMENTS
The Whitney Museum of American Art announced David Breslin, curator and director of the collection, and Adrienne Edwards, curator of performance, will serve as co-curators for the 2021 Whitney Biennial. News of the new appointments came Oct. 7 in the wake of many months of protests and controversy surrounding the 2019 biennial. The sustained opposition was directed at the tenure of Warren B. Kanders, the museum’s vice chair and the owner and CEO of Safariland, a defense manufacturer that sells teargas canisters. Kanders resigned from the museum’s board at the end of July. Whitney curators organized this year’s show and an in house team will also helm the next iteration. Edwards joined the Whitney museum last year. She previously served for eight years as curator of Performa and curator-at-large at the Walker Art Center (2016-18). Whitney Museum

Meg Onli was promoted to Andrea B. Laporte associate curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) at the University of Pennsylvania. The announcement was made Oct. 2. Onli joined the ICA in 2016 as an assistant curator. “Banal Presents,” the final chapter of Colored People Time, the three-part series she curated, is currently on view at the Philadelphia museum. Art & Education

 

AWARDS & HONORS
Landscape architect Walter Hood has been awarded this year’s Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize. The honor includes a $250,000 cash award and is given annually to a “highly accomplished artist from any discipline who has pushed the boundaries of an art form, contributed to social change and paved the way for the next generation.” Previous Gish honorees include Spike Lee, Chinua Achebe, Suzan-Lori Parks, Maya Lin, Anna Deavere Smith, Laurie Anderson, Shirin Neshat, Ornette Coleman, Bill T. Jones, Lloyd Richards, Merce Cunningham, and Frank Gehry. An Oakland-based artist, designer, and professor, Hood won a 2019 MacArthur fellowship last month. New York Times

Vancouver-based Stan Douglas is the recipient of the 2019 Audain Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Visual Arts. Douglas works in photography, film, video installations, and theater production. One of Canada’s highest honors, the $100,000 prize is presented annually by the Audain Art Museum. Audin Art Museum

Multidisciplinary artist Otobong Nkanga received the inaugural Lise Wilhelmsen Art Award from the Henie Onstad Kunstsenter. The award was created to recognize a “mid-career artist whose work will inspire and motivate future generations to active participation and social responsibility.” Presented every two years, the award includes a $100,000 cash prize, acquisition of the artist’s work, and an exhibition at the Norway museum in fall 2020. Nigerian-born Nkanga is based in Antwerp, Belgium. Henie Onstad Kunstsenter

BRIC announced the first-ever recipients of the Colene Brown Art Prize. The unrestricted grant provided $10,000 each to 10 “under-recognized” visual artists based in New York, including Christopher Myers, Nicole Awai, Xenobia Bailey, Alicia Grullón, and Nona Faustine. BRIC presents free cultural programming in Brooklyn. BRIC

 

MAGAZINES
The New York Times magazine conducted in a wide-ranging discussion with Lorna Simpson, Simone Leigh, and Amy Sherald, three artists whose careers are thriving. Jenna Wortham gathered the women at a bar in Brooklyn for the conversation. She began by stating: “We’re having this conversation right now because it feels as if we’re in a particular moment for black artists, and even more specifically black female artists. I would love to talk about what that moment is, exactly—and how you see your position in it.” New York Times

A painting by Los Angeles artist Henry Taylor covers the October 2019 issue of Brooklyn Rail. Inside, the edition includes interviews with Taylor conducted by Laura Hoptman and Amy Sherald by Osman Can Yerebakan. Both artists get the Phong Bui portrait treatment. Brooklyn Rail

 

PROJECTS & COMMISSIONS
This weekend, Theaster Gates is hosting his annual Black Artists Retreat (BAR) outside of Chicago for the first time. He has organized a series of BAR events at the Park Avenue Armory in New York as part of his residency at the space. The Oct. 11-12 public programming is sold out. Over the course of the weekend, private artist gatherings will also be held, reflecting the project’s original concept of engagement and ideas exchange. Park Avenue Armory

Ethiopian artist Elias Sime is designing and constructing a public garden for Menelik Palace, the national palace in Addis Ababa. Commissioned by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, Sime is collaborating with anthropologist Meskerem Assegued on the project. Sime’s work is currently on view in “Elias Sime: Tightrope” at the Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y. ARTnews

Commissioned by Art on the Underground to make a large-scale work for Brixton Station in London, Denzil Forrester revisited “Three Wicked Men’ (1982), an early and celebrated work now in the collection of the Tate. “Brixton Blue,” the Grenada-born, British artist’s first major public art project in the UK will be on view through September 2020. Art on the Underground
CT

 

UPDATE (09/12/19): A rendering of Vinnie Bagwell’s “Victory Beyond Sims” proposal was added, provided courtesy the artist at the request of Culture Type

 

IMAGES: Top left, Adrienne Edwards and David Breslin, co-curators of the 2021 Whitney Biennial. | Photo by Bryan Derballa, Courtesy Whitney Museum; Brooklyn Rail, October 2019 cover, HENRY TAYLOR, “A young master,” 2017 (acrylic on canvas, 60 x 60 x 1.5 inches). | © Henry Taylor. Courtesy the artist and Blum & Poe, New York/Tokyo

 


2019 Audain Prize Winner Stan Douglas discusses his work. | Video by Audain Foundation

 


Artist Otobong Nkanga, the inaugural winner of the Lise Wilhelmsen Art Award Programme 2019, explains her practice. | Video by Henie Onstad Kunstsenter

 

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