With the New York art fairs in full swing this week, and with the Whitney's release of the artists participating in the upcoming 2019 Whitney Biennial, there were plenty of artists to chose from in this month's round-up of artists to watch. Here are the 7 we're most excited about.
Tobias Naehring, Leipzig, Germany
February 23 - March 30
Husain in her Berlin studio, via KubaParis
Berlin-based artist Nadira Husain challenges eurocentric aesthetics in her clangorous, quixotic textiles, layering weird flashes of narrative through bold figuration and bright, fricative color. In equal turns whimsical and terrifying, Husain’s pieces toy with the visual grammar of culture-clash, belying their own ethereality with an insistent, rapturous mischief. Husain invokes a broad spectrum of motifs in her work, ranging from Furry subcultures to American cartoons, and the results feel like a sudden, if not unwelcome plunge into someone else’s deep-web fever-dream. Her most recent pieces, currently on view in "Blumen & Elefant" at Leipzig’s Galerie Tobias Naehring, mark a departure from her former use of ikat, a traditional Indonesian dying technique, harkening back to her start as a straightforward painter through tempera-inflected silk-screens on canvas. As the work grows increasingly environmental, it will be fascinating to see what her newer investigations into installation portend. Husain has shown her work in numerous venues internationally, including the Jewish Museum, Villa du Parc, Annemasse in France, PSM Gallery in Berlin, and Tempo Rubato, New York.
The Burial of Kojo on Netflix
Starting March 31
Image via IndieWire
If the name Blitz Bazawule looked unfamiliar to you on the list the Whitney released naming the participants of the upcoming 2019 Biennial, you’re not alone. Ghanaian-born Bazawule hasn’t been rattling around the white cubes of the art world; instead he’s been busy making music and film that address colonialism and the African diaspora from a deeply entrenched point of view. What he’ll present in the Biennial is anyone’s guess (we've yet to see his work in a gallery), but what we do know is that a couple of weeks ago, Bazawule’s film The Burial of Kojo was acquired by ARRAY just a couple of weeks ago. ARRAY, founded by filmmaker Ava DuVernay, has made a name for itself as a grassroots distributor of compelling films made by women and artists of color. And later this month, on March 31st, the film will debut on Netflix in tandem with a national screening tour. Here’s why we can’t wait: The story, about two brothers foregrounded by illegal gold mining controlled by Chinese companies in Ghana, is one of the first self-funded films of this scale made by a black African filmmaker in Africa. (Most big-budget films about or set in Africa are either made by outsiders, or are produced with European or Western money.) “We’re touching on a subject matter that has international implications, shedding light on what I feel is neocolonialism by China,” Bazawule told Indiewire. “Chinese companies assisted by local chiefs really run the show, operating in the shadows, while young local miners suffer all the risks and backlash. I knew immediately this was a story worth telling. However, I didn’t want to focus on the victimization. So, instead of centering the issues, I centered the people, something that is rarely seen when Hollywood makes a film in Africa.” We can’t wait to watch the film, and see what Bazawule has in store for the Whitney Biennial in May.
Still from Pony Cocoon via False Flag website
Multimedia artist Virginia Montgomery is serving seductive wackiness in impossibly polished packaging at False Flag in Long Island City until March 24th. The Yale MFA graduate and current Socrates Sculpture Park Fellow has been touting her brand of felt, gesture-driven cyber-subjectivity to greater and greater fanfare of recent months, making appearances at Crush Curatorial in Chelsea, the New Museum’s Screen Series, and Arsenal Contemporary in New York, not to mention a debut of her video Honey Moon at Times Square Alliance’s Midnight Moment exhibition in February. Her intimate, eerie interplay of video and sculpture ferment metaphysically in space, exhuming our funkiest enclaves of affect in the process. Stay tuned for her upcoming solo shows at Crush Curatorial in Chelsea and the Lawndale Art Center in Houston.
Salon 94 Freemans, New York; James Fuentes, New York
February 26 – March 23
Two galleries—James Fuentes and Salon 94 Freemons—are showing the work of the late self-taught artist Purvis Young this month. Young, who was born in 1943 and died in 2010, grew up in the downtown Miami neighborhood of Overtown. Using trash and found objects as substrates—not because he had to, but because he was ecologically concerned with recycling, well-before being environmentally friendly was “a thing”—the artist saw his paintings as forms of protest. Beginning in the 1960s, his heavily populated scenes were abstractly in response to the Vietnam War, and installed to the front of abandoned buildings like signage. Around 1972, Young learned about artist’s murals in cities like Detroit and Chicago, and was inspired to create a large-scale outdoor project known as Goodbread Alley, which he filled with paintings. The concurrent shows in New York present works made between 1983 and 1991.
Southern New Hampshire University McInich Art Gallery
February 28 - March 30
Two Dads (2017), via artist website
Haitian-born painter Didier William’s works both invite and defy the quality of beholding; his signature silhouettes are patterned with scale-like eyes that stare right back at viewers who might otherwise avoid grappling with the anti-colonialist underpinnings of his pieces. Comprised of collaged, painted, and carved elements, William’s compositions hold the wall with a fluid, intricate gravitas, beckoning closer examination on their own terms. William imbues his pieces with a long-tested spirit of resistance, boxing with the legacy of Haitian identity in the context of an American art audience. William, another Yale MFA grad, has been showing consistently around the world at outlets like Galerie Schuster in Berlin and Tiger Strikes Asteroid in New York since his graduation in 2009, but it was his solo show at James Fuentes in November of 2018 that ignited the broader public imagination; his current exhibition at Southern New Hampshire University’s McInich Art Gallery is sure to inspire further provocative exchange.
The Pit, Los Angeles
March 3 - April 15
Installation view of Reclamation Island via The Pit's website
LA-based artist Amy Bessone gives new meaning to the phrase “painter’s painter”; since the mid-nineties, she has been creating lush, emotive tableaus that pulse, hiss, and drip with the sanguine dynamism of art movements past. Her paintings map the emotional melismas of the medium itself, and it’s that expressionistic deployment of historical and symbolic referents that lend a deeply invested, personal touch to grander narratives. Her current solo show at The Pit centers a collection of large-scale paintings of female nudes, simultaneously reveling in and lampooning the patriarchal canon from which these images are necessarily sourced. There is no shortage of genuine pathos on display, however, and this push towards a new, painterly extimacy feels like the best kind of quicksand.
Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), Los Angeles
February 10 - July 21
Another name on the Whitney's list of 2019 Biennial participants, Lucas Blalock currently has a solo show, curated by Jamilla James, and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. The 41-year-old, Brooklyn-based artist has roughly 20 photographs in the show, his first solo exhibition at a U.S. museum. Mundane and every-day in subject, but surreal and unsettling in affect, his images foreground (rather than hide) the digital editing tools he uses to make them. In The Guitar Player (2013), for instance, we see the front of a man's face though the rest of his body indicates we should be looking at a profile—a contemporary take on Cubism, albeit funnier and uncannier. Holding a sheet of astroturf (not a guitar—the work's title pulled a fast one on you!) the man looks ridiculous and absurd, not only because of what he's doing, but because of how Blalock fractures and fragments his portrait. While many European venues have had the privilege of showing Blalock's work, his U.S. shows are farther and fewer in between. So if you're on the West Coast be sure to swing by the ICA in Los Angeles, and if you're on the East Coast, bide your time until the Whitney Biennial opening May 17.