This Week in Black Art: August 31-September 4, 2020

This week, works were acquired, art from across the diaspora traveled for new audiences, and Twitter memes capturing moments of this week’s Verzuz battle evoked childhood nostalgia. 

Brandy “Verzuz” Monica

Above: Image courtesy of BBC

2020 will be remembered for its mental and physical wellness trials amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the transformation of Black Lives Matter and other social justice movements. The year also will be remembered for the culture we created and enjoyed indoors, socially distanced, for the ways we have embedded the internet into our lives. 

The Verzuz series developed originally for Instagram live by producers Timberland and Swizz Beatz is undeniably a cultural relic of month upon month indoors. On Monday, Aug. 31, Brandy and Monica took centerstage for an unforgettable night. Reaching over 1.2 million views on Instagram live and 1.8 million tuned in on Apple Music marked a new high for Verzuz

Over 5 million tweets were posted and over 4 million tuned in, making this the most viewed Verzuz to date. Verzuz is a friendly, celebratory battle; no one is deemed an official winner––it is us, the audience, the “culture” who wins. For decades, Monica and Brandy were surrounded by tension fueled by the media and felt in interviews and asides. This past Monday, the two embraced, sang and enjoyed each other’s catalog. 

A surprise opening by Kamala Harris and comments by Michelle Obama also attest to this moment––social media and cultural capital are increasingly tied to our political activity. Kamala, Brandy and Monica all encouraged and emphasized the importance of voting. 

New Acquisitions 

Houston Museum of African American Culture

Above: Courtesy: HMAAC

Since the 2017 “Unite the Right Rally” in Charlottesville, Virginia, the role of historical monuments, particularly those that represent owners of enslaved persons and other oppressive statuses have come into a civic and institutional dialogue. The Houston Museum of African American Culture (HMAAC) joins this dialogue in a seemingly unlikely way. The museum’s acquisition of Spirit of the Confederacy is in an institutional effort of healing, placing the horrors of our past in the present to confront current participation in racist ideals and oppressive behaviors. 

This acquisition also is a conversation between the local government and its institutions. In 2017, Mayor Sylvester Turner was appointed to a task force to review Houston’s Confederate monuments. Mayor Turner asked HMAAC director John Guess if they would present the sculpture. Guess agreed, given the work is about “philosophy and not a person.” 

The sculpture, initially erected in 1908, created by sculptor Louis Amateis now stands in the courtyard of HMAAC. As the Houston community slowly reopens, more visitors will engage with the work, and the intention of the acquisition will be discussed at a public reception. 

Currently, HMAAC is open Wednesday-Saturday from 11 a.m.-6 p.m.

Minneapolis Institute of Art 

The Minneapolis Institute of Art collection spans over 90,000 works. Most recently added are Tawny Chatmon’s God’s Gift and Delita Martin’s The Waiting Field. Both Chatmon and Martin are represented by Black gallerist Myrtis Bedolla of Baltimore gallery Galerie Myrtis. The announcement of the acquisition was made on Tuesday. Sept. 1. During the COVID-19 pandemic, which has severely hit the arts community, this acquisition is a win for both artists and their representation. 

Myrtis Bedolla has owned and operated her gallery since 2006. Bedolla was recently featured in a New York Times article about the lack of Black gallery representation at this year’s (now cancelled) Art Basel. However, Myrtis and her peers remain viable business owners, entering a heavily segregated market to elevate and make more equitable Black art’s value. 

Arcmanoro Niles

Above: Show Me I’m Not Shattered (Try To Ignore The Elephant Somehow) | oil, acrylic and glitter on canvas | 66 x 81 inches | 2020 Courtesy: Arcmanoro Niles

On Sept. 1, Lehman Maupin announced their representation of Brooklyn-based artist Arcmanoro Niles. Niles joins McArthur Binion, Wang Echi Mutu, Nari Ward, Billie Zangewe, and others on the gallery’s diverse roster. The gallery has slated Niles’ first solo exhibition for the gallery’s New York space in June 2021. 

Niles grew up in Washington, D.C., and much of his works reflect his childhood experience. Photographs of family and friends are vividly painted in bright palettes. The works capture the beauty of everydayness; while the activities are seemingly mundane, the facial expression, body language and touch convey fuller stories. For Niles, this new representation may open doors for more international exposure.

Emerging Nigerian Female Artists Auction

Calabar Gallery is based in Harlem, NY and presents contemporary African artists and African diaspora artists. From Sept. 8-17, the gallery, in partnership with Lagos Art Shows will auction works by emerging Nigerian Female Artists. Works are available for online viewing and feature mainly figurative paintings. Over 20 artists are featured in this virtual auction. This auction continues Calabar’s role introducing artists of the diaspora to American collectors. 

Midnight Skies

Above: Courtesy: Project for Empty Space

Project for Empty Space and the Times Square Alliance have partnered to present In Your Absence the Skies Are All the Same (2013) by Kambui Olujimi. From Sept. 1-30, the world’s largest and longest-running digital art exhibition takes place each night from 11:57 p.m.-12:00 a.m. in Times Square. 

In Your Absence the Skies Are All the Same is a slow-moving compilation of skies worldwide. Over 40 shots from across the globe, showcasing a variety of times and weather dynamics reference human connection amidst distance. While created in 2013, the central themes and visual serenity reflect this moment. Behind screens, logged into Zoom, we long for connection. Families may be miles apart, but the sky can be a reminder of our connectedness. 

Additionally, Olujimi has a solo show in Newark, New Jersey, WALK WITH ME. The exhibition is a collection of nearly 200 ink-wash portraits on paper derived from a single photograph taken in the late 1950s, of Ms. Catherine Arline, the artist’s longtime mentor. 

The exhibition is available by appointment only. 

Project for Empty Space: 800 Broad Street, Newark, NJ 07102 

Nina Chanel Abney’s Imaginary Friend 

Above: Courtesy: Acute Art

The app Acute Art adds Nina Chanel Abney to their current roster of artists working in augmented reality. For her first AR art piece, Abney created Imaginary Friend. The figurative work commemorates the 57th anniversary of the historic March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have A Dream” speech. Abney’s “Imaginary Friend” is reminiscent of a wise elder offering words of encouragement, affirming Dr. King’s dream and those of our desire. 

She says, “I created “Imaginary Friend” to offer participants an always-ready companion to mitigate the uncertainty and precarity of today. This work brings to life childhood strategies of fantasy and play as a proxy for the loss of social comforts and physical contact we experience as adults. “Imaginary Friend” asks us to keep at the heart, the value of collective life and public interaction at a moment that threatens to push us further toward alienated beings.” Imaginary Friend does embody the fantastical elements of Abney’s inspiration; she references the wonder of genies and fairy godparents who come to save the day, quite often through reminders of ever-present, internal strength and determination. 

Right back Atcha!

Above: Kinky Series, 2020 Deck Brushes and Acrylic 20 x 22 Courtesy: N’NAMDI Contemporary 

N’NAMDI Contemporary, Miami is proud to present, ​Right back Atcha! a solo exhibition by celebrated, mid-career multidisciplinary artist, Gregory Coates. In this exhibition, the art references a return to materiality, looking at how objects choreograph our lives and our reactions to everyday material. This latest body of work continues Coates’ juxtaposition of materials, especially tools that help define and redefine personal, social, and cultural histories. 

This latest series features identifiable objects of domesticity, function, and utility that are abstracted through painting. In this show, the works engage the audience’s sensory impulses, as painting and sculpture are intertwined and compounded with meanings derived by the tiles of the works and choice of colors and symbols. Coates sites his choice of monochromatic colors “to distill your thoughts to focus on form, line, and structural composition.” Coates says, “There’s a universal understanding of blue, from water, the ocean and its vastness. In a way, it connects us all to the natural world but also is reflected in signs, symbols, and global brands to get our attention.” The large scale works with intricate details undeniably grab attention. Ironing boards, brushes, and bikes are just a few of the sculpture works renewed by Coates’ brushstroke. 

N’Namdi Contemporary, Miami

6505 NE 2nd Ave, Miami, FL 33138

Exhibition Dates: Aug. 17- Oct. 5

Saturday 12-5p

Open Weekdays by Appointment Only.

Compiled by Maleke Glee

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