A Dream Deferred, for Now

The coronavirus has pushed Deborah Roberts’s art exhibition at the Contemporary Austin at least to January. She is looking at the postponement as a gift.

Deborah Roberts explores notions of beauty, identity and race through collage-based portraits of black children. She was an artist in residence at the Rauschenberg Foundation in Captiva, Fla., in 2019.
Deborah Roberts explores notions of beauty, identity and race through collage-based portraits of black children. She was an artist in residence at the Rauschenberg Foundation in Captiva, Fla., in 2019.Credit…Deborah Roberts and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London and Vielmetter Los Angeles; Mark Poucher
Robin Pogrebin

By Robin Pogrebin

  • April 12, 2020

Deborah Roberts could have given up long ago. With a mother who worked as a maid and a father who worked as an electrical lineman for the city of Austin, Tex., she grew up trading her drawings of cars, horses, dolls and airplanes for her classmates’ fat red pencils.

“It meant nothing to them, but it was everything to me,” she said. “I did not know what an artist was. I just knew that I wanted to do this.”

Her parents did not understand her passion. “My daddy hated art and said it was never going to be nothing,” Ms. Roberts said. “He would say, ‘What are you doing that for?’”

“I learned to get a thick skin when I was about 25,” she added. “Nothing anyone can tell you is ever going to make you stop doing it.”

That resolve is finally paying off. At age 57, Ms. Roberts is about to have her first solo museum exhibition — a big deal for any artist, but especially gratifying for one who, four years ago, was working in a shoe store to pay the bills.

“She’s worked for so long without any institutional recognition,” said Hallie Ringle, the curator of contemporary art at the Birmingham Museum of Art who helped organize “Fictions,” the 2017 show at the Studio Museum in Harlem that included Ms. Roberts. “What she hasn’t done, though, is let that stop her.”

Deborah Roberts, “Political Lambs in a Wolf’s World”(2018), mixed media on paper. Unusual shifts in scale and dramatic amalgams of several faces define her work. Arms hold a numbered placard, as in a police mugshot.
Deborah Roberts, “Political Lambs in a Wolf’s World”(2018), mixed media on paper. Unusual shifts in scale and dramatic amalgams of several faces define her work. Arms hold a numbered placard, as in a police mugshot.Credit…Deborah Roberts and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London and Vielmetter Los Angeles

Ms. Roberts, who has a big personality and a bigger smile, also hasn’t let the pandemic set her back, though it has pushed her debut at the Contemporary Austin in Texas to January from September — assuming the virus abates by then, as hoped.

Instead she is looking at this delay as something of a gift: to press the pause button on a career that had started to accelerate faster than felt comfortable, and to make entirely new paintings for her show, which will now be informed by this challenging cultural moment.

“It just gives me time to be greater,” Ms. Roberts said, “to really flesh out this work.”

In this way, Ms. Roberts exemplifies where many emerging artists find themselves during the coronavirus quarantine, which is where they always are — in their studios, making work that may never sell; deploying well-honed habits of toiling in isolation; and drawing strength from the creative process that has long sustained them.

While group shows are gratifying, Ms. Roberts had just begun getting coveted individual recognition. Institutions like the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Brooklyn Museum have acquired her work, which explores notions of beauty, identity and race through collage-based portraits of black children.

Celebrities who have purchased pieces include Beyoncé, Ava DuVernay and Barack Obama. Some even liken Ms. Roberts’s collages to those of the major American modernist Romare Bearden. “Roberts borrows from Bearden’s vocabulary but distills it into her own powerful language,” Elizabeth Fullerton wrote last year in Art in America, “capturing her subjects in a fragile state of becoming.”

Deborah Roberts, “The Burden” (2019), mixed media and collage on linen.
Deborah Roberts, “The Burden” (2019), mixed media and collage on linen.Credit…Deborah Roberts and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London and Vielmetter Los Angeles
Deborah Roberts, “Facing the Rising Sun” (2018).
Deborah Roberts, “Facing the Rising Sun” (2018).Credit…Deborah Roberts and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London and Vielmetter Los Angeles

Just four years ago Ms. Roberts was selling her work for $250 to $600; now her pieces draw from $30,000 to $150,000. Having worked almost exclusively on paper, she can afford to spread out on canvas.

And where she used to work in her cramped bedroom, Ms. Roberts now has a proper studio in Austin and just recently built herself a bigger house, where she moved in just before the virus outbreak.

But Ms. Roberts said she has always considered herself “a successful artist.”

“Maybe not monetarily, but I’ve always honored my work,” she said. “This is the reason I’m here.”

A high school art teacher urged her on and taught her drawing and painting. “All praise and glory go to her,” Ms. Roberts said. “Well, it goes to God, but she’s next.”

Ms. Roberts graduated with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the University of North Texas in 1985 and earned a master’s in fine art, from Syracuse University, in 2014.

Her early work reflected the sheltered world of her childhood, in which people went to church and the violence that can accompany racism was remote. “I used to draw and paint like Norman Rockwell, but it was black Americana,” Ms. Roberts said. “I grew up with women who would sit on the porch all day and dare you to get in their yard. Maybe it was sentimental or romantic, but it was real to me. When I started painting, I was painting that.”

Then she read essays by Cornel West, in which he talked about the power of the black body and how it was a taboo subject in white America. “It just shook me to the core,” she said.

“I did not know I was black until I was in the sixth grade,” she added, “till the second round of busing, when a white teacher hated me from the moment she saw me.”

Having started by using images of her own 8-year-old face, Ms. Roberts soon found inspiration in the faces of other children, like those from Africa and Haiti. She started with girls — exploring how society views them as well as how they view themselves — and recently began incorporating boys. “I’m looking for this type of innocence that has not been touched by pop culture but maybe has been touched by tragedy,” she said. “I know when I find that face.”

Ms. Roberts’s work has moved some distance from the Norman Rockwell days; her 2018 mixed-media painting, “Facing the Rising Sun” refers to 14-year-old George Stinney Jr., who in 1944 was wrongfully convicted of murdering two white girls in South Carolina. Dressed in a too-big prison uniform, Stinney was forced to sit on a book so he could fit in the electric chair. (The conviction was later vacated.)

“She uses different clothing, patterns and tropes like boxing gloves and checkered uniform skirts — these elements that might seem incongruous — and puts them together in collages that are deceptively simple,” said Heather Pesanti, chief curator at the Contemporary Austin, who is organizing the forthcoming show. “She creates these new whole individuals from fragmented parts as a way to tell her own story.”

Deborah Roberts, “Red, White and Blue’” (2018), collage on canvas. The artist juxtaposes patterns and tropes like boxing gloves and skirts “in collages that are deceptively simple,” the curator Heather Pesanti said.
Deborah Roberts, “Red, White and Blue’” (2018), collage on canvas. The artist juxtaposes patterns and tropes like boxing gloves and skirts “in collages that are deceptively simple,” the curator Heather Pesanti said.Credit…Deborah Roberts and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London and Vielmetter Los Angeles

No matter how hard it has been at times to make a living, Ms. Roberts has kept on making art. “She’s a fighter,” said Jeanne Klein, a prominent Texas art collector who has become a close friend. “I never had to fight like that.”

When she found herself forced to work in a shoe store four years ago, Ms. Roberts did almost cry uncle. Then she received a grant from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, which she said “allowed me to eat.”

“I’m a fat girl,” she added, laughing, “so I needed to eat.”

Then in 2017, things took a meaningful turn: in the span of just a few months, Ms. Roberts’s work appeared in New York at the Volta Art Fair, the Fort Gansevoort gallery and the Studio Museum.

Major dealers took notice, including Stephen Friedman in London and Susanne Vielmetter in Los Angeles, both of whom now represent Ms. Roberts. Her first visit to Ms. Roberts’s studio, Ms. Vielmetter said, echoed her experience with Mickalene Thomas, Nicole Eisenman and Wangechi Mutu: “There was no question about how I felt: This is very, very important work.”

While it can take artists time to gain leverage in their careers, Ms. Roberts has already been making clear demands, namely that she wants her work to go to museums, where children who look like her can be inspired by her story.

And she is allowing the virus crisis to influence new paintings — gravitating toward black backgrounds, for instance, instead of her usual white; and using the time for self-reflection.

“This virus has made us scared of other people,” Ms. Roberts said. “Where we used to make eye contact and meet people, now we want to be in the shadows. We don’t want people to see us.”

But Ms. Roberts’ work is all about wanting to be seen. “Allowing people to be in my presence, to feel what I feel when people make comments about my hair or my body,” she said. “While I want to be in the chorus of black women talking about black womanhood, I also want to have my own solo voice.”

SOUL OF A NATION: ART IN THE AGE OF BLACK POWER

12 JULY – 22 OCTOBER 2017

Free entry for Members

Barkley L. Hendricks Icon for My Man Superman (Superman Never Saved any Black People – Bobby Seale) 1969 Collection of Liz and Eric Lefkofsky © Estate of Barkley L. Hendricks. Courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Superman S-Shield © & ™ DC Comics. Used with permission​

Soul of a Nation shines a bright light on the vital contribution of Black artists to a dramatic period in American art and history

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12 July – 22 October 2017

The show opens in 1963 at the height of the Civil Rights movement and its dreams of integration. In its wake emerged more militant calls for Black Power: a rallying cry for African American pride, autonomy and solidarity, drawing inspiration from newly independent African nations. 

Artists responded to these times by provoking, confronting, and confounding expectations. Their momentum makes for an electrifying visual journey. Vibrant paintings, powerful murals, collage, photography, revolutionary clothing designs and sculptures made with Black hair, melted records, and tights – the variety of artworks reflects the many viewpoints of artists and collectives at work during these explosive times.  

Some engage with legendary figures from the period, with paintings in homage to political leaders Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Angela Davis, musician John Coltrane and sporting hero Jack Johnson. Muhammad Ali appears in Andy Warhol’s famous painting.  

This landmark exhibition is a rare opportunity to see era-defining artworks that changed the face of art in America.

Benny Andrews Did the Bear Sit Under a Tree 1969 Emanuel Collection © Estate of Benny AndrewsDACS, LondonVAGA, NY
Benny Andrews Did the Bear Sit Under a Tree 1969 Emanuel Collection Estate of Benny Andrews/DACS, London/VAGA, NY
-	Carolyn Mims Lawrence Black Children Keep Your Spirits Free 1972 Collection & © Carolyn Mims Lawrence
Carolyn Mims Lawrence Black Children Keep Your Spirits Free 1972 Collection & Carolyn Mims Lawrence
-	William T. Williams Trane 1969 Studio Museum in Harlem (New York, USA) © William T. Williams; Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY
William T. Willams Trane 1969 Studio Museum in Harlem (New York, USA) William T. Williams; Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY
-	Betye Saar Eye 1972 Collection of Sheila Silver and David Limburger © Betye Saar. Courtesy of the Artist and Roberts & Tilton, Los Angeles, California.  Photo Robert Wedemeyer
Betye Saar Eye 1972 Collection of Shelia Silver and David Limburger Betye Saar. Courtesy of the Artist and Roberts & Tilton, Los Angeles, California. Photo Robert Wedmeyer

Salvador Dalí, ‘Lobster Telephone’ 1936

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Can’t Wait to See Some Art Again? Here Are 5 Exciting Shows Still Planned for This Summer’s Prestigious Rencontres d’Arles Festival

The event in the South of France is still slated to go ahead in June.

Naomi Rea, April 9, 2020

A portrait by photographer Stéphan Gladieu of a family in Pyongyang central zoo in North Korea. The artist will be included in Les Rencontres d’Arles. Courtesy of School Gallery/Olivier Castaing.
A portrait by photographer Stéphan Gladieu of a family in Pyongyang central zoo in North Korea. The artist will be included in Les Rencontres d’Arles. Courtesy of School Gallery/Olivier Castaing.

It remains to be seen whether the art world will be jetting off to the South of France this summer to attend the annual Les Rencontres d’Arles photography festival. But as of April 9, the prestigious event is still scheduled to go ahead as planned from June 29 through September 20.

So this summer, should you find yourself in Arles, once a central city in ancient Rome, sipping rosé in front of the famed Grand Hôtel Nord-Pinus while looking out contemplatively at the bustling Place du Forum, make sure to also make some time to see these shows.

“Luo Yang: Girls and Boys”

Luo Yang, Yao Ezi, from the Youth series (2019-ongoing), Beijing, 2019. Courtesy of the artist.
Luo Yang, Yao Ezi, from the Youth series (2019–ongoing). Courtesy of the artist.

Luo Yang, who was named the best female photographer at the Jimei x Arles festival in 2019, will be presenting portraits depicting members of an emerging Chinese youth culture after the end of the country’s one-child policy. For the series “Girls,” Luo followed 100 women over the course of 10 years, documenting their lives from adolescence to adulthood. In her new series, “Youth,” she turns her lens on younger generations living in China’s newly globalized society.

“Masculinities: Liberation Through Photography”

Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Untitled (1985).
Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Untitled (1985).

This exhibition considers how masculinity has been depicted from the 1960s to the present day. More than 50 artists, from Issac Julien to Catherine Opie to Laurie Anderson, are represented with works that pick apart how masculinity has been socially coded, performed, and constructed. Curated by Alona Pardo, this exhibition was on view at the Barbican Centre in London and will travel to the Gropius Bau in Berlin.

“Women Photographers”

Florence Henri, Self-portrait(1928). Galleria Martini & Ronchetti, Genoa. Courtesy of the Archives Florence Henri.
Florence Henri, Self-portrait(1928). Galleria Martini & Ronchetti, Genoa. Courtesy of the Archives Florence Henri.

Of the 159 titles published by the French-language publisher Photo Poche since it was founded in 1982, only 10 have been about women. Sarah Moon’s three-volume collection, Femmes Photographes, which was also put out by the publisher, redresses that imbalance, and this exhibition celebrates her work. The show spotlights contributions by female photographers who have often been neglected by the market and cultural institutions, and includes works by Judy Dater, Deborah Tuberville, Claude Batho, Jane Evelyn Atwood, and Martine Franck, among others.

“Lessons LXXV: Martine Syms”

Martine Syms, Lesson LXXV (2017). Courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London.
Martine Syms, Lesson LXXV (2017). Courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London.

“Lessons” is an ongoing video series by Martine Syms featuring short clips of the artist covered in milk against a black background. The series consciously evokes the turmoil that roiled the US after the murder of Michael Brown, Jr., by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014: in the protests that followed, demonstrators poured milk over their faces to protect themselves from tear gas.

“Stéphan Gladieu: Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Portraits” 

Stéphan Gladieu, North Koreans Portraits, North Korea, Pyongyang, (June 2018). Kim Yun Gyong, Han Sol Gyong, Kim Won Gyong, Kang Sun Hwa and Kong Su Hyang in the 3D movie theater at SCI Tech Complex.
Stéphan Gladieu, North Koreans Portraits, North Korea, Pyongyang (June 2018).

The photojournalist and artist Stéphan Gladieu, who began his career as an international correspondent covering countries in the Middle East and Asia, is presenting a series of portraits of North Korean citizens that speaks not only to their day-to-day routines, but also to how the country’s propaganda machine has infiltrated everyday life. 

The World’s Great Photographers, Many Stuck Inside, Have Snapped

Stephen Shore, Catherine Opie, Todd Hido and others have turned to Instagram to cure ‘corona claustrophobia’ or show how life has changed. They talk about their quarantine pics.

Photograph by Tahmineh Monzavi taken from her window, posted on Instagram, captures the inauspicious beginning of spring in Tehran. She said, “Tehran was a dead city.” 
Photograph by Tahmineh Monzavi taken from her window, posted on Instagram, captures the inauspicious beginning of spring in Tehran. She said, “Tehran was a dead city.” Credit…Tahmineh Monzavi

By Peter Libbey and Jason Farago

  • Published April 2, 2020 Updated April 3, 2020

Here’s the good news: You now have a sharper camera in your pocket than professional photographers could dream of 30 years ago. Here’s the bad news: You can only shoot from your apartment.

With museums and galleries largely shuttered around the world because of the coronavirus pandemic, Instagram has filled up these last weeks with “quarantine content”: snapshots of cramped apartments, pets surprised by their owners’ sudden ubiquity, uncannily deserted street scenes and cautious supermarket shoppers in beekeeping suits. But sprinkled among Instagram’s more than 1 billion users, you’ll also find some of the world’s greatest fine art photographers — some shooting on iPhones or Android handsets, some relying on digital cameras and uploading manually. Against the mandatory confinement imposed from Argentina to Zimbabwe, these photographers have taken to the platform with newfound vigor, plunging their imagery into the swim of the social feed.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B91MqfMK1bd/?utm_source=ig_embed

“I returned to Shanghai from Berlin, and was quarantined at home,” said Liu Shuwei (@shuwei_liu), an audacious young Chinese photographer best known for his portraits and nudes, who turned to Instagram during his weekslong confinement in February. Day after day, he shot the historical architecture and blossoming trees outside the window of his apartment in Shanghai’s former French Concession neighborhood — a relief, Mr. Liu said, from being “angry and disappointed most of the time.”

On Instagram (as well as Weibo and other local platforms), Chinese photographers offered the first view of what is now a global condition. The brilliant video artist Cao Fei, who lives between Beijing and Singapore, has intermixed shots of hand sanitizer and social-distancing propaganda with pristine photographs of her children, a balm amid corona claustrophobia.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B8oi3d-DSwx/?utm_source=ig_embed

In Tehran, the young photographer Tahmineh Monzavi (@tahminehmonzavi) has been shooting the inauspicious beginning of spring from her window, sheltering in place as Iran endures one of the worst outbreaks of Covid-19 anywhere. “I took this photo on Nowruz, the first day of our new year,” Ms. Monzavi said of one recent Instagram post. “The mood was not like the past years. Tehran was a dead city.” But Instagram has offered a respite from the solitude; she has also posted touching long-distance portraits of her parents, waving from the safety of their own apartment windows.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B-HBfbPAEFI/

In Florence, the photographer Michele Borzoni (@micheleborzoni) goes outside “only at certain times of the day,” to shoot his fellow Italians queuing for the supermarket, detached and solitary, like statues in barren squares. Last month, in Florence’s central Piazza della Repubblica, Mr. Borzoni came across a makeshift shrine, decorated with flowers and rosary beads, to the Wuhan doctor Li Wenliang.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B-M6faonfGp/?utm_source=ig_embed
https://www.instagram.com/p/B9uYVCHHNSo/?utm_source=ig_embed

The global outpouring of digital imagery includes the renowned Japanese photographer Rinko Kawauchi (@rinkokawauchi), who posted interior views filled with an almost rapturous light, in defiance of confinement. In South Africa, now on lockdown, the sharp young photographer Lindokhule Sobekwa (@lindokuhle.sobekwa) has turned to the sky: a dark cloud, a bleak portent, redeemed by a flock of migrating birds.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B95WJhIA-Wg/?utm_source=ig_embed
https://www.instagram.com/p/B99np6XH1rn/?utm_source=ig_embed

Here in the United States, five art photographers — some vigorous users of Instagram, others recent adopters — directly address the effects of the crisis on their lives, often in spectral images. We asked them to describe the role of the social photograph in their work, and the tension between the isolation of quarantine and the global reach of Instagram. These conversations have been edited and condensed.

I’ve always been one of the worst Instagrammers of all the photographers out there. I’m a formal photographer and it’s always been hard to figure out how to actually use that platform in an interesting way. It’s very rare that I post, but now I’m posting because I feel like that’s the way that I can be connected to a larger community.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B942ru4Fdfl/?utm_source=ig_embed

I want to ride my bike around and just take photographs of L.A., which I imagine I’ll probably do on my phone and post. I started walking every day in the neighborhood because I’m a swimmer but the pools got closed down. So now I’m walking and finding all these weird little sculptural moments, like abandoned dishwashers or lamps with palm fronds falling on them.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B95t72RlI5I/?utm_source=ig_embed

In this isolation I’m also opening up Instagram more to actually look at photographs. I suppose it’s because I’m away from my studio and library, where I sit with a lot of books around me. Instagram is my new book because my house doesn’t hold my library.

The hilarious thing is that I spent the ’90s making “American Cities” [her series], where I would have to get up early Sunday mornings to find a landscape emptied out. All those years that I wanted to take images of empty cities, empty freeways — and now I have the perfect opportunity to actually do that, but I have no desire to, because it means something different now.


As the situation in my life changes, some of the work I do changes. I see two threads running through my Instagram feed. One is just, I go out and take pictures. The other is a more diaristic approach.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B91ljkzJrlx/?utm_source=ig_embed

Some of the pictures I posted recently, the one of the glove and the one of the hand sanitizer, are absolutely direct references to the current situation with coronavirus. But then, using the hashtag #ArtInTheTimeOfCovid, I posted pictures that I could easily have taken a year ago. One I might have taken 45 years ago.

It was a picture of a street in Hudson, N.Y. The street is empty. It was structured very much like a picture I took in Texas in the ’70s. I took pictures of lots of empty streets then but no one interpreted it as people self-quarantining. Now I take the same picture and the context changes the meaning.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B-AlTdDJSQf/?utm_source=ig_embed

I had an experience I learned a lot from in the ’60s, on my first extended stay in Europe. All I knew about what was happening in America was what I would read in The Herald Tribune. It seemed like the country was falling apart. And that’s because newspapers don’t report that the Hudson River was flowing today and the laws of gravity were still in place. But pictures remind us that life does go on, and that there are spring snow storms, for better or for worse.


All of a sudden my work became topical when people started to deal with the effects of isolation and having to stay home. I’ve always thought that my pictures are very much open for interpretation and I’ve always tried to instill a little bit of ambiguity in what I do. I was super surprised when I made a post the first day that the lockdown happened in California, and people really took to it. It’s kind of a perfect example of the flexibility of the meaning of images.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B90Wv5gAM0z/?utm_source=ig_embed

There was a picture I did the other day of this incredibly rocky Icelandic landscape with this crazy cloud, and I wrote, “Let’s help flatten the curve.” It’s curious to apply these terms that are racing out over the news all day long to art and then think about them and look at my archive and be like, “OK, this fits that” or “this is funny.” I’ve never made anything that’s funny. Nobody would ever in the world say that my work had humor to it before. But you add the caption “quarantine and chill” and it gets kind of funny.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B9-l5iQAGIf/?utm_source=ig_embed

When all this happened, my first instinct was to put up pictures that expressed how upset and confused I was. I once taught a class called “Photosensitivity” that was about how to connect your inner world to the outer world via photography, and connect with your emotional life through photography. To be honest, I hadn’t really done that very much intentionally myself.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B94C0eqFDJc/?utm_source=ig_embed

Suddenly I was combing through pictures that I already made and looked for the ones that were sad and about death and about confusion. And then I started going out, not going far, because I can’t go far anymore, just looking for pictures that really expressed doubts.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B-FFjX0FCr1/?utm_source=ig_embed

I had an amazing revelation the other day. I was walking and I saw some friends. I thought “I should photograph them.” I had my camera, but I couldn’t get too close. Immediately I thought of Harry Callahan’s pictures of his wife, Eleanor. There’s a whole group of them where they’re from really far away. I’ve always loved those pictures because they talk about how far you can stretch your emotional connection to a subject and still have it show up in the camera. In the next few weeks I’m going to make pictures of people I love and care about in this community, from really far away.

This whole thing is kind of a giant set of controlled experiments about families, about households. I think photography is in the same boat.


We’re so in limbo right now I want to lighten up a little bit. I take the self-portraits I make for Instagram very seriously but I think that they’ve gotten sillier. With everything going on, I’m more conscious of my posts being optimistic. I’ve always thought that art should be optimistic on some level.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B-A8AmqlY67/?utm_source=ig_embed

I just started making these circular pictures a couple of days ago. Suspended in space is how I feel and the circle takes me there, with its telescope-like view and the lack of a hard edge. For me, this is definitely a new way of looking, and like learning a new language. You don’t give up the other. It just makes your visual life richer and more complex. The intensity of this time and this format have made me work as if it is critical to my existence.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B-FkxdQFef-/?utm_source=ig_embed

I hope we can use the power of social media to bring us together somehow as a nation. The visual can have an immediate impact, whether it’s a picture of a war zone or people walking the streets in masks or scenes with no people in the streets. I look at what other people post, artists and non-artists, and I feel kind of reassured that people are out there thinking about what we might be able to do. I’m not judging people for the quality of the pictures. I’m just looking at the photographs, and what they describe.

Jason Farago is an art critic for The Times. He reviews exhibitions in New York and abroad, with a focus on global approaches to art history. Previously he edited Even, an art magazine he co-founded. In 2017 he was awarded the inaugural Rabkin Prize for art criticism. @jsf

Stellenbosch Triennale, a Bold Experiment

In a South African city emblematic of wealth and privilege, a program of radical art from the whole continent seeks to confront and heal.

By Siddhartha Mitter

  • March 25, 2020
A visitor to the Stellenbosch Triennale’s opening at the one of a number of outdoor installations. 
A visitor to the Stellenbosch Triennale’s opening at the one of a number of outdoor installations. Credit…Kent Andreasen for The New York Times

STELLENBOSCH, South Africa — For tourists, this prim colonial town is the gateway to a spectacular mountain region dotted with wine estates. To most South Africans, however, it is the redoubt of the Afrikaner elite, a Calvinist town whose university trained the framers of apartheid and where banking billionaires roost today. In a land that is sharply unequal despite 26 years of democracy, money and whiteness feel especially concentrated here.

Either way, it’s an unexpected place for a contemporary art exhibition — particularly of the experimental, pan-Africanist variety, with artists from around the continent, none of them white, exploring economic and cultural themes led by a curator steeped in black feminism and Xhosa spirituality.

So when the first-ever Stellenbosch Triennale began last month, and artists mingled with Afrikaner finance types at the opening-night party while hip DJs from Cape Town spun Nigerian and Congolese dance hits, even the organizers who intended this effect did a double-take.

“I did look around many times, and just smile,” Andi Norton, a board member of the Stellenbosch Outdoor Sculpture Trust, the civic group behind the triennale, said the next day. “It was a group of people that I hadn’t thought I would ever see in the same place.”

Stellenbosch is an hour’s drive from Cape Town, and the triennale underscores the region’s emergence as a global art hub. Cape Town’s art fair is Africa’s biggest; the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, which opened in 2017, and the Norval Foundation’s art museum, from 2018, are world-class venues.

The curator Bernard Akoi-Jackson photographing Ibrahim Mahama’s elongated and stylized coffins made from local timber. The Ghanian artist finds new meaning in commonplace materials around him.
The curator Bernard Akoi-Jackson photographing Ibrahim Mahama’s elongated and stylized coffins made from local timber. The Ghanian artist finds new meaning in commonplace materials around him.Credit…Kent Andreasen for The New York Times
Ronald Muchatuta’s work in the main exhibition. The Zimbabwean artist addresses his country’s recent political history through painted panels and drawings hung on clotheslines.
Ronald Muchatuta’s work in the main exhibition. The Zimbabwean artist addresses his country’s recent political history through painted panels and drawings hung on clotheslines.Credit…Kent Andreasen for The New York Times
Victor Ehikhamenor’s installation, made from reclaimed local doors as well as rosary beads, is about the encounter between Catholicism and traditional spirituality.
Victor Ehikhamenor’s installation, made from reclaimed local doors as well as rosary beads, is about the encounter between Catholicism and traditional spirituality.Credit…Kent Andreasen for The New York Times
Mike Tigere Mavura, a triennial organizer, sits at the entrance to Stacey Gillian Abe’s installation and chats with a friend. Ms. Abe, from Uganda, alludes to connections between the life of an enslaved woman in 18th-century New York and migrants and displaced people today.
Mike Tigere Mavura, a triennial organizer, sits at the entrance to Stacey Gillian Abe’s installation and chats with a friend. Ms. Abe, from Uganda, alludes to connections between the life of an enslaved woman in 18th-century New York and migrants and displaced people today.Credit…Kent Andreasen for The New York Times

And the triennale’s roster was strong: Helmed by Cape Town-based chief curator Khanyisile Mbongwa, seconded by Ghanaian curator Bernard Akoi-Jackson, it featured major figures on the African circuit such as Ibrahim Mahama, Victor Ehikhamenor, Bronwyn Katz and Donna Kukama, along with 20 lesser-known artists and collectives in the exhibition’s emerging-artists section.

But the location was the biggest story of all. For South African culture veterans, to see this kind of work in Stellenbosch, of all places, was deeply incongruous. For six weeks, the triennale attracted more than 6,000 visitors, before the event went on hiatus after the coronavirus outbreak reached South Africa. The presence of these artists and their work brought an optimism and energy that confounded even the cynics.

“It’s not a natural unfolding,” said Jay Pather, an adviser to the triennale, who is a choreographer, curator and teacher at the University of Cape Town. “It sits oddly.”

The town is not just wealthy, but insular. Stellenbosch University long taught only in Afrikaans, the settler language derived from the Dutch, officially adding English and Xhosa only in 2016. “The Stellenbosch Mafia: Inside the Billionaires’ Club,” a native-son exposé by the journalist Pieter du Toit, made a splash in 2019, documenting the workings of this tight-knit business elite and the Steinhoff affair, a financial scandal that rocked the national economy.

For the left-wingEconomic Freedom Fighters opposition party, Stellenbosch denotes shadowy forces that members believe control the government of President Cyril Ramaphosa. But it’s far from just radicals who view the place with suspicion.

“Most of my black friends don’t come here,” Ms. Norton said.

Stellenbosch Town Hall, in the pristine center of the city, with a sculpture honoring Nelson Mandela, unveiled in 2013 by a local artist, Strijdom van der Merwe.
Stellenbosch Town Hall, in the pristine center of the city, with a sculpture honoring Nelson Mandela, unveiled in 2013 by a local artist, Strijdom van der Merwe.Credit…Kent Andreasen for The New York Times
Cloetesville, a township outside the city center inhabited by people of mixed descent; beyond it, Kayamandi, a black township.
Cloetesville, a township outside the city center inhabited by people of mixed descent; beyond it, Kayamandi, a black township.Credit…Kent Andreasen for The New York Times

Ms. Norton and Francé Beyers, her friend and co-board member, were the event’s prime instigators. The sculpture trust had supported public-art presentations around town by South African artists for 10 years, and they wanted to go bigger. They recruited Elana Brundyn, the director of the Norval Foundation, and Mike Tigere Mavura, a Zimbabwean artist and educator, strengthening their board with art-world savvy and African artist networks.

Mr. Mavura told them of his journeys across Africa by bus, attending art events organized on a shoestring. Pictures of the 2017 Lubumbashi Biennial, with events al fresco on plastic chairs, showed that a biennial or triennial didn’t have to be as elaborate as Venice’s, Ms. Norton said. “It took a lot of pressure off us,” she said. “It gave us a lot of ideas of how we could do it our authentic way.”

The Stellenbosch Triennale was relatively frugal, with a budget of 8 million rand (roughly $600,000), plus in-kind contributions, according to Ms. Beyers. Almost all of the funds were raised from local donors, many of them anonymous (in keeping with the secrecy associated with Stellenbosch money). Still, the investment was significant, a cautious bet on breaking the mold.

“We’re so much more than food and wine,” said Jeanneret Momberg, the head of the town’s tourism board and a former winery executive. “I think it’s very fresh and necessary that we bring young, progressive, inclusive people into the area.” She added: “Colonialism, slavery, those are all topics that it’s not nice to talk about, but they’re part of our heritage.”

The initiative reflected, too, an ongoing dynamic in South African society — some members of the Afrikaner community are seeking to make a social impact while they process guilt from the apartheid era. “A lot of serious liberal Afrikaners want desperately to change the paradigm,” Ms. Beyers said.

Khanyisile Mbongwa, chief curator of the Stellenbosch Triennale, was raised in Cape Town. Her vision and purpose, she said, was to “instigate spaces of healing,” she said.
Khanyisile Mbongwa, chief curator of the Stellenbosch Triennale, was raised in Cape Town. Her vision and purpose, she said, was to “instigate spaces of healing,” she said.Credit…Kent Andreasen for The New York Times

In a sense, the triennale met them partway, refraining from art that was obviously angry or polemical. That sort of work had little interest for Ms. Mbongwa, the curator, who said it would merely replicate the all-too-familiar tensions of daily life.

“Our lives as black people, people of color, people who have been oppressed — we’re programmed to respond to the system all the time,” Ms. Mbongwa said.

Instead, she said, her cardinal values were “care and cure.”

“Care in terms of caring for the artists, for the space. And cure, because the reality of the world is there’s so much woundedness we have that we don’t understand. I’m coming here to open some form of wound so I can understand how to heal, and instigate spaces of healing.”

Ms. Mbongwa grew up in Cape Town’s Gugulethu township; she belonged to Gugulective, an artist collective active there a decade ago. The townships resulted from forced displacements under apartheid, which designated land by race across South Africa, clearing nonwhites from desirable areas. The social ills that followed this violent uprooting — crime, sexual violence, alcoholism — still endure.

“We did not create these places,” Ms. Mbongwa said. “We were put here, we made life here, we had our moments of joy, but this place is inherently sick. We found a way to sort of negotiate the disease. And I realized, I’m tired of dying. I want to know how to live.”

She studied sociology, deliberately choosing Stellenbosch University to grasp the psychology of the system. Beside her record as a curator, that experience gave her an edge with the organizers. “Somebody’s got to understand this town,” Ms. Beyers said.

Ms. Mbongwa suggested the triennale’s title, “Tomorrow There Will Be More of Us.” It intimated that change is inevitable, however hard.

In the main exhibition space, three installations space feature textiles and local materials, including, center, a hutlike structure by the South African artist Sethembile Msezane.
In the main exhibition space, three installations space feature textiles and local materials, including, center, a hutlike structure by the South African artist Sethembile Msezane.Credit…Kent Andreasen for The New York Times
Ms. Msezane inside her installation, set with candles, plaited hair and audio of women’s voices dedicated to victims of gender-based violence.
Ms. Msezane inside her installation, set with candles, plaited hair and audio of women’s voices dedicated to victims of gender-based violence.Credit…Kent Andreasen for The New York Times
Donna Kukama, a South African artist, completing her installation. Her painting and plantings, including soil from a local river, deal with Stellenbosch’s resilience.
Donna Kukama, a South African artist, completing her installation. Her painting and plantings, including soil from a local river, deal with Stellenbosch’s resilience.Credit…Kent Andreasen for The New York Times
Inside Patrick Bongoy’s installation, made with rubber strips. Letters symbolize the empty words of colonialists and politicians. 
Inside Patrick Bongoy’s installation, made with rubber strips. Letters symbolize the empty words of colonialists and politicians. Credit…Kent Andreasen for The New York Times

The main show, with 20 artists outdoors and inside an industrial hangar at the Woodmill, a timber plant turned office and retail complex at the edge of town, was heavy on installations. One large-scale textile work by Zyma Amien, from South Africa, evoked the collapse of the Cape region’s garment industry; another, by Hellen Nabukenya, from Uganda, was a ceiling-hung assemblage stitched over six months with women in her local community.

Ms. Mbongwa’s emphasis on care came through in a performance-installation hybrid by Ms. Kukama, from South Africa, who collected soil each day from a local river to tend to indigenous plant seeds in a fragile bed surrounded by concrete. Sethembile Msezane, also South African, built a hut-like structure set with candles, plaited hair and a wafting soundtrack of female voices, dedicated to “women who did not leave the world peacefully.”

Ronald Muchatuta took on his native Zimbabwe, through painted panels and drawings hung on clotheslines, referring to political leaders and events. On the ground, however, he placed his wood-carved version of a children’s game that involves tossing seeds or stones, and invited visitors to play. Similarly, Patrick Bongoy, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, broke the tension and heavy theme of his installation of rubber sculptures and strips — evoking resource exploitation — with a loop of sweet rumba by the famous Congolese singer Franco.

Ms. Mbongwa said she was keen to make a tactile show for this setting. “I was interested in aesthetics that maybe have something familiar to the everyday person,” she said.

Three artists in the Asafo Black collective from Ghana: from left, Jeffrey Otoo, Denyse Gawu-Mensah and Samuel Baah Kortey, who designed these panels.
Three artists in the Asafo Black collective from Ghana: from left, Jeffrey Otoo, Denyse Gawu-Mensah and Samuel Baah Kortey, who designed these panels.Credit…Kent Andreasen for The New York Times
An installation about religion and “The Last Supper,” by the Zambian artist Aaron Samuel Mulenga.
An installation about religion and “The Last Supper,” by the Zambian artist Aaron Samuel Mulenga.Credit…Kent Andreasen for The New York Times

The emerging-artists show, “On the Cusp,” resided in a more strait-laced setting, a classic Cape Dutch manor house in the center of town, made available by Distell, a Stellenbosch-based liquor company that sponsored the section. (As a condition of their support, Mr. Akoi-Jackson selected the 20 artists from African countries where they have subsidiaries.)

“From the Vault,” an exhibition in the university museum, mingled works from its collection, highlighting European and white South African artists with black modernist art from the University of Fort Hare, where Nelson Mandela and other freedom fighters studied.

The bumpy history of biennials in South Africa, during apartheid and after, weighed on the organizers’ minds. The Johannesburg Biennale, for instance, held just two editions, in 1995 and 1997. The second, a vast program loaded with global stars and curated by Okwui Enwezor, was criticized for failing to engage with a broad local audience.

The Stellenbosch Triennale was much smaller, but still faced the challenge of reaching the black and mixed communities who make up the majority of the city; many live in the townships and commute to the center to work service jobs. The organizers focused on inviting schools.

Performing at one of the triennale events, before a mostly white audience of media and guests, the slam poet Adrian “Diff” van Wyk called Stellenbosch “the place that housed the engineers of erasure, the justifiers of divide and conquer.”

Mr. van Wyk is Coloured — the Afrikaans-speaking, mixed-race group who forms much of the Cape population. He studied at Stellenbosch, helping to start a poetry series in the townships as a refuge for rebellious minds.

A yellow structure near the entrance was painted by the Nigerian artist Victor Ehikhamenor, with his signature abstract shapes and symbolic lettering.
A yellow structure near the entrance was painted by the Nigerian artist Victor Ehikhamenor, with his signature abstract shapes and symbolic lettering.Credit…Kent Andreasen for The New York Times
Kaloki Nyamai of Kenya in his installation, which includes sisal ropes, a money box from the Bank of Uganda and dung. It explores the discomfort that arises in multiracial communities. 
Kaloki Nyamai of Kenya in his installation, which includes sisal ropes, a money box from the Bank of Uganda and dung. It explores the discomfort that arises in multiracial communities. Credit…Kent Andreasen for The New York Times
Kelvin Hazel’s piece at the opening of the Triennale refers to the 1996 hijacking of an Ethiopian plane; the light shows its path before it crashed in the Comoro Islands. The message of survival in the face of tragedy echoes the triennale’s theme.
Kelvin Hazel’s piece at the opening of the Triennale refers to the 1996 hijacking of an Ethiopian plane; the light shows its path before it crashed in the Comoro Islands. The message of survival in the face of tragedy echoes the triennale’s theme.Credit…Kent Andreasen for The New York Times

Later, Mr. van Wyk offered an impromptu tour of sites around Stellenbosch that bore marks of its troubled history and present. “The first time I was called a racial epithet was in Stellenbosch,” he said.

He pointed out the Moederkerk, or Mother Church, in the town center, where pastors developed the religious rationale for segregation. “Apartheid was prayed into existence here,” he said.

Nearing the campus, he showed where a Coloured neighborhood had been demolished for the university to expand; and Andringa Street, where, in 1940, white university students destroyed the property of mixed-race inhabitants.

“We feel like we don’t belong on our earth, on our land,” Mr. van Wyk said. Even nature was wounded, he said, pointing to rows of oak trees — the town emblem — with cancerous growths.

In the face of such stakes, Mr. van Wyk was happy to see the triennale. “It’s beautifully audacious,” he said. “This place just needs disruption, constant disruption.”

The visiting artists provided some of that.They gathered at long tables at nice restaurants, usually the sole black diners. Some were housed at the homes of local patrons, prompting awkward or enlightening breakfast conversations.

After an official cocktail event, they booked a convoy of Ubers and fled for Kayamandi, the city’s largest black township, a short drive from the center but a world away, with streets edged by corrugated shacks and, up the hill, utilitarian concrete homes. Sundown found the artists at an open-air drinking spot, sharing beers and grilled meat while a DJ spun house music. It was a welcome break, but for those unused to South Africa and its extremes, also jarring.

“It was like, OMG,” said the Ghanaian artist Kelvin Haizel. “So how do we deal with the complexity of this pristineness, and then this other space that provides labor to the city?”

Kaloki Nyamai, a mixed-media artist from Kenya, embraced the contrast in his own way, visiting as many wineries as possible — to grasp, he said, how the society functioned.

His plan initially involved shipping more materials than the triennale could afford, and the space allocated him was smaller than he expected. Ms. Mbongwa coaxed him into being guided by what he found on location. He came up with an installation that was one of the show’s strongest, involving sisal rope and suspended money boxes from the Bank of Uganda, in a shacklike structure that visitors can enter, minding the large mound of cow manure at its center.

The work, he said, was informed by the discomfort among white people he met in town, and his own discomfort at experiencing theirs. The dung came from area farms, and he pointed out that it had two different consistencies — one from industrial-raised cows, the other free-range.

“This is actual Stellenbosch art,” Mr. Nyamai said. “It’s theirs to stay.”

Correction: March 25, 2020

An earlier version of a picture caption with this article misidentified a member of the Asafo Black collective from Ghana. He is Jeffrey Otoo, not Daniel Mensah.

‘I Had to Fight to Show What I Could Do’: How Elias Sime Emerged as One of Africa’s Leading Contemporary Artists

The artist, who has been tapped by Ethiopia’s Prime Minister for a major project, is also a Hugo Boss Prize nominee.

Will Fenstermaker, March 25, 2020

Elias Sime. Photo: Brett Moen.
Elias Sime. Photo: Brett Moen.

Five years ago, the Ethiopian artist Elias Sime, who is known for his sculpted aerial landscapes and river scenes and colorful striated patterns, didn’t have gallery representation in New York.

Sime had shown work regularly in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa since the 1990s, and was included in group shows at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Studio Museum in 2008. A year later, theater director Peter Sellars commissioned the artist to stage his production of Oedipus Rex, which inspired a 2009 retrospective at the Santa Monica Museum of Art. After the show, Sime turned his focus to making new work back home.

Five years later, Meskerem Assegued—an anthropologist and Sime’s longtime collaborator, who curated the show in Santa Monica—was introduced to New York dealer James Cohan by the writer Lawrence Weschler. Cohan asked to visit the LA warehouse where Sime’s works were stored.

“How often is it that you encounter someone who’s got 25 years worth of fully realized work, and you get to make an assessment?” Cohan asked me. He called the artist and asked to represent him. “It was a no-brainer.”

Works by Elias Sime in his exhibition, "Noiseless," at James Cohan gallery in New York in 2019. Phoebe d'Heurle.
Works by Elias Sime in his exhibition, “Noiseless,” at James Cohan gallery in New York in 2019. Phoebe d’Heurle.

Cohan hosted Sime’s first US gallery show in 2015. From that exhibition, the Met became the first public collection in the US to purchase one of his artworks, which are made of braided electrical wires, motherboards, keyboards, buttons, canvas, and carved wood panels. And suddenly it seemed that everyone wanted a Sime.

In North America, he’s currently the subject of a traveling exhibition organized by Tracy Adler at Hamilton College’s (temporarily closed) Wellin Museum. Facebook recently commissioned him to make a 63-foot mural for the company’s Frank Gehry-designed Menlo Park headquarters. 

In October, the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art commissioned several works to inaugurate its redesigned pavilion, and in April (assuming the museum is open then), he will open a solo exhibition at the St. Louis Art Museum, where Sime will show new sculptures inspired by the nearby pre-Columbian Cahokia Mounds. (The works are based on research by Assegued.)

On top of all that, Sime—who is quickly becoming recognized internationally as one of Africa’s leading contemporary artists, alongside El Anatsui and Wangechi Mutu—was shortlisted for the Hugo Boss Prize in November.

But one of Sime’s biggest projects is being undertaken back home, where he and Assegued have spent much of the past few years working to re-establish Addis Ababa as a preeminent city for contemporary African art.

Elias Sime, <i>Tightrope: Internalized</i> (2017). Courtesy of the artist and James Cohan, New York.
Elias Sime, Tightrope: Internalized (2017). Courtesy of the artist and James Cohan, New York.

A Collaborative Practice

Last May, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed visited the Zoma Museum in Addis Ababa, which Assegued and Sime cofounded in 2019. Within a week, Ahmed commissioned the pair to construct two gardens in the city: one at the Allé School of Fine Arts and Design, and the other at the Menelik Imperial Palace.

“Think about it: here’s the Prime Minister telling you what to do,” Assegued told me on the phone from Addis Ababa. “He wanted it done in a month, which was an impossible task, but we got into it right away.” The garden at Allé was finished last fall, and work at the palace should be done by this summer. “I feel strongly that the public will see the gardens as collaborative works between us,” Sime said.

The sites for the two parks are important for the artist. Sime enrolled at the Allé School of Fine Arts and Design in 1986, during the final years of Ethiopian communism. By then, many artists had been forced into exile. 

But the university’s professors, who were fluent in Russian, expected their students to paint images of Lenin and to adhere to Socialist Realist conventions. Sime’s experimentation with materials was verboten, and his teachers discarded much of his university work. But there was no alternative school to attend, and if he wasn’t a registered student, he would be conscripted into the army and placed on the front lines of the civil wars raging throughout Ethiopia. 

So Sime stayed.

“In retrospect, my teachers’ control helped me think differently,” he said. “I had to fight to show what I could do, and I had to wait until I graduated to do it.” 

When Sime finished his schooling in 1991, the Soviet Union had just ended support of the People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. Marxist rule collapsed that May.

Works by Elias Sime in his exhibition, "Noiseless," at James Cohan gallery in New York in 2019. Phoebe d'Heurle.
Works by Elias Sime in his exhibition, “Noiseless,” at James Cohan gallery in New York in 2019. Phoebe d’Heurle.

Rewriting Old Narratives

Sime, who was born in Addis Ababa in 1968, has made sculptures from various materials since he was a boy. “His hands are everywhere in his childhood home,” Assegued said. “Even the coffee table is completely carved out.”

“It was always one thing leading to another,” Sime said of his development. “When I started working with fabric, I had a bunch of string and buttons. So I added the buttons. And then I had to stitch them, and it looked pretty good. It was smooth, like painting.”

“Elias’s work is beautifully crafted,” Cohan said. 

But he and Sime are quick to condemn the superficial narrative of “up-cycling” that’s often applied to African artists who repurpose waste. Critics have suggested that artists from developing nations who work with scraps, such as Sime and El Anatsui, posses a down-to-earth simplicity and redeem a global economy that has pushed the world to the brink of ecological collapse.

But Sime’s intention isn’t to turn waste—electronic or otherwise—into sublime compositions. Rather, he wants to tell stories about our relationship to the earth and to each other. A landscape of braided wire represents connectivity, but also the extraction of rare minerals from the earth and technology’s intervention into our social order. Sime repurposes materials without irony, and Assegued says he braids wires the way another artist mixes paint. 

Unity Park in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Unity Park in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Unity Park

In newly democratic Ethiopia, Sime was able to follow his own rules. But 17 years of military rule had damaged the country, which was once a bastion of modern art. The Imperial Palace where Sime and Assegued are constructing their 15-acre park was used a torture site under the Derg military junta.

But Ahmed, the prime minister and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, understands the political power of art. Last October, he reopened the Palace as a public park with a national museum to strengthen unity among the country’s nine semiautonomous ethnolinguistic regions. At its center is Sime and Assegued’s Unity Park.

“Opening up the seat of power speaks volumes about what the government is up to,” Cohan said.

Like Sime’s constructions and sculptures, Unity Park is embellished in extraordinary detail: Every stone is hand-carved and based on Sime’s drawings. Benches and buildings are wreathed in filigree. Ornamented pathways cut through terraced gardens. Even the restrooms were carved by masons using ancient techniques.

“When you come there, you see a wholesome thing,” Assegued said. “Thousands of people walk in every day. They can’t believe they’re inside a building that they feared for so many years.”

“Here they can see,” Sime added, “that we thrive by working together and sharing our knowledge.”

Meleko Mokgosi’s Virtuosic Paintings of Southern Africa Show a Different Side of the Tourism Industry

While museums are closed to the public, we are spotlighting an inspiring exhibition somewhere around the globe each day.

Caroline Goldstein, March 23, 2020

Meleko Mokgosi, Democratic Intuition, Lerato: Philia I (2016). © Meleko Mokgosi. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.
Meleko Mokgosi, Democratic Intuition, Lerato: Philia I (2016). © Meleko Mokgosi. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

While museums around the globe are closed to the public, we are spotlighting each day an inspiring exhibition that was previously on view. Even if you can’t see it in person, allow us to give you a virtual look. 

Meleko Mokgosi: Your Trip to Africa
at the Pérez Art Museum Miami

What the museum says“Combining a high degree of painterly skill with a poetic, open-ended semiotic approach and a penchant for deep archival research, Meleko Mokgosi shines light on some of the complex socioeconomic dynamics that animate contemporary southern Africa.

Whereas traditional history paintings feature lofty subjects—military battles or climactic scenes drawn from ancient legends—Mokgosi elevates everyday, anonymous persons and common objects, setting them against mundane domestic contexts while inserting references that establish an array of subtle yet powerful suggestive effects.”

Why it’s worth a look: Amid the mural-style realist paintings Mokgosi created over the past few years, one of the highlights at the museum is a new commission made for the 30-foot-high project gallery, now taken up by eight narrative paintings arranged in a square on the wall.

The title of the work—also the name of the show—is “Your Trip to Africa,” a reference to Peter Kubelka’s 1966 film Unsere Afrikareise (Our Trip to Africa), in which Kubelka documented the safari trip of a wealthy Austrian family at their request, collecting footage of the Europeans taking part in tourist-style activities while capturing the real-life challenges of African citizens happening simultaneously. The result is a disturbing document of colonialism and drastic economic and social inequality, made even more grotesque by the total ignorance of the European vacationers who are only interested in enjoying their “authentic” African adventure.

Other works come from the artist’s “Lerato” series, shown at Jack Shainman in New York in 2016, and which were inspired by European notions of allegory and love as depicted in art history, creating detailed scenes that unfold on the canvas to upend traditional historic narratives using race and cultural signifiers.

What it looks like: 

Installation view: Meleko Mokgosi: Your Trip to Africa, Pérez Art Museum Miami, 2020-21. © Meleko Mokgosi. Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Photo: Oriol Tarridas
Installation view: “Meleko Mokgosi: Your Trip to Africa,” Pérez Art Museum Miami, 2020-21. © Meleko Mokgosi. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Photo: Oriol Tarridas.
Meleko Mokgosi, <i>Democratic Intuition, Lerato: Philia I</i> (2016). © Meleko Mokgosi. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.
Meleko Mokgosi, Democratic Intuition, Lerato: Philia I (2016). © Meleko Mokgosi. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.
Meleko Mokgosi, <i>Democratic Intuition, Lex I,</i> (2016). © Meleko Mokgosi. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.
Meleko Mokgosi, Democratic Intuition, Lex I, (2016). © Meleko Mokgosi. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.
Installation view: Meleko Mokgosi: Your Trip to Africa, Pérez Art Museum Miami, 2020-21. © Meleko Mokgosi. Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Photo: Oriol Tarridas.
Meleko Mokgosi, <i>Democratic Intuition, Comrades: Addendum, </i> (2017). © Meleko Mokgosi. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.
Meleko Mokgosi, Democratic Intuition, Comrades: Addendum, (2017). © Meleko Mokgosi. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.
Meleko Mokgosi, <i>Democratic Intuition, Lerato: Philia II</i>, (2016). © Meleko Mokgosi. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.
Meleko Mokgosi, Democratic Intuition, Lerato: Philia II, (2016). © Meleko Mokgosi. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.
Installation view: Meleko Mokgosi: Your Trip to Africa, Pérez Art Museum Miami, 2020-21. © Meleko Mokgosi. Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Photo: Oriol Tarridas
Installation view: “Meleko Mokgosi: Your Trip to Africa,” Pérez Art Museum Miami, 2020-21. © Meleko Mokgosi. Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Photo: Oriol Tarridas.
Installation view: Meleko Mokgosi: Your Trip to Africa, Pérez Art Museum Miami, 2020-21. © Meleko Mokgosi. Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Photo: Oriol Tarridas.
Installation view: Meleko Mokgosi: Your Trip to Africa, Pérez Art Museum Miami, 2020-21. © Meleko Mokgosi. Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Photo: Oriol Tarridas
Installation view: Meleko Mokgosi: Your Trip to Africa, Pérez Art Museum Miami, 2020-21. © Meleko Mokgosi. Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Photo: Oriol Tarridas.
Installation view: Meleko Mokgosi: Your Trip to Africa, Pérez Art Museum Miami, 2020-21. © Meleko Mokgosi. Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Photo: Oriol Tarridas
Installation view: Meleko Mokgosi: Your Trip to Africa, Pérez Art Museum Miami, 2020-21. © Meleko Mokgosi. Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Photo: Oriol Tarridas.

5 Artists on Our Radar This March

Artsy Curatorial and Artsy Editorial Mar 25, 2020

Tauba AuerbachMesh/Moire II, 2012 Malin Gallery

Mesh/Moire II
Tauba AuerbachMesh/Moire II, 2012 Malin Gallery
Rovine
SalvoRovine, 2008 Bugno Art Gallery

“Artists on Our Radar” is a new monthly series produced collaboratively by Artsy’s editorial and curatorial teams. Utilizing our editors’ art expertise and our curatorial team’s unique insights and access to Artsy data, each month, we will highlight five artists who have our attention. To make our selections, we’ve determined which artists made an impact this past month, whether through exhibitions at galleries or institutions, sales at art fairs, major auction results, or online sale inquiries through Artsy.The selections on this list primarily take into account signals that occurred prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent postponement of the vast majority of art industry events. For future installments, we will be monitoring online projects, viewing rooms, and sales, as well as Artsy data, to determine the artists we feature.

Sarah Slappey

B. 1984, Columbia, South Carolina. Lives and works in New York City.

Sarah Slappey

Sarah Slappey’s paintings ooze with discomfiting carnality. Her canvases feature long-fingered hands; breasts with nipples shaped like the tops of condiment squeeze bottles; strings of pearls; droplets of water and breast milk; and abstract, ballooning shapes—all jumbled together in dynamic, witchy compositions. Slappey’s flattened style gives her work the aura of a dark adult cartoon. Collectors thrilled at the artist’s recent show “Power Play” at Sargent’s Daughters. The show sold out, with the gallery making sales beyond what it had mounted on the walls.Last year, Slappey toldMaake Magazine about her interest in what she calls “hyper-femininity”: She said she imagines “bodies as so overtly female/gendered that they become aggressive and threatening.” Slappey’s work sits at the nexus of two of the contemporary art world’s favorite aesthetics: updated surrealism and the female grotesque.Since she graduated from Hunter’s MFA program in 2016, Slappey has enjoyed a quick rise. She’s exhibited at galleries across New York and Europe, including Saatchi Gallery in London, Maria Bernheim Gallery in Zurich, and Andrew Edlin and Crush Curatorial in New York. — Alina Cohen

Landon Metz

B. 1985, Phoenix, Arizona. Lives and works in New York City.

Landon Metz

AdvertisementLandon Metz’s soothing, hand-stretched canvases have been a staple of contemporary art fairs for the better part of the decade. However, he’s recently taken his practice to a new level through sculptural and installation work that translates his trademark visual language into encompassing experiences. Collectors are taking note—inquiries on his work on Artsy have more than doubled in the last three months.The self-taught artist was born in Arizona amidst the red-rock expanses of the American Southwest—places like Antelope Canyon, Coyote Buttes, and Cathedral Rock, where water and wind eroded the Earth into sublime natural phenomenons over the course of millennia. This landscape and its organic shapes are an ongoing source of inspiration for Metz.The subtle compositions that sweep across Metz’s work are the result of his intensely processed-focused practice. After cutting and stretching his canvas, Metz works in total silence while meticulously applying dye with a foam brush to create biomorphic contours, at times repeated across several canvases made to stretch the length of a room. The repetitive nature of the work and its focus on negative space situates Metz as a descendant of Color Field Painting and Minimalism, drawing comparisons to the abstract masters Morris Louis and Helen Frankenthaler. — Jordan Huelskamp

Tauba Auerbach

B. 1981, San Francisco, California. Lives and works in New York City.

Tauba Auerbach

New Yorkers may remember Tauba Auerbach as the artist who transformed the city’s historic John J. Harvey fireboat with a contemporary take on World War II–era dazzle ships—military vessels painted in optical patterns to avoid detection by enemy submarines. The marbled red-and-white boat traveled along the Hudson River in 2018 and 2019, captivating viewers with its history as well as its trompe l’oeil paint job inspired by fluid mechanics—a branch of physics concerned with the movement of liquids, gasses, and plasma.This nod to math and science is emblematic of Auerbach’s wide-ranging practice. In various mediums, she explores logic, perception, order, and language in relation to issues of interconnectivity, philosophy, and the structure of the universe. Auerbach’s work is loaded with an almost spiritual application of scientific theory, investigating the points at which the laws of nature erode and transform into something else entirely. For example, in her acclaimed “Fold” series, Auerbach spray-painted swaths of color over creased and crumpled canvas before stretching it to completion, creating a two-dimensional image while pushing painting into fresh domain.Over the past decade, Auerbach has been featured in solo exhibitions at top galleries and institutions including Paula Cooper Gallery and the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London; her market at auction has grown steadily; and her works have been placed in esteemed museum collections including The Broad, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Guggenheim. Her first major solo museum exhibition, “S v Z”—slated to open at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art later this year—promises to cement her place as a leading contemporary artist. — Jordan Huelskamp

Salvo

B. 1947, Leonforte, Italy. D. 2015, Turin, Italy.

Salvo

Until this year, Salvo, the late Conceptual art pioneer and painter of fantastical landscapes, was largely unknown outside of his home country of Italy. With a recent solo exhibition at Gladstone Gallery, a work presented at The Armory Show, and press in the New York Times, the artist has quickly gained international exposure. On Artsy, inquiries on Salvo’s works have already grown by more than 700 percent since January, compared to the previous quarter.Born Salvatore Mangione, the artist began his artistic career in the 1960s, eager to learn from the most esteemed painters of art history. To train his hand and make a living, he painted and sold copies of works by legendary artists such as Vincent van GoghRembrant van Rijn, and Marc Chagall. In 1968, he abandoned his painting practice and joined the Italian Conceptual art movement Arte Povera. For several years, he even shared a studio with one of the group’s most prominent figures, Alighiero Boetti. Salvo befriended legends of American Conceptual art, such as Joseph Kosuth and Sol LeWitt, and went on to exhibit at some of the art world’s biggest stages, including Documenta and the Venice Biennale.By 1973, Salvo longed to return to painting, even though the medium had fallen out of favor among his avant-garde peers. For the next four decades, Salvo painted fairy tale–esque, sun-infused landscapes, city scenes, and still lifes, filled with cotton candy–like trees, technicolor meadows, and blocky architectural forms. While otherworldly, the works are filled with nods to great Italian masters, such as Raphael and Giorgio de Chirico. To the contemporary eye, his works might feel especially of-the-moment, featuring a stylistic kinship with the popular contemporary artist Nicolas Party and the Brazilian modernist Tarsila do Amaral. — Sarah Gottesman

February James

B. Washington, D.C. Lives and works in Los Angeles.

February James

Last month, as we celebrated Black History Month, curator Larry Ossei-Mensah told us about February James, a rising self-taught artist creating dynamic figurative paintings. James strives to capture a person’s essence in her paintings, rather than their likeness. As a result, her ethereal watercolors of bodies and faces are steeped with emotion. “The works are autobiographical and represent her own experiences,” Ossei-Mensah explained. “They tell stories. If you look at the eyes, you can tell there’s something more happening within this picture, and you try to reconcile what that is.”Collectors have taken an interest in James’s work, too—there have already been nearly three times as many inquiries on the artist’s works on Artsy in 2020 than in all of 2019.Before COVID-19 put a pause on in-person art world events, James was slated to open a show of new work this spring at Luce Gallery in Turin, Italy. In 2019, she was featured in a group show at Jeffrey Deitch Gallery, curated by artist Nina Chanel Abney; in recent years, she’s worked on collaborations with Solange and Diplo. This past fall, for her solo show with L.A.’s Wilding Cran Gallery, “A Place to Belong,” James transformed the exhibition space into an enveloping domestic sphere that looked as though it were plucked from one of her paintings. — Casey Lesser

Donald Judd’s Plain-Spoken Masterpiece

Yes, it’s better to see this great flutter of planes, volumes and edges in person. But an online visit is the next best thing.

As you take in the 30 plywood rectangles that make up Donald Judd’s grid at Gagosian Gallery, you gradually realize that almost none of the volumes repeat exactly. The system is open-ended.
As you take in the 30 plywood rectangles that make up Donald Judd’s grid at Gagosian Gallery, you gradually realize that almost none of the volumes repeat exactly. The system is open-ended.Credit…Judd Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Rob McKeever; via Gagosian

By Roberta Smith

  • Published March 26, 2020 Updated March 27, 2020

Donald Judd’s large, untitled installation piece in unfinished plywood at Gagosian Gallery is a plain-spoken giant that, surprisingly, has quite a bit to say. In its complexity and openness, it seems like almost nothing else Judd (1928-1994) ever made, and it hasn’t been seen in New York since 1981, when it debuted at the Castelli Gallery in SoHo a year after its completion.

I remember being stupefied by it then. Reviewing it for the Village Voice, I called it a masterpiece almost in self-defense. Seeing it again, before the coronavirus pandemic shut the gallery, I can say it’s definitely a masterpiece, and also a pivot. It sums up both the wall and floor pieces from the first two decades of Judd’s three-dimensional work, while turning toward his more expansive later works. A prime example of these is the large multicolored piece that dominates the final gallery of “Judd,” the superbly selected and installed retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art — a show that I think would have pleased Judd, who was no friend of museums.

The work at Gagosian is a big grid of 30 rectilinear volumes, each measuring 4 by 8 by 4 feet and arranged in three horizontal rows of 10; or, conversely, 10 vertical stacks of three. The whole thing is made of standard sheets of Douglas fir plywood 1 3/8 inches thick. Each unit is partitioned to some degree by an additional plane or by two parallel ones; all slant diagonally down and inward, but at different angles. Some connect to the back of the unit, others to the bottom, alternately suggesting slanted ceilings or eccentric garage doors. Stretching in total 80 feet across and 12 feet up the longest wall at Gagosian, the result is arguably the most communicative, extravagantly available work of Judd’s career: a great flutter of planes, volumes and edges — the cardinal components of Judd’s language — and shifts in light and shadow. The six images on the Gagosian site provide plenty to look at.

The piece is a big, magnanimous puzzle and an exercise in vision-sharpening comparative looking.
The piece is a big, magnanimous puzzle and an exercise in vision-sharpening comparative looking.Credit…Judd Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Rob McKeever; via Gagosian

Flavin Judd, the artist’s son, has compared it to a Bach fugue. One fuguelike aspect is the variations in the cutting of the laminated edges of the plywood partitions. As the diagonal sheets slant closer to the front of the piece, their upper edges are cut at ever sharper angles until they and their laminations spread out, nearly tripling in width — offering a second measure of the planes’ steepness.

The piece is a big, magnanimous puzzle and an exercise in vision-sharpening comparative looking. Where Judd usually prided himself on pieces that the viewer comprehended by circumnavigating, here we are limited to a single side but granted a surfeit of information to sort through. You may seize on clusters of repeating elements, both horizontal and vertical, as signs of an overriding system. But as you proceed, comparing volumes, edges and angles, rehearsing Judd’s decisions and their effects, you gradually realize that almost none of the volumes repeat exactly. The system is open-ended.

Judd’s midway masterpiece has the beauty and clarity of full disclosure. From the first instant it puts everything up front. As is not always the case with his work, the process of self-enlightenment it stimulates may make you feel smarter than you thought you were. And of course, you are.

Donald Judd

Through April 11 at Gagosian; gagosian.com.

Stuck at Home? These 12 Famous Museums Offer Virtual Tours You Can Take on Your Couch

Experience the best museums from London to Seoul in the comfort of your own home.

BY ANDREA ROMANO UPDATED MARCH 12, 2020

How to Work From Home and Keep Your Work-life Balance, According to a Full-time FreelancerIn the wake of COVID-19, many employers are sending staff home as the virus spreads around the globe.

PauseUnmuteCurrent Time 0:45/Duration 1:05Loaded: 100.00% ShareFullscreen×YOU MIGHT LIKEGRAB A GUINNESS AND TAKE THESE VIRTUAL TOURS OF IRELAND AND THE GUINNESS STOREHOUSEEXPLORE BUCKET-LIST ATTRACTIONS LIKE MACHU PICCHU AND THE TAJ MAHAL WITHOUT LEAVING HOME

Going into a self-quarantine can have many complex issues and complications beyond having enough food and supplies for two weeks. In terms of entertainment, it also probably means you’re in for a lot of boredom, a lot of Netflix, and a lot of browsing the internet.

But there is a way to get a little culture and education while you’re confined to your home. According to Fast CompanyGoogle Arts & Culture teamed up with over 2500 museums and galleries around the world to bring anyone and everyone virtual tours and online exhibits of some of the most famous museums around the world..

Now, you get “go to the museum” and never have to leave your couch.

Google Arts & Culture’s collection includes the British Museum in London, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, the Guggenheim in New York City, and literally hundreds of more places where you can gain knowledge about art, history, and science. This collection is especially good for students who are looking for ways to stay on top of their studies while schools are closed.

Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence, Italy

Take a look at just some of Google’s top museums that are offering online tours and exhibits. Museums around the world are also sharing their most zen art on social media to help people cope with staying home. And if that’s not enough culture for you, New York’s Metropolitan Opera will be offering free digital shows every night at 7:30 p.m. from March 16 through March 22. Now you can even go “outside” with incredible virtual tours of some of America’s best national parks.

British Museum, London

This iconic museum located in the heart of London allows virtual visitors to tour the Great Court and discover the ancient Rosetta Stone and Egyptian mummies. You can also find hundreds of artifacts on the museum’s virtual tour.

Guggenheim Museum, New York

Google’s Street View feature lets visitors tour the Guggenheim’s famous spiral staircase without ever leaving home. From there, you can discover incredible works of art from the Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary eras.

National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

This famous American art museum features two online exhibits through Google. The first is an exhibit of American fashion from 1740 to 1895, including many renderings of clothes from the colonial and Revolutionary eras. The second is a collection of works from Dutch Baroque painter Johannes Vermeer.

Musée d’Orsay, Paris

You can virtually walk through this popular gallery that houses dozens of famous works from French artists who worked and lived between 1848 and 1914. Get a peek at artworks from Monet, Cézanne, and Gauguin, among others.

National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul

One of Korea’s popular museums can be accessed from anywhere around the world. Google’s virtual tour takes you through six floors of Contemporary art from Korea and all over the globe.

Pergamon Museum, Berlin

As one of Germany’s largest museums, Pergamon has a lot to offer – even if you can’t physically be there. This historical museum is home to plenty of ancient artifacts including the Ishtar Gate of Babylon and, of course, the Pergamon Altar.

Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Explore the masterworks from the Dutch Golden Age, including works from Vermeer and Rembrandt. Google offers a Street View tour of this iconic museum, so you can feel as if you’re actually wandering its halls.

Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Anyone who is a fan of this tragic, ingenious painter can see his works up close (or, almost up close) by virtually visiting this museum – the largest collection of artworks by Vincent van Gogh, including over 200 paintings, 500 drawings, and over 750 personal letters.

The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

European artworks from as far back as the 8th Century can be found in this California art museum. Take a Street View tour to discover a huge collection of paintings, drawings, sculptures, manuscripts, and photographs.

Uffizi Gallery, Florence

This less well-known gallery houses the art collection of one of Florence, Italy’s most famous families, the de’Medicis. The building was designed by Giorgio Vasari in 1560 specifically for Cosimo I de’Medici, but anyone can wander its halls from anywhere in the world.

MASP, São Paulo

The Museu de Arte de São Paulo is a non-profit and Brazil’s first modern museum. Artworks placed on clear perspex frames make it seem like the artwork is hovering in midair. Take a virtual tour to experience the wondrous display for yourself.

National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City

Built in 1964, this museum is dedicated to the archaeology and history of Mexico’s pre-Hispanic heritage. There are 23 exhibit rooms filled with ancient artifacts, including some from the Mayan civilization.

Sadly, not all popular art museums and galleries could be included on Google Arts & Culture’s collection, but some museums are taking it upon themselves to offer online visits. According to Fast Company, the Louvre also offers virtual tours on its website.

To see more of Google Arts & Culture’s collection of museums, visit the collection’s website. There are thousands of museum Street Views on Google as well. Google Arts & Culture also has an online experience for exploring famous historic and cultural heritage sites.