May 11– November 24, 2019
Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Carol Bove, and Stan Douglas are included in the 58th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia. Curated by Ralph Rugoff, Director of the Hayward Gallery in London, the exhibition is titled May You Live in Interesting Times. "In a speech given in the late 1930s," Rogoff states, "British MP Sir Austen Chamberlain invoked an ancient Chinese curse that he had learned of from a British diplomat who had served in Asia, and which took the curious form of saying, 'May you live in interesting times.' 'There is no doubt that the curse has fallen on us,' Chamberlain observed. 'We move from one crisis to another. We suffer one disturbance and shock after another.' This summary sounds uncannily familiar today as the news cycle spins from crisis to crisis. Yet at a moment when the digital dissemination of fake news and 'alternative facts' is corroding political discourse and the trust on which it depends, it is worth pausing whenever possible to reassess our terms of reference. In this case it turns out that there never was any such 'ancient Chinese curse,' despite the fact that Western politicians have made reference to it in speeches for over a hundred years. It is an ersatz cultural relic, and yet for all its fictional status it has had real rhetorical effects in significant public exchanges. At once suspect and rich in meaning, this kind of uncertain artefact suggests potential lines of exploration that are worth pursuing at present, especially when the 'interesting times' it evokes seem to be with us once again. Hence the 58th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia will be titled after a counterfeit curse.... in an indirect fashion, perhaps art can be a kind of guide for how to live and think in ‘interesting times.’ The 58th International Art Exhibition will not have a theme per se, but will highlight a general approach to making art and a view of art’s social function as embracing both pleasure and critical thinking. The Exhibition will focus on the work of artists who challenge existing habits of thought and open up our readings of objects and images, gestures and situations. Art of this kind grows out of a practice of entertaining multiple perspectives: of holding in mind seemingly contradictory and incompatible notions, and juggling diverse ways of making sense of the world."
Image: Arsenale, Venice. Photo by Andrea Avezzù. Courtesy La Biennale de Venezia
Njideka Akunyili Crosby's work features in several major international exhibitions on view now and opening in 2019. Open through February 3, 2019 at the National Portrait Gallery in London, "The Beautyful Ones" features new works made specifically for this presentation as well as existing pieces from her ongoing series, which focuses on portraits of Nigerian youth. "In the characters I create I try to create this individual that is multifaceted," the artist explains in a TateShots video about her work, which draws on her own transcultural experience between Nigeria and the United States. "She might have a hairstyle that speaks to very rural life, but then she might be wearing a dress that speaks to cosmopolitan life in Lagos and she’s in a setting that speaks to high modern architecture in New York or then there is an old school TV that’s playing old Nigerian news from the ’80s. So, once people really begin to pull the space apart and what’s happening, there is this feeling of being able to put either the character or the space in a clearly-defined box, because it doesn’t exist."
On December 1, Njideka Akunyili Crosby: Counterparts opens at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth in Texas. Part of the museum’s FOCUS exhibition series, Counterparts presents pairs of paintings that juxtapose Nigerian and American subjects. In one work, for example, a domestic interior in Nigeria is seen next to that of Akunyili Crosby’s Los Angeles home, while another depicts table settings from each country; there are also self-portraits showing Akunyili Crosby herself in contrasting environments. These references to different contexts and the facets of identity they represent, is integral to her practice. "My work discusses the move between Enugu, where I grew up, and America, where I now live," the artist says in a 2013 interview with Elephant magazine; "It’s difficult, even impossible, to distill all these complex feelings into one composition. If I’m doing a painting set in a living room in Nigeria . . . I do my best to recall very specific things: snapshots within family albums, refreshments on the table, magazines that I saw lying around the house when I was young." Counterparts travels to Fort Worth from Baltimore Museum of Art, where it was on view from October 25, 2017–March 11, 2018.
November 2019 will see the opening of Interiorities: Leonor Antunes, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Henrike Naumann, Adriana Varejão at Haus der Kunst in Munich. Curated by Anna Schneider, the exhibition focuses on transnational identities that are at once fragmented and complex. In treating "interior painting" as a discursive space, the featured artists explore the imagination, as well as the interior as a real setting, a private retreat or shelter, or a site from which to address the socio-political context.
In 2020, Akunyili Crosby’s work will be shown in the third of a trilogy of solo exhibitions curated by Pulitzer Prize–winning author and critic Hilton Als at the Yale Center for British Art. Als, who included Akunyili Crosby in the 2015 group exhibition forces in nature, is drawn to her engagement with commerce, globalization, and fashion through the papering of bodies and scenes with printed imagery. "Under the layers of information," Als wrote in the accompanying publication, "human forms pulsate gracefully and gratefully with life and an understanding of how it’s lived in the modern, and in Akunyili Crosby’s intensely imagined, universe."
Not confined to the indoors, Akunyili Crosby’s work is also visible in murals and on billboards in London and Los Angeles. On view through December 31, 2018 in LA, a mural covers the facade of the Museum of Contemporary Art on Grand Avenue. Titled Obodo (Country/City/Town/Ancestral Village), the work springs from past paintings by the artist which have been transformed into a vinyl piece on a monumental scale. "Obodo is packed with imagery: self-portraits of the artist, common objects of her childhood, pixelated images that read like faded photo albums or scrapbooks, a commemorative textile that memorializes Crosby’s mother, Professor Dora Nkem Akunyili (1954–2014), as well as plants," Steven Nelson writes in ASAP/Journal. "Obodo", a word in the artist’s native Southeastern Nigerian language meaning "city," is invoked here to indicated not only Los Angeles, but also Lagos and the village where Akunyili Crosby was born. "Obodo’s images and its title point to fragmentation and multivalence," Nelson concludes, adding that the work "holds out the promise of both the retention of home and a connection to residence."
In London, the Hayward Gallery Billboard features the artist’s 2017 painting Dwell: Aso Ebi through February 2019, while Remain, Thriving, a commission for the city’s Art on the Underground program, is on view in Brixton tube station through March 2019. "This work is for people who grew up in Brixton,” Akunyili Crosby told The Londonist, referencing descendants of the Windrush Generation who moved from the Caribbean to Britain between 1948 and 1970; "I wanted the piece to be somewhat calming and quiet because it would be located in a bustling station, but I still wanted it to have all of the multi-century layers and stories of Brixton visible."
Currently on view at the Fondazione Prada in Milan, the group exhibition Sanguine: Luc Tuymans on Baroque features Akunyili Crosby’s painting When the Going is Smooth and Good (2017).
(New York, London & Hong Kong – November 9, 2018) David Zwirner is pleased to announce the representation of Njideka Akunyili Crosby in collaboration with Victoria Miro.
Akunyili Crosby’s experience of syncretic cultures in both Nigeria and the United States informs the subject matter of her artworks. She was born in Nigeria and, at sixteen, immigrated to the US, where she has lived since. Akunyili Crosby draws from literary sources and personal narratives and extrapolates from her training in Western representational painting to invent a visual language capable of representing contemporary transcultural experiences.
The artist’s work will be featured in forthcoming solo presentations at the National Portrait Gallery, London (Njideka Akunyili Crosby: “The Beautyful Ones”, November 17, 2018–February 3, 2019); Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas (Njideka Akunyili Crosby: Counterparts, December 1, 2018–January 13, 2019, which traveled from the Baltimore Museum of Art, where it was on view October 2017 to March 2018); and Victoria Miro Venice (on view May 2019). Her work will also be the focus of a show at the Yale Center for British Art in 2020, the third in a series of three successive exhibitions curated by the Pulitzer Prize–winning author Hilton Als (Celia Paul in 2018; Lynette Yiadom-Boakye in 2019). Other ongoing projects include an outdoor mural for MOCA Grand Avenue in Los Angeles (on view through December 31, 2018); the Hayward Gallery Billboard featuring her 2017 painting Dwell: Aso Ebi in London (on view through February 2019); and Remain, Thriving (2018), a Transport for London/Art on the Underground commission for Brixton Underground station (on view through March 2019).
Solo exhibitions of her work include Njideka Akunyili Crosby: Predecessors, held at the Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, Ohio, which traveled to the Tang Museum, Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York, in 2017; Njideka Akunyili Crosby: I Refuse to be Invisible at the Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida, 2016; Njideka Akunyili Crosby: Before Now After (Mama, Mummy, Mamma), The Whitney Museum of American Art Billboard Project, New York, 2015; and Njideka Akunyili Crosby: The Beautyful Ones, Art + Practice, Los Angeles, which was staged concurrently with a solo presentation at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, in 2015.
Recent group exhibitions include Sanguine/Bloedrood: Luc Tuymans on Baroque (curated by Luc Tuymans), which traveled from the Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp (M HKA) to the Fondazione Prada, Milan, where it is on view through February 25, 2019; Michael Jackson: On the Wall, National Portrait Gallery, London, held in 2018; and Prospect.4, New Orleans, in 2017.
Akunyili Crosby was born in Enugu, Nigeria, in 1983 and currently lives and works in Los Angeles. She is the recipient of a 2017 MacArthur Fellowship and has received a number of awards and grants, including the Prix Canson, 2016; Next Generation honor, New Museum, 2015; Joyce Alexander Wein Artist Prize, 2015; and the James Dicke Contemporary Artist Prize, The Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2014, among others. She was an Artist in Residence at The Studio Museum in Harlem in 2011–2012.
The artist’s work is held in significant museum collections, including the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; Baltimore Museum of Art; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Nasher Museum of Art, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina; Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia; Pérez Art Museum, Miami; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; National Museum of African Arts, Washington, DC; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; Tate Modern, London; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut; and Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, Cape Town.
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Image: Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Mama, Mummy and Mamma (Predecessors #2), 2014 (detail)