15 Works From Black Artists at Art Basel 2012

Check out pieces from Kehinde Wiley, Hank Willis Thomas and others on display at the Miami fair.

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    Jean-Michel Basquiat (KPBS.org); Kara Walker (University of Minnesota); Kehinde Wiley (Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)

    Let the art viewing and the party hopping begin. Art Basel Miami Beach, which runs from Dec. 6 to 9 and is now in its 11th year, is arguably America’s most prestigious art fair. From the start, it has been a haven for art lovers and has routinely included some of the world’s most respected black artists. Each year the festival grows, and so does the participation of black artists, celebrities, collectors, cool kids and those who work in the art world. There are roughly two dozen satellite art fairs being held in conjunction with Art Basel this year, giving new meaning to the phrase “If you build it, they will come.”

    Even the NBA has gotten in on the action with The Art of Basketball, an installation that transforms the All-Star Game basketball court into a collection of original artworks. The Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are scheduled to host a private VIP party, featuring music from the Heat’s DJ Irie. This year also marks Black Art In America’s inaugural Do You Basel? campaign, which promotes the African-American arts community at the festival with various events and a special mobile media lounge. (Full disclosure: The Root will be represented there. This writer is on a panel at the University of Miami devoted to contemporary African Diaspora art.)

    Here are some black artists whose works will be on display.


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    The Three Graces: 1881-1956 (from the World Stage Series: France 1880-1960), 2012. Oil on canvas, 213 x 282 cm, 83 7/8 x 111 inches. (Courtesy of Art Basel)

    Kehinde Wiley

    Wiley is an award-winning contemporary portrait artist known for his paintings of modern-day black men and now women, set in a Baroque style of vivid color. This piece is a prime example of his mixing of seemingly disparate points of reference. Wiley is also a 2012 The Root 100 honoree and an alum of Rush Arts Gallery, a part of the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation, a nonprofit organized by brothers Danny, Russell and Joseph “Rev. Run” Simmons that supports emerging artists and educates urban youths about art.

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    Red Hot Deal, 2012. Acrylic on board, 71 5/8 x 59 3/4 x 2 3/4 inches, Jack Shainman Gallery. (Courtesy of Art Basel)  

    Kerry James Marshall

    Marshall draws much of his influence from the black power and civil rights movements of the 1960s. Born in 1955, he grew up witnessing both in South Central Los Angeles. This painting harks back to the riots that ripped through cities such as Detroit and Newark, N.J., during those tumultuous times. The subject of Marshall’s large-scale paintings is often African-American life and history, and his work often deals with popular culture. In 1997 Marshall was the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant.”

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    Qusuquzah, Une Trés Belle Négresse 2, 2012. C-print, artwork at Lehmann Maupin. (Courtesy of Art Basel) 

    Mickalene Thomas

    This is Thomas’ year: Her first solo museum exhibition, “Origins of the Universe,” opened at the Brooklyn Museum in September. Plus, she had a third solo exhibition at the Lehmann Maupin Gallery and a painted mural at the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The New York-based artist is well-known for her decorative paintings made of rhinestones, acrylic and enamel. As this work shows, she is also known for re-examining the definition of beauty and what it means to be a black woman. 

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    Mixed media on paper. Goodman Gallery. (Courtesy of Art Basel)  

    Moshekwa Langa

    Langa is a South African artist and visual anthropologist whose works are represented in various forms: installation, drawing, video and sculpture. He is known for his innovative use of paints, found objects and elements of graffiti, thread and yarn. This work shows his grasp of color and abstraction.

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    Untitled, 2012. Oil on linen, 173 x 120cm, Stevenson. (Courtesy of Art Basel)  

    Zander Blom

    Blom was born in 1982 in Pretoria, South Africa, and lives in Johannesburg. He uses different techniques and mediums including painting, drawing, sculpture and photography. This untitled piece is an example of Blom’s command of detail and movement. It’s remarkable that he still finds time to be part of a band, Jaco and Z-Dog. His first solo show in the U.S. was held at the Savannah College of Art and Design in its Savannah and Atlanta locations during the 2011-2012 season.

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    Soul Food Rickshaw for Sitting, 2012. Wood and wheels, Kavi Gupta Chicago/Berlin. (Courtesy of Art Basel)  

    Theaster Gates

    As an installation artist, Gates transforms spaces, institutions, traditions and perceptions with his artwork. As this industrial piece shows, he has an architect’s eye for form. It makes perfect sense, since he was trained as an urban planner and sculptor. Last year at Art Basel Miami Beach, all 35 of his outdoor sculptures sold to collectors and museums. Gates is also the founder of the Dorchester Projects, which buys abandoned houses in Chicago and converts them into community spaces.

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    Bap, 1983. Acrylic, oilstick and paper collage on canvas mounted on tied wood supports, 72 x 72 inches, Van de Weghe Fine Art. (Courtesy of Art Basel)  

    Jean-Michel Basquiat

    Basquiat shot to fame in the 1980s as a painter but began his career as a graffiti artist in New York City in the late 1970s. Bright colors and crude, cartoonish characters — as seen in this 1983 canvas — signify much of his work, which is in major collections around the world. Basquiat died in 1988 at the age of 27. 


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    Fountain of You, 1993. Ink on paper, 50 x 38 inches, Sikkema Jenkins & Co. (Courtesy of Art Basel)

    Kara Walker

    Walker is best-known for black cut-paper silhouettes (as seen here), which she uses to tell historical narratives, often encompassing an entire room. Her work explores not only race but also gender, sexuality and violence. Walker is a past recipient of a MacArthur “genius grant.”

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    Three Men, 1966-67. Mixed-media collage of various papers on canvas, 57 1/2 x 41 5/8 inches. Signed, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery. (Courtesy of Art Basel)

    Romare Bearden

    Bearden is widely regarded as one of the great visual artists of the 20th century. His richly textured collages are what he is most known for, but the artist experimented with many different styles and mediums. Bearden’s contributions to the arts extend to costume and set design for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

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    Baron of the Crossroads, 2012 (Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York)

    Hank Willis Thomas

    Thomas’ work merges race, history and pop culture. His piece here is a collaboration with Sanford Biggers. Thomas, a photographer and visual artist, is the co-creator, with Chris Johnson, of “Question Bridge: Black Male,” a new-media project that explores identity issues that confront African-American men. A 2012 The Root 100 honoree, he was also a 2011 fellow at the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University.

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    Head 15, 2012. Mixed-media collage on paper, 36 x 26 inches, Rhona Hoffman Gallery. (Courtesy of Art Basel)

    Derrick Adams

    Thomas’ work merges race, history and pop culture. His piece here is a collaboration with Sanford Biggers. He is a photographer and visual artist. Thomas is the co-creator, with Chris Johnson, of “Question Bridge: Black Male,” a new-media project that explores identity issues that confront African-American men. A 2012 The Root 100 honoree, he was also a 2011 fellow at the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University.

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    Self Portrait (March 10am), 2009. Gelatin silver print, 20 x 16 inches, Galerie Michel Rein. (Courtesy of Art Basel)

    LaToya Ruby Frazier

    Frazier is a visual artist who grew up in Braddock, Pa., a small steel town just outside Pittsburgh, and often references the area’s industrial roots in her work. Frazier’s evocative photographs often feature herself and her family as subjects as a commentary on the struggles of the working class. Frazier is best-known for her photography but also works with video and performance art. She was part of the 2012 Whitney Biennial, where Homebody, her series of narrative self-portraits set in her grandfather’s now-empty apartment, gained considered attention.

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    Golden Angel Three, 2012. Leather on cardboard on MDF, 180 x 145 cm, 70 3/4 x 57 inches, Contemporary Fine Arts

    Chris Ofili

    Ofili is a Nigerian-British painter well known for his artwork incorporating elephant dung. His painting The Holy Virgin Mary caused a stir in New York City in 1999 when Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who described the canvas as “sick” and “disgusting,” tried to have it removed from the Brooklyn Museum. The painting was of a Black Madonna surrounded by blaxploitation-movie images, female-genitalia pictures and elephant dung. Ofili is a recipient of the prestigious Turner Prize.

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    Lost Classics, 2012. Set of 25 lithographs, Polígrafa Obra Gràfica, S.L.

    Gary Simmons

    Simmons’ work addresses themes surrounding race, class and personal history. He is best-known for his “erasure” drawings, in which he illustrates figures with white chalk on walls or panels, then smudges them to create eerie ghostlike images.

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    Cowrie (Blue), 2012 (Courtesy of Art Basel)

    Simone Leigh

    Leigh creates sculptures, videos and installations based on her interest in African art, ethnographic research, feminism and performance. She considers her practice to be an “object-based ongoing exploration of black female subjectivity.” Leigh works out of a studio in Brooklyn, where she often employs African ceramic techniques.

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