The beauty of art is that it starts with one person's dreams and ideas, which are then realized in a painting, sculpture or other art medium. From there it lives on forever, hopefully for all the world to see. That’s one reason it's so important that the artwork of black artists, who often document the good and bad of our lives, flourish in this new, emerging worldview.
From police violence to black love, from the Black Panthers to the Jackson Five, it's all reflected in this selection of artwork from the largest and most important art fair in America, Art Basel Miami Beach, as well as some of the many satellite fairs and shows, which took place in Miami from Dec. 1-4.
Although some big-name celebrities made appearances, it’s the artists who are always the real standouts. Kehinde Wiley presided over his annual fish fry, where a prompt Lauryn Hill performed; Jacolby Satterwhite was feted by Artsy and Faena; and the New York-based street artist Bradley Theodore was celebrated by the Ivy. Additionally, this year the Art of Black Miami expanded its programming to include even more artists of African descent.
Tomashi Jackson is part of Simone Leigh's Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matter. Jackson is involved in a lot of political and street activism. For this work, Dajerria All Alone, she studied Josef Albers’ writings from the 1960s and drew comparisons to the civil rights movement. The color is albers, while the images are from police-brutality cases and landmark court decisions from the civil rights movement. The Supreme Court case Bolling v. Sharpe dealt with segregation in Washington, D.C.'s public schools. “McKinney Pool Party” references the 2015 incident at the Texas pool party where a police officer restrained a black teenage girl in a bikini on the ground.
Yashua Klos’ artwork is very personal to him. It is based on racial identity and his experience as a black man. Klos, who grew up on the South Side of Chicago, likes to pull imagery from his surroundings, which include the bricks from buildings and streets. In his artwork, violence, police and the black male intersect to form a tableau.
Derrick Adams gives us a different look at the black body with his Floater series of acrylic paint and collage on paper. The work depicts the black body at pleasure, which we don't always see reflected in mass media. The artist points to the political statements that African Americans make when they take a break, such as President Barack Obama playing golf.
Kerry James Marshall’s newest work, Untitled (curtain girl), sold for $600,000 at Art Basel Miami Beach, according to the Financial Times. The painting shows a young woman parting a star-spangled beaded curtain. Marshall has been enjoying a celebratory year, with a solo show at New York City’s Met Breuer. Marshall’s work reflects a life shaped by growing up during the civil rights movement. He is known for using African-American life and history as a subject matter.
William Villalongo sold out of his cut-paper artwork the first day of the Untitled Art Fair. His acrylic paper collage and cut velour work depicts the black man’s place in society, often pushed onto fringes or hidden away. Villalongo’s work can be found in the permanent collection of the Whitney Museum, and the artist did a residency at the Studio Museum in Harlem. He also curated the Black Pulp Show, about the ownership of the black image.
Nina Chanel Abney made her debut at Art Basel Miami with two large-scale, politically charged compositions in acrylic and spray paint on canvas. Both represent her take on the 2015 McKinney, Texas, pool-party incident, where a white police officer pinned a black teenage girl wearing a bikini to the ground. According to Blouin Art Info, Pool Party at Rockingham #1 and Pool Party at Rockingham #2 sold for $45,000 apiece.
Aaron Fowler’s assemblage artworks are made from found materials, including objects like church chairs, hair weaves and CDs. Granny $ shows his grandmother on a $1,000 bill. Fowler believes that his family is the real currency, not just in his life but in the world. The work also represents his American story: born to a 14-year-old mother in St. Louis, where he has deep roots.
Wesley Clark is from Washington, D.C., and is part of the artist collective Delusions of Grandeur. This piece represents the United States as seen from the perspective of black America and is aptly titled My Big Black America. Clark works with reclaimed wood, and this piece is made with vestiges of African-American life: a rocking chair, bed posts and tree limbs. It's also a metaphor for the contributions of African Americans to the building of the United States.
Glenn Ligon’s new work is something the artist has actually been working on for the past two-and-a-half decades. The collection of 17 screen prints is from James Baldwin's 1953 essay “Stranger in the Village.” Ligon scanned the first page, then superimposed each page after that onto the next one so that when you get to the last of the 17 screen prints, it's completely abstracted. Ligon was also one of the featured speakers during Art Basel Miami Beach.
Ruby Onyinyechi Amanze was born in Nigeria, grew up in the United Kingdom, and now lives and works in New York City. Much of her work is centered on drawing and works on paper and is semiautobiographical. This artwork, there is abundance, like others of Amanze’s work, represents elements of black love. At the same time, it has a futuristic existence, like a dreamscape. It’s a subject matter we need to see more of because, yes, we love, too.
Artist Jimmy Jenkins Jr. used more than 10,000 individual Lego pieces to build his one-of-a-kind Louis Vuitton luggage set. It took over a year to both accumulate the individual Lego pieces and construct the set. Jenkins says that as a child he loved Lego. The classically trained artist paints, sculpts and teaches art. The Lego LV luggage is part of a series based on an exploration of value, and at $20,000, it rivals the real thing. Jenkins was one of several finalists at the Russell Simmons and Danny Simmons Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series Finale.
Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle’s work was on view at the Art Miami Fair at Jenkins Johnson Gallery, a black-owned gallery in San Francisco. The 29-year-old artist knows what she wants to talk about, and that's the black female body as geography. She looks at the perceptions and myths that follow the black female body around the world. Her series The Evanesced, which was done during a residency with artist Sanford Biggers, will be on view at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles in February.
Although Chris Ofili is well-known as a painter, Annunciation is one of the artist’s rare sculptures, yet it still captures elements of his paintings. The supernatural man has an Afro and a pointed beard. The work is based on the biblical Annunciation. The larger-than-life-size work is done completely in bronze but with two different surface finishes, which differentiates the two bodies that make up the intertwined couple. One of Ofili’s most influential works is The Holy Virgin Mary, which incorporates resin-covered lumps of elephant dung. That painting was at the center of a controversy in 1999 between then-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and the Brooklyn Museum of Art.
Some of Romare Bearden’s rarely seen works from before 2000 were for sale at the DC Moore Gallery during Art Basel Miami Beach. Bearden was instrumental in creating a new way of doing political art with these collages, which are as relevant today as they were in the 1960s, when he created them. Bearden is considered one of the granddaddys of black artists because of how many he influenced.
Sanford Biggers’ Witness loomed large over Art Basel Miami Beach because of both the size and what it represents. The piece references the Black Panthers, the Jackson Five and African carvings. The small figures on the ground are hand-carved. The artist starts with polystyrene, which is a form of plastic, then dips it in tar and add sequins. The Art Newspaper reports that the piece was sold to a U.S. museum for $55,000.
Danny Simmons showed several of his new works at Macaya Gallery during Miami Art Week. The series, including Can I Get Witness, explores the way modern art reflects traditional African art. Simmons uses African fabric, such as kente cloth, in his assemblage works of oil, pigment and charcoal on paper. The textile patterns weave from one abstraction to another, showing the fluidity between Africa and modern art.