TABLE OF CONTENTS

PRINT December 2019

Naima J. Keith

Naima J. Keith is the Vice President of Education and Public Programs at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Prior to holding this position, Keith was the Deputy Director and Chief Curator at the California African American Museum. She was the 2017 recipient of the David C. Driskell Prize and is Co-artistic Director (with Diana Nawi) of Prospect.5 in New Orleans, opening in 2020.

Michelle Obama and Sarah Jessica Parker during the book tour for Obama’s Becoming, Barclays Center, Brooklyn, NY, December 19, 2018. Photo: Dia Dipasupil/Getty.

1
MICHELLE OBAMA, BECOMING (CROWN)

Michelle Obama is my forever FLOTUS. The release of her best-selling memoir, Becoming, in late 2018 was followed by an equally popular international book tour during which she was interviewed by Oprah, Tracee Ellis Ross, and others. Recounting her incredible life—from her childhood on Chicago’s South Side to her years as an executive balancing motherhood and work to her time at the world’s most famous address—she is refreshingly honest. But what makes Michelle Obama and this book the epitome of #blackgirlmagic? Her commitment to staying poised in the face of adversity and her continued mission to empower and uplift others. Long live the queen!

Kara Walker, Fons Americanus, 2019, mixed media. Installation view, Tate Modern, London. Photo: Matt Greenwood.

2
KARA WALKER, FONS AMERICANUS (TATE MODERN, LONDON)

The first black woman to headline Tate Modern's Turbine Hall, Walker has created a sophisticated sculpture that incorporates not only the timely themes of migration, confinement, danger, and death, but also a broad range of art and historical references, from Queen Victoria, J. M. W. Turner, and William Blake to Emmett Till and Marcus Garvey. At a moment when monuments are heavily debated sites in both the UK and the US—the subject is very present in my life during my frequent trips to New Orleans in preparation for Prospect.5—Walker has created not a marker to history, but a warning to a frightening and frightened world in which past ills are invariably being repeated.

On view through April 5, 2020.

Simone Leigh, Brick House, 2019, bronze. Installation view, High Line Plinth, New York. From the series “Anatomy of Architecture,” 2016–. Photo: Timothy Schenck.

3
SIMONE LEIGH, BRICK HOUSE (HIGH LINE, NEW YORK)

Leigh is undeniably having a banner moment—she has recently mounted multiple critically acclaimed exhibitions, received the Hugo Boss Prize, and participated in the 2019 Whitney Biennial. She’s also been fearlessly clapping back on Instagram against critics who lack awareness of key moments in black cultural history yet continue to frame her work and others’ according to white-centered dialogues on radicality and political engagement. Regardless of where you stand on the subject of critical responsibility, her words have had us all sitting up straight and paying attention. But it was Leigh’s larger-than-life sculpture on New York’s High Line that made all of my #blackisbeautful dreams come true. The sixteen-foot-tall bronze bust of a black woman is the newest—and largest—entry in Leigh’s ongoing “Anatomy of Architecture” series, 2016–, which juxtaposes the human body with African architectural references, including the clay-and-wood buildings of the Batammaliba in Togo and the dome-shaped dwellings of the Mousgoum in Chad and Cameroon. To see a powerful, black, Afro-wearing female watching over Tenth Avenue and radiating eloquence and grace is heart-stopping.

On view through September 2020.

Matthew Angelo Harrison, Dark Silhouette: Harmonious Union (detail), 2019, wooden West African sculpture, tinted resin, anodized aluminum, acrylic, 72 × 11 3⁄4 × 10".

4
WHITNEY BIENNIAL 2019 (WHITNEY MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART, NEW YORK; CURATED BY RUJEKO HOCKLEY AND JANE PANETTA)

Between critics calling the show too safe and the controversy surrounding Warren B. Kanders, the Whitney Museum’s former vice chair, it was easy to lose sight of the strengths of Hockley and Panetta’s Biennial. The show was profound, and made even more so by its inclusion of so many women, queer artists, and artists of color, representing a marked shift away from the inside-baseball pretensions that can characterize ambitious group exhibitions and toward a deeply felt social awareness.

Lubaina Himid, Shopping for a Loaf Tin, 2019, acrylic on paper. Installation view, New Museum, New York. Photo: Dario Lasagni.

5
LUBAINA HIMID (NEW MUSEUM, NEW YORK; CURATED BY NATALIE BELL)

Tanzanian artist Himid has long confronted the persistent legacy of colonialism and the slave trade by drawing viewers in with romantic, celebratory, and familiar images of people and objects, and then shocking us with emotion and discomfort. The large selection of her canvases in this overdue exhibition was no less forceful and will hopefully bring her wider renown. I felt a sense of instability and tension when I stood before her work, wondering what awaited her subjects and if they were safe in their spaces.

Wangechi Mutu, The Seated II, 2019, bronze. Installation view, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. From The NewOnes, will free Us, 2019. Photo: Bruce Schwarz.

6
WANGECHI MUTU, THE NEWONES, WILL FREE US (METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART, NEW YORK)

Like many repeat visitors to the Met, I have become accustomed to the building’s beautiful, but invariable, exterior. Mutu’s sculptural installation has brought new life to the facade, and is certain to arrest visitors’ attention. Four ethereal and contemporary bronze caryatid sculptures fill the museum’s long-vacant outdoor niches; draped in rings, discs, and plates rather than robes, they claim their African identities in a way that their stoic classical analogues do not. Mutu’s installation ushers in a new era of cultural connectivity for the Met, one that I hope will inspire greater diversity and inclusion in its future offerings.

On view through January 12, 2020.

Workshop of Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, Pourquoi! Naître esclave! (Why! Born Enslaved!), 1872, cast terra-cotta, 24 × 18 × 14".

7
“POSING MODERNITY: THE BLACK MODEL FROM MANET AND MATISSE TO TODAY” (WALLACH ART GALLERY, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY, NEW YORK; CURATED BY DENISE MURRELL)

This game-changing exhibition, which traveled to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, explored the shifting paradigms of black representation in Franco-American modern art through the lenses of gender and race rather than simply that of class, as has been tradition. Murrell deftly demonstrated the aesthetic and social trajectory of black figures, from their initial appearance as subservient background characters to their emergence as featured subjects. The power of this project lay in its transforming and transformative narrative, which foregrounded people disenfranchised by the transactions between art and society.

Co-organized by the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, where it was curated by Cécile Debray, Stéphane Guégan, and Murrell.

Julie Mehretu, Retopistics: A Renegade Excavation, 2001, ink and acrylic on canvas, 8' 5 1⁄2“ × 17' 4 1⁄2”.

8
JULIE MEHRETU (LOS ANGELES COUNTY MUSEUM OF ART; CURATED BY CHRISTINE Y. KIM)

For more than two decades, Ethiopian-born Mehretu has entwined the histories of art, architecture, and anthropology with pressing contemporary themes such as migration, capitalism, climate change, revolution, and technology. The political and social urgency of her boundary-pushing abstract work is unmistakable, making this midcareer survey at my home institution a must-see.

Co-organized with the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. On view through May 27, 2020.

Cauleen Smith, The Hold, 2017, multichannel video, video projectors, stereo speakers, closed-circuit TV cameras, tripods, furniture, figurines. Installation view, MASS MoCA, North Adams, MA. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.

9
CAULEEN SMITH (MASS MOCA, NORTH ADAMS, MASSACHUSETTS; CURATED BY SUSAN CROSS)

In this sprawling multimedia installation, Smith immerses viewers in heaps of seemingly innocuous stuff from our lives, asking us to ponder the thoughtlessness with which we accumulate it all. She illustrates the looming potential of ecological catastrophe as it intersects with themes and narratives of black resistance and feminism, and her message is compelling: “Can you feel the Earth rotating around the sun? This is your spaceship. Act accordingly.”

On view through April 2020.

View of “Cathy Wilkes,” 2019, British Pavilion, Venice. From the 58th Venice Biennale. Photo: Cristiano Corte.

10
CATHY WILKES (BRITISH PAVILION, 58TH VENICE BIENNALE; CURATED BY ZOÉ WHITLEY)

The Irish-born Wilkes communicated a haunting, solemn message while leaving much unsaid. She treated the exhibition space as a vacant home, using natural light and composing space and sight lines to activate works that sparsely filled each room. Her breathtaking arrangement was a reminder that life can be simultaneously full and spare. What made her project even more groundbreaking was its curator, Zoé Whitley, the first African American woman ever to helm a national pavilion.