PRINT May/June 2020



Duro Olowu is a Nigerian-born, London-based fashion designer and curator. The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago is currently hosting “Duro Olowu: Seeing Chicago,” which was guest curated by Olowu and features more than 360 contemporary artworks from the MCA's collection and those of institutions throughout the city.


    Man of the people Fela Anikulapo Kuti (1938–1997) was a musician and civil rights activist—a rebel with a cause. He sang about corruption and oppression, especially in his native Nigeria, which spent decades under military dictatorship. Fela cut a dashing figure on TV as he moved across the stage, large joint invariably in hand. His personal style was sharp and effortless. And his music was electrifying, hypnotizing: Afrobeat rhythms combined with a dissident’s poetic fire. Just listen to his 1989 album, Beasts of No Nation. During my student days in the 1980s, when I’d leave London to visit Lagos, my friends and I would make pilgrimages to the New Afrika Shrine, his club in Ikeja. Sneaking out late at night and braving the police roadblocks that had sprung up out of nowhere, we would arrive around 1 AM, only to wait patiently for another hour or two until Fela took the gloriously crowded stage.

    *Sandra Izsadore and Fela Anikulapo Kuti at the New Afrika Shrine, Lagos, Nigeria, 1978.* Photo: Adrian Boot. Sandra Izsadore and Fela Anikulapo Kuti at the New Afrika Shrine, Lagos, Nigeria, 1978. Photo: Adrian Boot.

    The proud, stunning, and supremely talented Jones mashes up eras and genres, sonically and visually, in the most extraordinary ways—like a modern-day Claude Cahun. Her collaborations with photographer Jean-Paul Goude and Jamaican musicians Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, among others, are legendary. Now seventy-one, the beautiful and brave Jones continues to command the stage better than artists half her age. All hail the amazing Grace!

    *Cover of Grace Jones’s _Nightclubbing_* (Island Records, 1981) Cover of Grace Jones’s Nightclubbing (Island Records, 1981)

    Yiadom-Boakye’s soul-stirring paintings are portraits of fictional black men and women. But somehow, I feel as though I might know a few of them. The artist makes her work—which is filled with references to black British culture, literature (from Shakespeare to Chinua Achebe), and her British Ghanaian heritage—with the skill and conviction of Velázquez and Alice Neel. When you look at her subjects, you sense they might be looking right back at you, deeply, with an uncanny knowingness and confidence. (They’re rather comfortable in their own skins, and they seem to ask, Are you?) Yiadom-Boakye also produces wonderful poetry and short stories, but her writing reveals little about what you’ll encounter in her pictures. I cannot wait to see “Fly in League with the Night,” a survey that will feature about eighty of the artist’s paintings and works on paper, when it opens at London’s Tate Britain.

    *Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, _Lie to Me,_ 2019,* diptych, oil on linen, each panel 55 1⁄8 × 33 1⁄2". Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Lie to Me, 2019, diptych, oil on linen, each panel 55 1⁄8 × 33 1⁄2".

    His paintings have been an enormous influence on my work and curatorial practice—especially the latter, as I share his love of collecting objects of beauty and integrity. Matisse assembled only with the eye and the heart, and his Still Life with Seashell on Black Marble, 1940, strikes me as the perfect example of this approach. Also, his depictions of women, nude or undressed, never feel gratuitous or patronizing. Unlike those of other male painters of his era—Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Pablo Picasso, Chaim Soutine—Matisse’s paintings reflect a deep empathy for and genuine love of women.


    I consider David Hammons to be the most important artist of his generation. In 2014, without much warning, he agreed to a survey at White Cube Mason’s Yard in London, only steps away from my boutique in Mayfair. The show, which Hammons curated himself—and elegantly arranged across the gallery’s two floors—featured his body prints, basketball drawings, tarp paintings, defaced fur coats, and an “African” terra-cotta sculpture, among other sublime works. I must have visited at least fifteen times. Each pilgrimage gave me more energy. I felt his vibrations to the very end.

    *View of “David Hammons,” 2014–15,* White Cube Mason’s Yard, London. Photo: Jack Hems and Patrick Dandy. View of “David Hammons,” 2014–15, White Cube Mason’s Yard, London. Photo: Jack Hems and Patrick Dandy.

    Alix Barton, professionally known as Madame Grès (1903–1993), was a couturier of great renown. Her Grecian-style dresses and immaculately cut suits were constructed in ways that continue to defy logic. In 2011, while taking appointments with international buyers during Paris Fashion Week, I had a bit of spare time after lunch. So I rushed over to the Musée Bourdelle to see “Madame Grès, la couture à l’œuvre”(Madame Grès, Couture at Work), organized by Olivier Saillard, the first retrospective of Grès’s clothing to grace the city. The museum, formerly the studio and home of the French sculptor Antoine Bourdelle, was incredible in itself. But then there were the luxurious garments, variously draped, tweaked, tucked, pleated, or twisted in silk jersey, faille de soie, silk taffeta, glazed cotton, wool jersey, and an assortment of satins. The display was simple and beautiful, and at moments I felt as though I were looking at lost Greek marbles.

    *View of “Madame Grès, _la couture à l’oeuvre”_ (Madame Grès, Couture at Work), 2011,* Musée Bourdelle, Paris. Photo: Pierre Antoine. View of “Madame Grès, la couture à l’oeuvre” (Madame Grès, Couture at Work), 2011, Musée Bourdelle, Paris. Photo: Pierre Antoine.

    I seek out beautiful jewelry wherever I can. Most of the time, visiting certain pieces in the collections of London’s Victoria & Albert Museum and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris is enough. However, there are some creations that I cannot walk away from, especially those by the Algerian-born, Paris-based jeweler and artist Taher Chemirik. He’s had many lives: Chemirik started out as a costume designer for Opéra de Paris and La Comédie Française in the early ’80s, then created haute couture and prêt-à-porter jewelry for Chanel, Hermès, Karl Lagerfeld, Yves Saint Laurent, Roger Vivier, and others. In the late ’90s, he launched an eponymous line—bespoke items for his discerning, die-hard fans. Gold, coral, plastic, silver, diamonds, and ebony are utilized to form bold, sensuous, and alluring objets d’art that speak volumes about the women who wear them.


    The 2016 Alma Thomas exhibition at New York’s Studio Museum in Harlem, thoughtfully curated by Ian Berry and Lauren Haynes, was wonderful and emotionally charged. It brought together paintings and works on paper by one of the greatest—and most woefully underrecognized—American Abstract Expressionists of the twentieth century. (I have been fortunate to see her work up close at New York’s Michael Rosenfeld Gallery on many occasions.) I look forward to more groundbreaking presentations like this at the Studio Museum (directed by my wife, Thelma Golden) when it reopens in its new David Adjaye–designed building.


    Clément’s film—which features iconic French actors Alain Delon, Marie Laforêt, and Maurice Ronet, as well as a brief appearance by a very young Romy Schneider—was inspired by Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley. Do make the time to luxuriate in the Technicolor scenery of this exquisite feast for the eyes.

    *René Clément, _Plein soleil_ (Purple Noon), 1960,* 35 mm, color, sound, 118 minutes. Marge Duval (Marie Laforêt) and Tom Ripley (Alain Delon). Production still. Photo: Alain Dejean. René Clément, Plein soleil (Purple Noon), 1960, 35 mm, color, sound, 118 minutes. Marge Duval (Marie Laforêt) and Tom Ripley (Alain Delon). Production still. Photo: Alain Dejean.

    Smith was only thirty-nine years old when he died from AIDS-related illnesses in 1987. His garments were revolutionary, stylish, and hugely popular. He was also one of the first American designers to successfully launch a secondary label, WilliWear—a diffusion line that never sacrificed quality for accessibility. Smith collaborated with a wide range of artists and choreographers, among them Christo, Keith Haring, Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, Dianne McIntyre, and the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company. New York’s Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum unpacks his legacy in “Willi Smith: Street Couture,” which will be on view until October. He was a pioneer and, according to friends who knew him well, a wonderful man, whom I wish I’d met.

    *Bill T. Jones, Willi Smith, and Arnie Zane, April 1984.* Photo: Jack Mitchell/Getty Images. Bill T. Jones, Willi Smith, and Arnie Zane, April 1984. Photo: Jack Mitchell/Getty Images.