In Looks, artist Derrick Adams references the immense potential of a wig to alter an appearance and construct a persona. The exhibition, which is on view at the Cleveland Museum of Art through May 29 alongside a survey of art and fashion photography titled The New Black Vanguard (opens May 8), shows nine of Adam’s portraits rendered in the artist’s distinct geometric style evocative of “Benin heads, Kwele masks, Kota reliquary figures,” and other West African masks and sculptures, he says in a statement.
Standing more than eight feet tall, the acrylic-and-graphite works center on busts with direct gazes, their faces mapped with different skin tones and makeup lining rounded eyelids and lips. The elaborate wigs in rainbow stripes and faded ombre are inspired by the salons and shops in Adams’ Brooklyn neighborhood. He reinterprets these functional wearables as bold, two-dimensional portraits that speak to the importance of hair in Black culture and the power of defining oneself through spectacular, joyful adornments. He explains about the works:
I feel more than ever that it is essential for artists to make work that celebrates Black culture. As a Black man, I am aware of my vulnerability and susceptibility to trauma and oppression on a daily basis. I personally don’t need to be reminded of it in art and choose to instead highlight Black normalcy. Those who participate in Black culture understand there are images that are less important for us to see than images of joy.
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“My work has always been a tribute to all the hard-working women in my life,” says Kelly Reemtsen. The artist (previously), who lives and works between Los Angeles and London, has spent the last decade producing a subversive body of work devoted to exploring gender, its constructs, and real-world impacts, from wage gaps to the continual rollback of reproductive rights. Her practice spans printmaking, sculpture, and painting and juxtaposes visual markings of femininity with objects associated with masculinity. Each piece portrays an anonymous woman dressed in a tulle skirt, patent pumps, and glitzy jewelry grasping a chainsaw or shovel in an easy, nonchalant manner.
In recent years, Reemtsen has gravitated toward oval canvases evocative of traditional portraiture, in addition to pedestals and ladders that elevate her subjects. “Are the women in my paintings trying to break through the glass ceilings or just escaping the current situation? I think most women are doing one or both at all times, consciously or not,” she shares. A series of chainsaw sculptures painted with vibrant, playful colors augments the artist’s broader questions concerning how “the tools available to us shape who we are and who we want to be. I find using tools– whether a printmaking press, a chainsaw, makeup, or anything else– to be incredibly empowering as a vehicle for initiating change.”
A 10-year survey of Reemtsen’s work will be on view at albertz benda’s Los Angeles gallery this May, and she also has pieces in a group exhibition opening on April 21 in London and in August at Galeri Oxholm in Copenhagen. Explore a larger collection of her paintings and sculptures on her site and Instagram.
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Anthropomorphic Oil Paintings by Richard Ahnert Envision Satirical and Nostalgic Narratives for Bears
Infused with wit and metaphor, the oil paintings of Toronto-based artist Richard Ahnert imagine the glum, peaceful, and rambunctious lives of animals. His new collection, on view through May 6 as part of Bear With Me at San Francisco’s Modern Eden Gallery, centers on the eponymous mammals, which are shown in the midst of relatable, deeply human activities. Rendered with soft, hazy edges in subtle colors, the anthropomorphized characters are caught in the rain, slouched over a bar, and enjoying a mid-day reprieve on the water. The narratives also tend to be veiled in nostalgia, shown through garments, the ubiquity of tobacco, and in the case of “Swear Bears,” a satirical twist on a 1980’s animation.
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An expansive exhibition sprawling through the Starrett-Lehigh Building in Chelsea offers an intimate and holistic glimpse at the life that inspired Jean-Michel Basquiat’s body of work. Opened Saturday, King Pleasure is curated by the artist’s two younger sisters,
David Adjaye. The immersive reproductions provide insight into the places where Basquiat spent much of his time and developed his distinct aesthetic, including his childhood dining room in Boerum Hill, his 57 Great Jones Street studio, and the Michael Todd VIP Room of the Palladium, a beloved night club that commissioned two monumental works.It
Comprised almost entirely of Basquiat works except for Andy Warhol’s silkscreen family portraits, King Pleasure showcases a variety of paintings, early drawings, cartoon sketches, and newsletters the artist made during high school in Brooklyn.
As Robin Pogrebin writes for The New York Times, King Pleasure augments Basquiat’s legacy with objects, videos, and ephemera that create a fuller picture of his short life, which ended with a 1988 overdose at the age of 27. “We wanted people to come in and get the experience of Jean-Michel—the human being, the son, the brother, the cousin,” Heriveaux said in an interview. “To walk people through that in a way that felt right and good to us.” The exhibition also coincides with other U.S.-based shows of his works, including two at The Broad in Los Angeles and the Orlando Museum of Art.
Tickets for King Pleasure are on sale now, and an accompanying monograph featuring interviews with family members and an in-depth consideration of his life is also available this week from Rizzoli Electa.
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Following her series centered around the healing properties of Prussian blue, Portland-based artist Yellena James continues to imagine vibrant ecosystems brimming with fantastical life from land and sea. Her delicate organisms appear to float in washes of pastel colors and evoke coral, kelp, and daisies with an unearthly and whimsical twist.
Recently on view at Stephanie Chefas Projects, James’s Origin series works in this vein and explores the most fundamental aspects of existence. “I attempt to capture the instance of inception and freeze it as though pressing pause in the middle of a chemical reaction, and I wonder if these lifeforms are forced into existence by their own needs and desires or the needs and desires of the forces themselves,” she says. Vivid and full of patterned textures rendered in a mix of acrylic, gouache, and ink, the pieces are alluring interpretations of organisms in the midst of change.
James is currently at work on a variety of projects across painting, illustration, and ceramics, and you can follow her latest projects on her site and Instagram. She also sells prints, cards, and other goods on Etsy.
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A trained psychotherapist, Johan Deckmann (previously) has stacks of books to remedy our most painful emotional struggles and existential dread. His collection includes the massive “Your chances of changing the world,” the much slimmer “Your chances of changing yourself,” and the dismally timely “How to take a deep breath and go on even though everything feels so wrong.”
Often painted on soft, cloth covers evocative of vintage self-help manifestos, Deckmann’s ironic titles are steeped in our culture of incessant improvement and tend to be brutally honest about human limitation. His straightforward messages are not unlike those found in a therapist’s office and harness the power of simple language to confront contemporary dilemmas. “The idea of writing on books comes partly from my work as a psychotherapist, a music composer, and lyricist. I like the idea of distilling words to compress information, feelings, or fantasies into an essence, a truth,” said the Copenhagen-based artist.
Deckmann is participating in a group exhibition up through May 15 at Sala Amós Salvador in La Rioja, Spain, and will be at the Venice Biennale next month with the Gervasuti Foundation. He also has a solo show later this year at San Francisco’s Modernism, and you can find an expansive collection of his poignant messages on Instagram.
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Editor's Picks: Art
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