30 Black Artists at Frieze LA 2022

March 31, 2022   •   By Richard Allen May III

Artists of African descent throughout the diaspora have consistently spoken creatively in diverse tongues, expanding the boundaries of the art world that has often marginalized, or excluded altogether, persons of color while celebrating the same artists perpetually. The tension of this skewed perception of value in the marketplace — where art is sold and collected in conjunction with the canonizing apparatus of museums, galleries, collectors, auction houses, art critics and art fairs — has given way in recent years, and especially lately with the ascendance of BLM-provoked consciousness-raising, to a wave of Black artwork given overdue attention and validation. The marketplace of supply and demand has begun to absorb social justice movements, especially Black artists celebrating and speaking to their rich, layered heritage. In fact, Frieze LA  2022, held this year in the white enclave of Beverly Hills, confirms the hunger for this viscerally messaging art, given the numerous Black works on view boldly declaring that Black folk were aesthetically multilingual on all fronts: figurative and abstract work, mixed media, sculpture, and photography.

For example, Charles White’s Leadbelly (1975) celebrates the famous musician playing the guitar. It embodies proficiency in rendering with oil wash and graphite on paper three of the most challenging areas in drawing the figure — face, hands and feet. White’s choice of title signifies tribute to the legendary American folk-blues singer-songwriter who lived fully coloring outside the lines of life’s constraining expectations. Having Leadbelly confidently face viewers with unapologetic eye contact mirrors James Brown’s popular song, Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud (1968). Moreover, this concerted effort to honor Black culture correlates with the School of AFRICOBRA (African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists) whose philosophy of art-making described the use of frontal images inspired by the strength, directness and dignity of African sculpture. Building on White’s legacy is Kehinde Wiley’s Portrait of Ibrahima Ndome. Wiley confronts viewers with a near life-size rendition of a coffee-complexioned, confidently postured brotha sporting a striped ivory and leaf-green shirt. His penetrating frontal gaze, set against a spirograph floral background consisting of tangerine shapes hanging from phthalo vines, extends an invitation to behold the proud.

Similar skill is evident in the oil on linen work by Dominic Chambers, Shadow Work (Kayla) (2022) and Amoako Baofo’s Tilted  Head (White Shirt). Both works embrace a discipline of psychological revelation in portraiture. Chambers’s cropped female figure facing away from viewers assaults the impenetrable misogynist male gaze — white, Black and everything in between. Furthermore, depicting the woman’s self-affirming head held high brings to remembrance Maya Angelou’s poem, Phenomenal Woman (1978). Baofo’s meticulous interpretation has the male subject confronting viewers somberly. In Malice (1978) by Benny Andrews, a man in hat and sunglasses is simplified to express stoic and somewhat inscrutable seriousness. Is he judging us?

Abstraction with simplicity is introduced in Betye Saar’s use of watercolor in Black Hand w/Yellow Planets. The lemon-yellow shaped stars with crescent moon and hints of planet Saturn dance around the black hand placed off center in the candy-purple background. Mysticism is honored and even extended further in her 1983 mural where boomerang shapes of sky blue with brown and red dart throughout the oversize cubed surface.  Also moonwalking is Untitled (small black star) by Brenna Youngblood. Like black spikes from heaven, these scalene shapes with white freckles invite viewers to be transformed from every angle.

Elizabeth Catlett’s Pensive (1946) — a sculptural portrait of an African American woman with arms folded staring in complicated thought — is a reminder of the generational trauma inflicted upon Black women within the larger context of African enslavement. Demonstrating multiple perspectives are Nick Cave’s Rescue (2013), and Samuel Levi Jones’s Descendants of Transplants (2021) and Vulnerability (2021). Using mixed media that included ceramic birds, metal flowers, ceramic Bulldog and a barrel chair, Cave’s dizzying, irresistible assemblage begs to be viewed from all angles. Jones’ appropriation and manipulation of pulped law books into rectangular gestures of primary and secondary hues interrogates myopic paradigms of what constitutes art while slyly alluding to the legal codes that have historically disfavored people of color.

The photography of Gordon Parks and Carrie Mae Weems is a force to be reckoned with pertaining to the narrative surrounding African American art. Joy and freedom of contentment shouts in Parks’s Woman and Dog in Window, Harlem, New York. The sparkle in this sistah’s eyes with her dignified canine friend peering out a window resurrects the voice of Johnny Nash singing I Can See Clearly Now (1972). Weems’s Untitled (Ella on Silk) visually resurrects one of the most timeless voices of the Black musical pantheon.

To be sure, the works of Black artists seen up and down the aisles of Frieze LA, appropriately during Black History Month, were like a vinyl record on a turntable — to be experienced over and over again and assessed on a higher scale of value.

— Richard Allen May III

Click images to enlarge.

Francis Offman
Untitled, 2021-2022
acrylic, ink, paper, coffee grounds, Bolognese plaster on cotton
Courtesy of the artist & Herald St, London. Photo: Carlo Favero

Francis Offman
Untitled, 2021-2022
acrylic, ink, paper, coffee grounds, Bolognese plaster on cotton
Courtesy of the artist & Herald St, London. Photo: Carlo Favero

Dominic Chambers
Shadow Work (Kayla), 2022
oil on linen
Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects

Charles White (1918-1979) 
Leadbelly, 1975
oil wash and graphite on paper
© The Charles White Archives; Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery

Charles White (1918-1979)
Paul Robeson, 1973
oil and graphite on illustration board
© The Charles White Archives; Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery

Carrie Mae Weems
Untitled (Ella on silk), 2014
diptych printed with fabric dye on silk charmeuse
© Carrie Mae Weems; Courtesy of the artist & Jack Shainman Gallery

Brenna Youngblood
Untitled (small black star), 2012
mixed media
Courtesy of the artist & Roberts Projects

Betye Saar
mural at Frieze LA, installation view, 2022
Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects
Photo: Paul Salveson

Betye Saar
Two Black Hands w/ Star Heart, 2021
watercolor on paper
Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects

Betye Saar
Black Hand w/ Yellow Planets, 2021
watercolor on paper
Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects

Amoako Baofo
Tilted Head (White Shirt)
Courtesy Roberts Projects

Alexandre Diop
Le Podium, 2021
mixed media on wood
Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects

Benny Andrews
Malice, 1978
oil and graphite on canvas with painted fabric collage
© Benny Andrews Estate; Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery

Benny Andrews
Demagogue (America Series), 1990
oil and graphite with painted fabric collage on paper
© Benny Andrews Estate; Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery

Ethel Young
Crosscut Saw (c. 1970)
cotton, five diamond-pieced rows with bars
Courtesy Souls Grown Deep Fdn & Alison Jacques, London

Daniel T. Gaitor-Lomack
Vanilla Sky (Bull in Space), 2022
Courtesy the artist & Night Gallery
Photo: Nik Massey

Elizabeth Catlett (1915-2012)
Pensive, 1946
bronze
Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery

Kehinde Wiley
Portrait of Ibrahima Ndome, 2021
oil on canvas
Courtesy of the artist & Roberts Projects

Hugh Hayden
Zelig 4, 2021
cherry bark on Air Force Ones
© Hugh Hayden; Courtesy Lisson Gallery

Hugh Hayden
Daddy Says, 2021
maple Veneer, eggshells
© Hugh Hayden; Courtesy Lisson Gallery

Hank Willis Thomas
I don’t remember them walking two steps behind anybody
(white and red on blue), 2021
screenprint on retroreflective vinyl, mounted on Dibond
© Hank Willis Thomas; Courtesy of the artist & Jack Shainman Gallery

Hank Willis Thomas
I don’t remember them walking two steps behind anybody
(white and red on blue), 2021
screenprint on retroreflective vinyl, mounted on Dibond
© Hank Willis Thomas. Courtesy of the artist & Jack Shainman Gallery

Gordon Parks
Woman and Dog in Window, Harlem, New York, 1943
Photograph by Gordon Parks
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

Robert Colescott (1925-2009)
The French in Louisiana, 1988
acrylic on canvas
Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery

Robert Colescott (1925-2009)
Hot Stuff-Coming Through!, 1991
acrylic on paper
Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery

Samuel Levi Jones
Descendants of Transplants, 2021
Indiana history and Indiana law books on canvas
Courtesy of the artist & Vielmetter Gallery
Photo: Jeff McLane

Samuel Levi Jones
Vulnerability, 2021
law book covers and pulped law book covers on canvas  
Courtesy of the artist & Vielmetter Los Angeles
Photo: Jeff McLane

Tyler Ballon
Milestones, 2021
oil paint on canvas
Courtesy of the artist and Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles
Photo: Greg Pallante

Tau Lewis
Knot of Pacification, 2021
various animal skins, sand dollars
Courtesy of the artist & Night Gallery
Photo: Pierre Le Hors

Stanley Whitney
Morning Sung, 2022
oil on linen
© Stanley Whitney; Courtesy of Lisson Gallery

Stanley Whitney
Untitled, 2022
gouache on paper
© Stanley Whitney. Courtesy of Lisson Gallery

Sonia Gomes
Patuá Azul 4, 2021
different fabrics, embroidery, cotton threads and crystal ball
© Sonia Gomes; Courtesy of the artist & Blum & Poe Gallery
Photo: Jenalee Harmon

Sonia Gomes
Patuá Azul 4, 2021 (detail)

Sanou Oumar
7/10/19, 2019
pen on paper board
Courtesy of the artist & Herald St, London
Photo: Dawn Blackman

Sanou Oumar
7/10/19, 2019 (detail)

Radcliffe Bailey
Equinox, 2021
mixed media
© Radcliffe Bailey; Courtesy of the artist & Jack Shainman Gallery

Nick Cave
Rescue, 2013
mixed media
© Nick Cave; Courtesy of the artist & Jack Shainman Gallery

Bob Thompson (1937-1966)
Untitled (Oh Lawd!), 1962
oil on canvas
© Michael Rosenfeld Gallery

Bob Thompson (1937-1966)
The Ascension, 1963
oil on canvas
© Michael Rosenfeld Gallery

Isaac Julien
To See Ourselves As Others See Us (Lessons of the Hour), 2019
inkjet print
Courtesy of the artist & Jessica Silverman, San Francisco

Simone Leigh
No Face (House), 2021
earthenware with India ink and raffia
© Simone Leigh; Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery

Akinsanya Kambon
Boukman Dutty, 2021
Raku-fired clay and copper
© Akinsanya Kambon; Courtesy of the artist & Jack Shainman Gallery

Akinsanya Kambon
Queen Mother of the Dogon, c. 2016
Raku-fired clay
© Akinsanya Kambon. Courtesy of the artist & Jack Shainman Gallery

Beauford Delaney (1901-1979)
Untitled (Portrait of a Young Man), c. 1963
oil on canvas
© Estate of Beauford Delaney; Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery

Beauford Delaney (1901-1979)
Colin Gravois (aka Portrait of a Man in Green), c. 1968
oil on canvas
© Estate of Beauford Delaney, by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire, Court Appointed Administrator; Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery

Photography curated by Michael Kurcfeld.