ONCE RELEGATED TO THE MARGINS, artists of African descent continued to migrate toward the center of the art world in 2019, claiming space on just about every front as the decade came to a close. Black contemporary artists won many of the year’s most prestigious and lucrative international art prizes. They shared their work and broadened their audiences by engaging in thoughtful public dialogues, publishing books, and staging exhibitions.
Martin Puryear represented the United States at the Venice Biennale with a solo exhibition in the American Pavilion. Carrie Mae Weems dominated the CONTACT Photography Festival presenting five projects around Toronto. Mark Bradford mounted a sprawling museum survey in China. Coming into her own at 93, Betye Saar opened fall solo exhibitions at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art in New York. Historic artists were also the subjects of shows.
Making grand statements in New York’s public spaces, black artists installed works on The High Line, in Times Square, and in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and secured forthcoming commissions in Central Park and Prospect Park in Brooklyn. An international slate of young fashion photographers gained notice. Ghana-born, Vienna-based figurative painter Amoako Boafo was a rising art star to watch, a role that came complete with an exhibition at Roberts Project in Los Angeles, a Rubell Museum residency in Miami, and art fair presentations with Mariane Ibrahim.
Meanwhile, numerous auction records were set in 2019 and African American artists with highly praised practices joined the world’s top galleries: Nathaniel Mary Quinn went too Gagosian; Glenn Ligon and Ed Clark signed up with Hauser & Wirth; and Pace added Sam Gilliam to its roster. The following review presents highlights of the year in black art—key exhibitions, awards, appointments, news, and more: