With his career on the rise, Derek Fordjour, a critically acclaimed painter known for images which grapple with the complexity of race in American society, has joined a new gallery: the Los Angeles–based David Kordansky, which will represent him alongside the likes of Deana Lawson, Rashid Johnson, and Sam Gilliam, among others. The gallery will present a new, monumental piece by Fordjour online in April, followed by a solo exhibition there in spring 2022. New York’s Petzel gallery, which has represented the artist since 2019, will continue to represent him.
In his multi-textured paintings, the New York–based artist often depicts Black athletes and entertainers whose successes are constrained by scrutiny over their race. While ostensibly celebratory—carnival and parade imagery pervade his art—Fordjour’s work explores how navigating racist expectations can crush Black psyches.
“Derek Fordjour is one of the most inventive, distinct, and culturally relevant American artists working today. He’s created an immediately recognizable iconography and materiality that grapples with complex and urgent themes of identity, race, vulnerability, and grief,” Mike Homer, partner and senior director at David Kordansky Gallery, told ARTnews.
Fordjour’s prominence has steadily grown since his breakout show in 2014 at an artist-run space in Brooklyn, followed by an exhibition at Los Angeles’ Night Gallery. In 2019, one of his paintings sold for double its estimate at Phillips, and at the Frieze art fair in New York, Beyoncé and Jay-Z bought his entire suite of paintings.
That same year saw Fordjour’s first major museum show, at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, which featured portraits of basketball players, marching bands, and cheerleaders hung on corrugated metal walls above a dirt floor. Fordjour is of Ghanaian heritage, and the immersive structure intended to highlight the fraught circumstances of migrations.
His solo show at Petzel Gallery in 2020 was similarly elaborate, with a walk-in installation and a puppet show performed twice daily, as well as two new painting suites and a series of sculptures. The focus of the show was mortality, made more pressing by the intersection of Covid-19 and the Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
“As things expand and you have greater capacity, it becomes important to have a kind of spiritual practice of surrendering your ego,” Fordjour told ARTnews last year. “You need an ego, but you also need to release it.”