Rising Kenyan-British painter Michael Armitage has joined blue-chip gallery David Zwirner, which is now planning an Armitage solo show in New York for 2024.
With locations in New York, Hong Kong, London, and Paris, as well as a planned one in Los Angeles, David Zwirner is one of the biggest galleries in the world. Armitage joins a 69-person roster that includes touted painters like Joan Mitchell, Alice Neel, and Josh Smith.
In its announcement, Zwirner said Armitage will continue to be represented by White Cube, the blue-chip London gallery that initially brought him to the attention of the larger art world.
Born in Nairobi in 1984 and based between the Kenyan capital and London, Armitage is now one of just a few artists in that stable to hail from Africa.
Armitage’s paintings have earned acclaim for their allusions to current events in Kenya by way of figures that appear to dissolve into abstraction. Though his works are couched in reality, they often seem to exist in a surreal sphere in which people float and humans mingle freely with animals in natural settings. He described a recent body of work that appeared at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2019, in a presentation organized by the Studio Museum in Harlem, as “parallel cultural histories.”
While known primarily for his art practice, Armitage has also made a point of supporting the scene back in his home country. In 2020, he founded the Nairobi Contemporary Art Institute, which has a stated goal of cultivating talents from East Africa.
Over the past few years, Armitage’s work has been seen widely on the international circuit. In 2019, it appeared in the main exhibition of the Venice Biennale in Italy and, in 2020, the Haus der Kunst in Munich mounted a survey that later traveled to the Royal Academy of Arts in London. This May, a show of new works is planned for Kunsthalle Basel in Switzerland, coinciding with Art Basel, ensuring that it will be seen by many.
The move to join David Zwirner coincides with Armitage’s meteoric ascent in the market as well. In 2019, a painting by Armitage sold at a Sotheby’s day sale in New York for $1.52 million, more than 21 times its estimate. Prices such as that one are rare for artists of Armitage’s age.
“Not only is he an extraordinary artist, but also a thoughtful and generous human being,” said David Zwirner, the gallery’s founder, in a statement.