Were it not for Arthur Jafa, a little-known artist named Frida Orupabo wouldn’t have New York gallery representation. Having shown with Jafa, one of today’s most important filmmakers, at a number of major museum shows, Orupabo is now on the roster of Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, alongside Jafa. Jafa is known primarily for his essayistic works about blackness and power—he won the Golden Lion at the 2019 Venice Biennale—but he’s becoming known for uplifting under-recognized artists. At a recent survey of his work at the Serpentine Galleries in London, he invited photographer Ming Smith to hang her work near his.
As curator of the Institute of Contemporary Art in downtown Los Angeles, Jamillah James has recently staged major retrospectives of cult favorites like Nayland Blake and B. Wurtz, while supporting freethinking early-career artists like rafa esparza and Abigail DeVille. After cutting her teeth at the Queens Museum and Studio Museum in Harlem, she curated at Art + Practice in Los Angeles, the venturesome nonprofit run by artist Mark Bradford, giving serious real estate to figures like installation and video maestro Alex Da Corte and trailblazing figurative painter Njideka Akunyili Crosby well before they rocketed to fame. Perhaps her biggest endeavor yet is a little more than a year away: she’s co-curating the 2021 New Museum Triennial in New York with Margot Norton, which will provide her an opportunity to continue shaping the flow of global contemporary art.
After making her name in the early 2010s with bold group shows and shrewd thematic thinking at the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami, Ruba Katrib took to New York and turned eyes to SculptureCenter, where she went to work furthering an incisive vision that draws from disparate fields and different generations. She mounted shows for Anthea Hamilton and Charlotte Prodger before each was nominated for the prestigious Turner Prize; and standouts like the group show “Puddle, Pothole, Portal” and an exhibition for the Congolese Plantation Workers Art League elicited diverse and mindful responses. Since moving to MoMA PS1 in 2017, Katrib has been on fire, with shows for Mexican robot builder Fernando Palma Rodríguez, the Karrabing Film Collective (an indigenous media group in Australia), and Simone Fattal (an underappreciated sculptor born in Syria in 1942 and raised in Lebanon). And then there is “Theater of Operations: The Gulf Wars 1991–2011” (on view into March 2020, and organized with fellow PS1 curator Peter Eleey), a historic barnburner that stares down a formidable subject that could make less intrepid curators wither and fade.
Naima J. Keith
When the groundbreaking exhibition “Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles, 1960–1980” opened in 2011 at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, Naima J. Keith was working on the show as a curatorial assistant; she had put her Ph.D. on hold to take the job. That gig led to a job at the Studio Museum in Harlem, and then in 2016, the deputy directorship of the California African American Museum, which Keith is credited with transforming. Keith recently took a top job at another L.A. museum, LACMA, and is a co-curator on the upcoming edition of the closely watched Prospect triennial in New Orleans. A curatorial colleague said of her, “What stands out about Naima is innovation.”
Star Wars isn’t the only thing George Lucas has on his mind. He’s been amassing a billion-dollar art collection, which forms the basis of his forthcoming museum in Los Angeles, the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. Lucas recently hired away from a top post at the Met the visionary museum education leader Sandra Jackson-Dumont to be his museum’s founding director; Jackson-Dumont will have the task of leading a vision for what exactly “narrative art” is. So far, the museum has defined it as “art that tells a story” ranging from work by Chicana muralist Judith F. Baca to Norman Rockwell’s Americana illustrations to Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comics. If anyone can bring in an audience, it’s Lucas. And along the way he’s bringing into the fine-art fold art forms that had been left out.
Last June marked the first appearance of São Paulo’s Galeria Jaqueline Martins at Art Basel, the world’s most influential fair for modern and contemporary art. For her to be chosen is an honor—and one that is well deserved. Jaqueline Martins opened her gallery nearly ten years ago, and now represents more than 20 artists, including Ana Mazzei, Letícia Parente, Robert Barry, and Yan Xing. The enterprise is hardly business as usual. Martins is a proponent of collaborative curatorial and research practices, and has a special program focusing on artistic production during the Brazilian military period of the 1970s and 1980s. Can a gallery foster a radical, experimental ethos that encourages dialogue among artists of different generations and furthers an understanding of art as a means to social and political change? That’s the goal.
You can’t begin to talk about contemporary art in Mexico without mentioning Cuauhtémoc Medina, the chief curator since 2013 of the Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo in Mexico City. He’s taken the helm of some of the international art world’s most prestigious events, curating Manifesta 9 in 2012, the 12th Shanghai Biennial in 2018, and the Mexican pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2009, which featured the work of Teresa Margolles. The mammoth show, “The Age of Discrepancies, Art and Visual Culture in Mexico 1968–1997” (co-curated with Olivier Debroise in 2007) is considered an essential primer that lays out a genealogy for Mexican artists who came of age in the 1990s. Recent shows include an international mix of solo outings for Ai Weiwei, Carlos Amorales, Leandro Katz, Jill Magid, Yvonne Venegas, Andrea Fraser, and Jan Hendrix. His exhibitions are noted for the rigor in the way he positions “Mexican art history internationally,” as one curator put it.
A recent Daily Beast article was headlined with a provocative question: “Is the Paris art world dead?” Not if you ask Kamel Mennour, a dealer who has become a linchpin in the city’s art community. With galleries in the French capital and London, Mennour has been known to take on French emerging talents long before they become famous and elevate them in the eye of the mainstream. Among the gallery’s biggest successes is Camille Henrot, who won one of the top prizes at the Venice Biennale in 2013. By the time she’d earned that award, however, she’d been showing with Kamel Mennour for about half a decade.
With a bevy of solo shows taking place across the United States this season—at the University of Michigan Museum of Art in Ann Arbor, the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago, the Pérez Art Museum in Miami, and other institutions—painter Meleko Mokgosi is quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with. This past season Mokgosi’s works dealing with colonialism, democracy, and life in southern Africa (Mokgosi was born in Botswana and moved to the U.S. in 2003) spanned Jack Shainman Gallery’s two New York spaces, as well as its sprawling outpost Upstate. A winner of the Hammer Museum’s $100,000 Mohn Award and the Vilcek Foundation’s Prize for Creative Promise, Mokgosi has been recognized in numerous high-profile forums. He has recently ensured that his influence will be felt in another way: In July, he joined the Yale School of Art as an associate professor in painting and printmaking, and he became a cofounder of the free Interdisciplinary Art and Theory Program in New York.
Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung
Serving as curator-at-large for perhaps the most revered contemporary art exhibition in the world, Documenta 14 in Kassel, Germany, and Athens, in 2017, the Cameroonian-born Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung solidified his reputation as a powerful exhibition maker; this included creating a dedicated radio program to accompany the quinquennial’s activities. The founder of the freewheeling SAVVY Contemporary in Berlin, which he describes as “an art space, discursive platform, eating and drinking spot, njangi house, and space for conviviality,” he’s one of those rare curators who seems to be everywhere, always with new ideas in tow: curating the 2018 Dak’Art Biennale in Senegal and Finland’s pavilion at the 2019 Venice Biennale with a supergroup known as Miracle Workers Collective. Next up, he’ll have the whole town of Arnhem, the Netherlands, to work with as artistic director of the 2020 edition of its storied Sonsbeek exhibition.
“When I curate a biennial in Dakar, I want a global discussion,” Simon Njami told the website Artsy in 2018 at the opening of Dak’Art, Senegal’s longest-running biennial. For the show, he invited curators from Sweden to Singapore to curate international exhibitions alongside the core works by African artists. Leveraging the potential of Africa’s artistic output has been a career-long mission for Njami. From cofounding the magazine Revue Noire, to his groundbreaking “Africa Remix” show in the mid-2000s, he has continuously confronted the question: how do artists recast the narrative of contemporary art in and from Africa? Many of the artists in that show have gone on to achieve success in the museum world and the market—Julie Mehretu, one of the highest-priced women artists at auction, has a survey on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Wangechi Mutu recently became the first artist commissioned to make work for the facade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.