Three exhibitions to see in New York this weekend

From Nicola Vassell’s inaugural show devoted to Ming Smith to Huma Bhaba at Salon 94

Ming Smith, Kites Inside (Columbus, Ohio) (1972) Nicola Vassell Gallery

Ming Smith, Kites Inside (Columbus, Ohio) (1972) Nicola Vassell Gallery

Ming Smith: Evidence

Until 3 July at Nicola Vassell Gallery, 138 Tenth Avenue, Manhattan

The American art dealer Nicola Vassell has opened her eponymous gallery with an exhibition of photographs by Ming Smith, best-known for her portraits of Black cultural figures and as the first Black woman photographer to have works acquired by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). The images reflect the many facets of Ming’s life, from her study of Microbiology at Howard University to her forays into fashion and dance. Pleasant surprises include images from her childhood home in Columbus, Ohio, and her travels overseas. In between, we see her otherworldly portraits of the musician Sun Ra and the entertainer Grace Jones that exist somewhere between stage illusion and reality, capturing the moment where one blurs into the other. Vassell says her goal for the gallery is to both strengthen and sustain the ecosystem of Black collectors, curators, and galleries who are custodians of the work of Black artists and their narrative.

Installation view of Huma Bhabha: Facing Giants at Salon 94 Courtesy of the artist and Salon 94, New York. Photo: Dan Bradica

Huma Bhaba: Facing Giants

Until 26 June at Salon 94, 3 East 89th Street, Manhattan

In this solo-exhibition, over two dozen new paintings and sculptures by Huma Bhabha sprawl throughout Salon 94’s uptown space. The sculptures, which steal the show, conjure a remarkably wide net of reference points, from the modern to the prehistoric. They possess an architectural quality, which recalls figures from the caryatids of the Acropolis to the face carvings at the Bayon Temple in Cambodia to those of Easter Island. While these invocations arise, the work also feels entirely contemporary, which speaks both to Bhabha’s skill and to the eternal nature of our quest for beauty. Some figures are cast in bronze, while others are a slew of mixed materials including cork, styrofoam, and clay, as well as unconventional materials like horseshoe crabs and lipstick. A number of mixed-media paintings are also on view, which vary from 30 in to seven ft, and though they’re no doubt in concert with the sculptures, the varied materials in the paintings achieve a different effect. Their array of textures draw comparisons to the Neo-Expressionists and Action Painters of the latter half of the 20th century.

Melvin Edwards, Untitled (1993) (left) and Ukpo. Edo (1993/1996) (right) Courtesy Alexander Gray Associates, New York; Stephen Friedman Gallery, London © 2021 Melvin Edwards/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Nicholas Knight. Courtesy of Public Art Fund, New York.

Melvin Edwards: Brighter Days

Until 28 November at City Hall Park, Manhattan

The Public Art Fund has organised a landmark survey devoted to the contemporary American sculptor Melvin Edwards, who combines abstract forms with symbols evoking themes around race, labour and the African diaspora. The show includes the newly commissioned sculpture Song of the Broken Chains (2020) and five seminal works made in the last five decades like Ukpo. Edu (1993/1996)—a steel sculpture referencing Igbo tradition and the insidious history of the transatlantic slave trade (the latter was last shown in the public sector of Art Basel in Miami Beach in 2015 by the artist’s long-time dealer Alexander Gray Associates). Each sculpture features a raw or stylised chain, a recurring motif in the artist’s work that represents oppression, unity and liberation; some are welded while others are broken. The show opened this month after a yearlong postponement due to the coronavirus pandemic. It has new resonance at the Financial District park, a centre of the Black Lives Matter demonstrations last summer.