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.
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: 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.