Curators Explain Why British Painter Lynette Yiadom-Boakye Won the Carnegie International’s Top Prize


“Amaranthine” (2018) by Lynette Yiadom Boakeye

 

A SERIES OF ARRESTING PORTRAITS is on view at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh. Single and double portraits are exhibited along with a painting of four black males standing together, seemingly in conversation. Lithe figures, all bare-chested wearing only dark pants, any number of narratives could be assigned to the image by British painter Lynette Yiadom-Boakye.

At the latest edition of the Carnegie International, a gallery illuminated with natural light is dedicated to Yiadom-Boakye. Her portraits are hung according to her specifications. The lighting and wall color are designed to complement the paintings which are displayed relatively low, at a height that directly engages the viewer. Void of time-bound details, her expressive portraits of compelling characters read both historic and contemporary.

The Carnegie International opened to much fanfare in October. Presented by the Carnegie Museum of Art every four to five years, this year’s 57th edition is curated by Ingrid Schaffner, with associate curator Liz Park. The exhibition features 32 artists and collectives, local, national, and international figures, such as Kerry James Marshall, El Anatsui, Kevin Jerome Everson, Leslie Hewitt, Tavares Strachan, and Yiadom-Boakye.

The opening festivities included a variety of programming—artist projects, performances, talks, screenings, and a celebratory gala on Oct. 12, where the Fine Prize was awarded to Postcommodity and Yiadom-Boakye received the Carnegie Prize.

 


LYNETTE YIADOM-BOAKYE, “Radical Trysts,” 2018 (oil on linen, 70 7/8 x 63 inches). | © Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

 

Yiadom-Boakye’s paintings earned her the International’s top award. The Carnegie Prize includes $10,000 and the Medal of Honor, which is designed by Tiffany & Co., and was first issued to Winslow Homer at the inaugural International in 1896.

The museum describes the International prizes as “prestigious” and the winning artists as “exceptional,” without further explanation about their candidacy. I wanted to better understand the criteria by which the artists were chosen and reached out to the museum to learn what about Yiadom-Boakye’s work stood out among the other artists included in the exhibition.

To begin with, the artists included in the International were selected by a team of all-female curators and researchers assembled by Schaffner (Magalí Arriola, Doryun Chong, Ruba Katrib, Carin Kuoni, and Bisi Silva) that traveled the globe in pairs visiting with artists and viewing their work.

The goal was explore what “‘international’ means at a moment when questions of nations, nationalism, boundaries, and border crossings are becoming ever more urgent” and, in this context, identify artists who best represented the “currents and concerns” of contemporary art.

The goal was to explore what “‘international’ means at a moment when questions of nations, nationalism, boundaries, and border crossings are becoming ever more urgent” and, in this context, identify artists who best represented the “currents and concerns” of contemporary art.


LYNETTE YIADOM-BOAKYE, “To Improvise a Mountain,” 2018 (oil on linen). | © Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

 

Recognized for her portraits of timeless subjects, Yiadom-Boakye made 13 new ones for the Carnegie International. Her dreamy and dramatic portraits feature fictional figures, people she’s imagined and realized on canvas. The characters might be mulling family matters or experiencing relationship challenges, immigration issues, grief, triumph, satisfaction or wanderlust. Perhaps they are weighing what to serve for tea. The specifics are left to interpretation.

A painter who also writes and has penned essays for the catalogs of fellow artists, Yiadom-Boakye gives her paintings poetic titles such “A Whistle in a Wish,” “Solar Wisdom,” “The Black Watchful,” and “No Need of Speech.”

Her latest series depicts individual figures in contemplative poses. “Marvels for a Soothsayer” shows a male subject, rendered in profile, with his head cast downward. He is wearing glasses with his dreaded or braided hair pulled back in a bun. The instance may be the first time such cultural details have been represented in her oeuvre.

Yiadom-Boakye’s subjects often look away from the viewer and appear aloof or perhaps deep in thought. Even when there are two figures on a canvas, they usually don’t appear emotionally connected.

In some of the new paintings, however, Yiadom-Boakye’s characters are relatively animated and deeply engaged with each other—a new development. She depicts them facing one another, gesturing, smoking, and expressing emotion with wide eyes. In the Guide published to accompany the International, Schaffner said, from the outset, she was really drawn to her painting: “the brushwork, the personas, the intimacies, the owls, the staging, the drama.”

Curator Ingrid Schaffner was particularly drawn to Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s paintings: “the brushwork, the personas, the intimacies, the owls, the staging, the drama.”


LYNETTE YIADOM-BOAKYE, “Marvels for a Soothsayer,” 2018 (oil on linen). | © Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

 

A seven-member jury chose the prize winners. The jurors included three of Schaffner’s travel/research partners (Kuoni, Katrib, and Arriola), two representatives from the museum’s advisory board, and two members of Carnegie’s curatorial staff—Catherine Evans, co-director and head curator, and Eric Crosby, curator of modern and contemporary art.

“Criteria for awarding the prizes are intentionally broad,” Evans said. She continued in an email statement: “In selecting the winners this year, jurors started with their top five to ten artists, then after much discussion ranging from the impact of artworks to their resonance with the context of the exhibition to the relevance of their artistic practice in today’s world, reached a final consensus.”

Evans said the Carnegie Prize “is awarded to an artist for their outstanding contribution to the exhibition.” Given this standard, beyond the allure of her paintings of fascinating characters, the jury appreciated Yiadom-Boakye’s dedication to the opportunity to participate in the International.

“The jury felt strongly that Lynnette Yiadom-Boake’s paintings demonstrated a compelling new development in her work and is a highlight in a rich and exhibition,” Evans said. “In addition, the jury took into account that the artist had created these 13 paintings specifically for the Carnegie International, 57th Edition, 2018.” CT

 

TOP IMAGE: LYNETTE YIADOM-BOAKYE, “Amaranthine,” 2018 (oil on linen). | © Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

 

BOOKSHELF
“Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Under-Song for a Cipher” documents her New Museum exhibition in New York. Published in 2014, “Lynette Yiadom-Boakye” surveyed her career to date. More recently, her first monograph, also titled, “Lynette Yiadom-Boakye” is rife with images of her captivating portraits. “Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Any Number of Preoccupations” was published to coincide with her solo exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem.

 


LYNETTE YIADOM-BOAKYE, “A Whistle in a Wish,” 2018 (oil on canvas, 29 3/4 x 27 9/16 inches). | © Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

 


Installation view, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, 2018, 57th Carnegie International. | Photo by Bryan Conley. Courtesy the artist, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, and Corvi-Mora, London

 


LYNETTE YIADOM-BOAKYE, “Keep for a Heart,” 2018 (oil on linen, 33 5/8 x 31 11/16 inches). | © Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

 


LYNETTE YIADOM-BOAKYE, “Solar Wisdom,” 2018 (oil on linen, 78 3/4 x 51 3/16 inches). | © Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

 


LYNETTE YIADOM-BOAKYE, “The Black Watchful,” 2018 (oil on canvas, 78 3/4 x 59 1/16 inches). | © Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

 


LYNETTE YIADOM-BOAKYE, “No Need of Speech,” 2018 (oil on canvas, 90 9/16 x 97 7/16 inches). | © Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

 


Installation view, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, 2018, 57th Carnegie International. | Photo by Bryan Conley. Courtesy the artist, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, and Corvi-Mora, London