DAVID ZWIRNER HAS ADDED Njideka Akunyili Crosby to its roster of more than 75 artists, including Kerry James Marshall, Stan Douglas, Chris Ofili, and the estate of Roy DeCarava. The gallery is representing Akunyili Crosby in New York and Hong Kong. She will continue to work with Victoria Miro in London and Venice.
Arguably the fastest rising artist of her generation, Akunyili Crosby participated in the Studio Museum in Harlem’s artist in residence program in 2011-12, and from there her career took shape.
Year after year, she’s nabbed high-profile awards and exhibited her paintings from London to Los Angeles. Museums are lining up to acquire her work—multifaceted paintings that draw on her personal narrative growing up in Nigeria and contemporary experiences in America. Defined by a rigorous layering of images sourced from family photographs, traditional printed fabrics, and African fashion magazines, her interpretations of ordinary scenes and intimate moments challenge conventions of representation and present a counter-narrative to stereotypical perceptions about the lives of contemporary Africans.
Next week, “The Beautyful Ones,” Akunyili Crosby’s solo show featuring new and existing works opens at the National Portrait Gallery in London (Nov. 17, 2018–Feb. 3, 2019). Later this year, she has an exhibition at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas, and a gallery show at Victoria Miro Venice is slated for May 2019. Her first exhibition with David Zwirner has yet to be scheduled.
BORN IN ENUGU, NIGERIA, Akunyili Crosby immigrated to the United States in 1999 when she was 16. She initially thought she would be a doctor, like her father, which explains why she has an undergraduate degree in biology and studio art from Swarthmore College. Art won out. After completing a post-baccalaureate certificate at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, she earned an MFA from Yale. She lives and works in Los Angeles.
In 2014, she was awarded the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s James Dicke Contemporary Artist Prize. A dozen people were nominated for the prize recognizing artists under 50 years old. Akunyili Crosby bested Theaster Gates, Julie Mehretu, and Mickalene Thomas, among others. News of the prize came the same day Victoria Miro gallery announced its representation of Akunyili Crosby.
Njideka Akunyili Crosby bested Theaster Gates, Julie Mehretu, and Mickalene Thomas, when she won the Dicke Prize. News of the prize came the same day Victoria Miro gallery announced its representation of the Los Angeles-based artist.
Then she won the Joyce Alexander Wien Artist Prize from the Studio Museum in Harlem in 2016. That same year, she received the Prix Canson Prize, which recognizes artists who primarily make their work on paper. The award included an exhibition of her work at the Drawing Center in New York, along with the four shortlisted artists.
Her hometown museum debut was three years ago. “Hammer Projects: Njideka Akunyili Crosby” opened at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles in October 2015. The exhibition coincided with a presentation of new works across the city at Art + Practice.
“I Refuse to be Invisible” (Jan.28-April 24, 2016), her first survey, was presented at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Fla. The catalog published to document the exhibition is the first volume dedicated to her work. Later that year, “Njideka Akunyili Crosby Portals” (Oct. 4-Nov. 5, 2016) at Victoria Miro Gallery in London was her first solo exhibition in Europe. She’s also had solo shows in upstate New York, Cincinnati, and Baltimore.
Currently on view through Dec. 31: Installation view of NJIDEKA AKUNYILI CROSBY “Obodo (Country/City/Town/Ancestral Village),” 2018 (adhesive vinyl). | Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London/Venice. Photo by Elon Schoenholz
AROUND THE TIME of the London exhibition, Akunyili Crosby became an auction sensation, joining an elite group of living black artists whose work regularly sells on the secondary market for millions of dollars. On Sept. 29, 2016, an untitled 2011 work sold at the Sotheby’s New York Contemporary Curated sale for nearly $100,000 (including fees). It was the first time her work had been sold at auction establishing a benchmark.
Around the time of the London exhibition, Akunyili Crosby became an auction sensation, joining an elite group of living black artists whose work regularly sells on the secondary market for millions of dollars.
In a short span of six months, two more works hit the auction block and both exceeded expectations, each setting a new artist record. On Nov. 17, 2016, “Drown” (2012) sold for more than $1 million at Sotheby’s New York. Then on March 7, 2017, “The Beautyful Ones” (2012) skyrocketed past the estimate, about $500,000-$700,000, and sold for nearly $3.1 million at Christie’s London.
While the exponential prices signal a demand for her work, Akunyili Crosby would rather avoid the attention and collectors willing to offload her paintings for profit.
“I don’t stay up all night when I’m seven months pregnant so that my work can be auctioned,” she told W magazine last year, when she was expecting her first child. “People expect me to be happy, but it put a spotlight on me in a way I don’t like at all. I like operating quietly, on my own, in the background.”
Accolades and market interest continue to recognize her singular vision. In October 2017, she was named a MacArthur “genius” fellow. A month later, she was invited to participate in Art x Lagos (Nov. 5), where she gave her first public talk in her native Nigeria. Earlier this year in May, she donated a painting to the Sotheby’s New York auction benefitting the Studio Museum in Harlem. “Bush Babies” (2017), a non-figurative painting, set yet another record selling for nearly $3.4 million, with all the proceeds going to a fund for the museum’s new building.
AKUNYILI CROSBY CURRENTLY has a series of public art works on view exposing her work to a wider audience beyond the blue-chip crowd. In Los Angeles, an outdoor mural wraps the exterior of MOCA Grand Avenue (through Dec. 31, 2018) where it can be viewed by car or on foot. The Hayward Gallery Billboard in London features her 2017 painting “Dwell: Aso Ebi” (through February 2019). Meanwhile, at the Brixton Underground station in South London, “Remain, Thriving” (2018), her commission for Transport for London/Art on the Underground, will greet commuters through March 2019.
Her selection for the Dicke prize was a transformational moment in her trajectory. The jury’s assessment of her work made a convincing case for her subsequent acclaim:
“Akunyili Crosby has a striking ability to depict deeply personal imagery that transcends the specificity of individual experience and engages in a global dialogue about trenchant social and political issues. Her bold yet intimate paintings are among the most visually, conceptually, and technically exciting work being made today.” CT
TOP IMAGE: Njideka Akunyili Crosby, 2016. | Photo © Brigitte Sire
FIND MORE about artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby on her website
FIND MORE about artist resale rights and how artists and their estates might benefit from secondary sales on the auction market here.
“I Refuse to be Invisible” was published to coincide with Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s exhibition at the Norton Museum of Art. The show was her first survey and the book is the first to document her practice and includes a lengthy interview with the artist. A portrait by Akunyili Crosby appears on the cover of “Fired Up! Ready to Go!: Finding Beauty, Demanding Equity: An African American Life in Art. The Collections of Peggy Cooper Cafritz,” which explore the hundreds of works in the collections of the late Washington arts patron and dedicated supporter of young artists.
Art Star Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s Language of Image-Making, this video accompanies a Wall Street Journal article about how she shot to fame and has been trying to establish a record of the collectors who purchased her early works from various galleries (subscription required). | Video by WSJ
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