Friday, 23 September 2016

Managing one African-American Artist’s Career


The Economist


NJIDEKA AKUNYILI CROSBY, a young artist based in Los Angeles, is currently the talk of the art world. Dozens of wealthy collectors want to buy her latest works, yet none is for sale—at least, not to private individuals.

Ms Crosby’s first European solo show will open at the Victoria Miro Gallery in London on October 4th, the week that Frieze Art Fair starts. Now 33, she moved from Nigeria to America at the age of 16. Her “Afropolitan” identity has forged a highly distinctive visual style. She works mostly on paper, creating large-scale interiors that combine serene human figures with dense areas of collage and image-transfer that subversively evoke her Nigerian heritage. “Her paintings have a distinct vocabulary,” says Glenn Scott Wright, a director at Victoria Miro, which represents Ms Crosby. “You can go around an art fair with 10,000 works and you would know hers immediately.”

In June, at the Art Basel fair in Switzerland, the gallery sold Ms Crosby’s “Super Blue Omo” (pictured), a painting from 2016. The buyer was the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Florida. Having held the first major museum survey of the artist earlier this year as part of its “Recognition of Art by Women” series, it was at the head of a queue of more than a dozen public institutions waiting to buy Ms Crosby’s painstakingly crafted works. Victoria Miro has pitched the prices at below $100,000, enabling museums to buy with their own funds.

In March at the Armory Show in New York, Victoria Miro offered a self-portrait diptych, showing Ms Crosby seated on a wooden chair, that was bought by the Whitney Museum of American Art. Displayed, at the artist’s request, unframed and suspended from metal clips, it can currently be seen in the museum’s “Human Interest: Portraits from the Whitney’s Collection” exhibition in New York. Other works have been acquired by Tate Modern in London, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Yale University Art Gallery.

“Super Blue Omo” will be one of ten works in Victoria Miro’s Crosby show, “Portals”. About half of these will be new paintings that will be for sale, but only to public museums (private museums also cannot buy her work). “We don’t want her art to become all about money and reselling,” says Mr Scott Wright, who estimates that it will take another two years before Victoria Miro begins to offer the artist’s work to private collectors.

Meanwhile, the waiting list of museums has risen to 18. For all Victoria Miro’s attempts to keep the stopper in, though, the resale market for Ms Crosby’s work may be about to be released from the bottle. On September 29th, at Sotheby’s, a private New York collector is selling “Untitled”, a painting from 2011, at an estimated price of $18,000-$25,000. With its pair of bare feet in front of a mirror, this might not be the most alluring of her compositions. But it is the first to appear at auction. Food for the impatient.
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