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David Zwirner Inaugurates New Gallery with Njideka Akunyili Crosby

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Still You Bloom in This Land of No Gardens, 2021

On May 23, David Zwirner will inaugurate his new gallery at 616 North Western Avenue location in Los Angeles with an exhibition by Njideka Akunyili Crosby. The show, entitled Coming Back to See Through, Again runs from May 23—July 29, 2023 and will include new and recent work. This will be her first solo exhibition with David Zwirner. The exhibition will travel to David Zwirner’s New York gallery, opening in September 2023.

Born in Nigeria, Akunyili Crosby moved to the United States as a teenager in 1999, and her work reflects her hybrid cultural background and experiences. In her methodically layered compositions, Akunyili Crosby combines painted depictions of people, places, and subjects from her life with photographic transfers derived from her personal image archive as well as Nigerian magazines and other mass media sources. The resulting works are visual tapestries that vivify the personal and social dimensions of contemporary life while evocatively expressing the intricacies of African diasporic identity.

The works that will be on view in Los Angeles, where the artist works and lives, bring multiple places and temporalities together within single compositions. In these works, Akunyili Crosby uses doorways, screens, posters, and windows as devices that open to other worlds, such as private interior spaces, lush external gardens, and bustling Nigerian markets. In Still You Bloom in This Land of No Gardens (2021), for example, which shows the artist with her young child on the back porch of their home surrounded by plants and vines, a sliding door reveals a domestic interior space, hinting at the private world within. Inside, an image of Akunyili Crosby’s mother can be glimpsed, offering a powerful multigenerational representation of the tenderness, love, and beauty of motherhood. The treatment of paint and the layering of the photographic transfers in this work create a tension between depth and surface that optically and narratively affect how the viewer visually navigates the composition. This work first appeared in Picturing Motherhood Now at the Cleveland Museum of Art in 2021 and 2022.

Two new works from the artist’s series The Beautyful Ones, which Akunyili Crosby first began in 2012, will also be on view. Several of the earlier works from this series were included in The Hilton Als Series: Njideka Akunyili Crosby, an exhibition that debuted at the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, in September 2022, and is currently on view at The Huntington, San Marino, California. As Als describes: “In her ongoing series The Beautyful Ones, artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby takes as her subject children she came across in family albums, or observed and photographed on trips to her native Nigeria. The paintings … are framed by vulnerability, hope, and a certain self-awareness. Inspired by the Ghanaian author Ayi Kweh Armah’s classic 1968 novel The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, which centers on political and personal idealism and corruption, Akunyili Crosby’s vibrant canvases are alive with, and to, her understanding of her various subjects’ layered, complex, and vulnerable lives.… Her paintings present a world that is literally layered, and deeply committed to the depth to be found on the surfaces that make up intimate and private spaces, including the body.” 1

Several of the works in the exhibition, including Still You Bloom in This Land of No Gardens, were recently included in the artist’s 2022 solo exhibition at the Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, and prominently feature vegetation and plant life. More than decorative motifs, plants—and their origins and migrations—have deep cultural and historical associations that naturally appeal to the artist. One of these works, Potential, Displaced (2021), served as the basis for a wallcovering commissioned by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, that is currently on view as part of the ongoing installation Before Yesterday We Could Fly: An Afrofuturist Period Room. In a number of these works the flora also overlay screen walls of the type that adorn many residences built in the 1970s and early 1980s in Nigeria. Individually striking, the plants and screens also create unique visual and formal lattices for Akunyili Crosby’s complex organization of imagery and space. Alive with history and culture, these works are at once personal and individual, but also remain approachable and universal.

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