NJIDEKA AKUNYILI CROSBY (B. 1983)
NJIDEKA AKUNYILI CROSBY (B. 1983)
NJIDEKA AKUNYILI CROSBY (B. 1983)
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NJIDEKA AKUNYILI CROSBY (B. 1983)
4 More
Property from a Distinguished European Collection
NJIDEKA AKUNYILI CROSBY (B. 1983)

The Beautyful Ones

Details
NJIDEKA AKUNYILI CROSBY (B. 1983)
The Beautyful Ones
signed and dated ‘Akunyili 2012’ (lower left)
acrylic, pastel, color pencil and Xerox transfer on paper
95 5/8 x 66 7/8 in. (243 x 170 cm.)
Executed in 2012.
Provenance
Zidoun and Bossuyt Gallery, Luxembourg
Private collection, Europe, 2013
Anon. sale; Christie's, London, 7 March 2017, lot 3
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Exhibited
Luxembourg, Zidoun and Bossuyt Gallery, New Works: Abigail DeVille and Njideka Akunyili, January-April 2013.

Brought to you by

Isabella Lauria
Isabella Lauria Head of 21st Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

On a monumental scale, Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s The Beautyful Ones represents an artist maneuvering several identities and cultural conditions. In the present example, Crosby has painted the image of a young girl, the artist’s own sister at the age of 10, who stands before an abstract interior of collaged images pulled from the artist’s personal collection of treasured family photos. This patchwork quilt of familial references begins to bleed into the young girl herself, tying her both to the painted landscape and to the artist’s personal history. Deeply intimate, these images narrate the lived experience of a young Crosby who traveled to America from her home of Enugu, Nigeria at the age of sixteen. Nostalgia grounds the present example and reminds the viewer of the artist’s history of relocation, one that leaves an indelible mark on her personal identity. Here, Crosby works in a poetic in-between landscape that crosses media, identities, geography, and art history. The Beautyful Ones was painted during the artist’s residency at the Studio Museum in Harlem and is the first and largest work in an ongoing series of the same title, based on the artist’s relatives. Notably one of the most important African artists to achieve international recognition in recent history, Crosby’s works combine a sublime array of technical facilities with learned art-historical references, producing a body of work that interrogates the intricacies of a multi-cultural identity.

In the present example, Crosby builds a cocoon around her sister, weaving her painterly hand with pastel and colored pencil scrawlings, all layered with Xerox transfers of her family album. The product is a work of unprecedented visual depth, with each plane of medium responding to the next to build a composition whose foundations may be noted in the work of Kerry James Marshall to Eduard Manet to Robert Rauschenberg. Yet, The Beautyful Ones reveals itself as a new era of portraiture, one whose intimacy is revealed in the relationship between the artist and the sitter. Perhaps most touching is how vulnerable Crosby makes her hand and her heart as she honors her familial legacy.

In 2009, Crosby was granted a highly-coveted place on the prestigious Master’s programme at Yale University School of Art. Both a student of the visual arts and the practical sciences, originally studying chemistry and biology at Swarthmore College, Crosby illustrates with a meticulous rigor. Her academic air can be noted in her complex art historical references. As the artist suggests of her work, “You might find a flat and geometric area, but when you move your eyes, suddenly, perhaps you’re seeing something that looks like Northern Renaissance painting. I’m always trying to keep the composition active” (E. Ando, “Njideka Akunyili Crosby by Erica Ando,” BOMB Magazine, n.p., September 15, 2016, https://bombmagazine.org/articles/njideka-akunyili-crosby/). A year into her experimentations at Yale, during which she assumed extensive coursework in postcolonial history and diasporic studies, Crosby began to develop her foundational oeuvre, settling on her storied history of geographic dislocation as the primary subject matter of her compositions. The artist notes that postcolonial theory was a turning point in her career that allowed her to work in a multifarious space, “Many postcolonial theorists talk about the third space, which is a very active space where cultures come together to give rise to something new. Nigeria is a third space, just by virtue of being a former British colony and being influenced by American popular culture starting in the late ‘70s” (E. Ando, “Njideka Akunyili Crosby by Erica Ando,” BOMB Magazine, n.p., September 15, 2016, https://bombmagazine.org/articles/njideka-akunyili-crosby/). Crosby began developing a reservoir of source imagery for her work, collecting fabrics from her childhood, old family snapshots, plants from Africa and Los Angeles, shoes and garments both traditional and cosmopolitan. Often pulling from this personal bank of visual information, Crosby executes portraits that appear both to transcend and bounce between her two worlds.

The work’s title is drawn from the acclaimed 1968 novel by the Ghanaian writer Ayi Kwei Armah, The Beautyful Ones are Not Yet Born, a book that Crosby read in her youth in Nigeria. Kwei writes while describing a building, “Each brick had on it the huge imprint of something like the petal of the hibiscus flower slanted diagonally across it. Where the individual blocks met, a clear groove ran between them, so that from some angles the whole building looked like a pattern of vertical and horizontal lines” (A. Kwei, The Beautyful Ones are Not Yet Born, Johannesburg, 1988, p. 11). Kwei and Crosby clearly share a crosshatched, montaged sensibility as they think about the emotional power of line and decoration. As critic Dan Jakubowski writes, “Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s paintings exhibit both a generous opulence and a tender grace, taking small moments of intimacy and imbuing them with a meticulously ordered magnificence” (D. Jakubowski, “Critics’ Picks: Njideka Akunyili Crosby,” Artforum, n.p., 2017, https://www.artforum.com/picks/contemporary-arts-center-cincinnati-70356).

Following great acclaim, Crosby’s work is now included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and the Tate Modern, London, among others, and she was the subject of solo shows at the Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, and the Tang Teaching Museum at Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs. The Beautyful Ones is the culmination of a career on the rise that is already being recognized globally. Filled with innumerable references both universal and biographical, The Beautyful Ones crosses land and time. The Beautyful Ones is a living image collaged from unbreakable family bonds and history itself.

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