Artistfacts: Njideka Akunyili Crosby

Njideka Akunyili Crosby

Let me preface this blog by stating that I absolutely love this artist’s work.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby is a young artist, born in Nigeria in 1983, who came to the United States at age 16/17 and now lives in Los Angeles.

Her work reflects on the two cultures  and is highly autobiographical. Many of the people portrayed are family members. Her practice uses a combination of painting, collage, drawing and printmaking. The language of image making is used in all of its variety with incredible power. Her canvases are made with acrylic paint, colored pencil, pastel, charcoal, fabric and print making in particular the use of transfers, a process used by Robert Rauschenberg among others.

The works are very idiosyncratic and highly recognizable, complex multilayered, materially dense works that some have compared to quilts. The images she transfers onto the canvas  come from popular Nigerian culture often from the 80’s and 90’s.  They are doorways to shared memories and inherited traditions. Traditions that have been hybridized or coopted through colonialism and globalization. The fabrics are often portrait or commemorative fabrics that speak to the history of her family and of Africa. Spaces are not closed but doors open onto rooms with other open doors, spaces are liminal,  on both sides of a boundary or threshold and characters cannot be boxed into one culture be it socio-economic or country.  Objects and spaces are layered one right on top of the other. Characters are built up.  Nothing is static.

In an interview she gave to The White Review in 2016  Njideka Akunyili Crosby  recounts how she first encountered Mary Louise Pratt’s ‘Arts of the Contact Zone’ (1991), which identifies ‘social spaces where cultures meet, clash and grapple with each other’, during her studies at Yale University School of Art.  The ‘contact zone’ has since become an underlying focus in the practice of the artist.  “It involves a lot of appropriation and exchanging of ideas, and usually something new comes out of that. This really resonated with me, since I come from a country that is a contact zone – first, from being a British colony up until 1960, and then with American movies and pop culture coming into the country. You begin to see traditions that have become a weird mix of different cultures.”


Njideka Akunyili Crosby has an MFA from Yale and is represented by Victoria Miro. There is a wonderful artist talk on the Whitney website from March 2016.


Artistfacts: Liza Lou

Liza Lou

Liza Lou is an American, female artist born in 1969. She attended San Francisco Art Institute and now lives in KwaZulu Natal South Africa as well as Los Angeles. Her work is arresting and engrossing.

Liza Lou specializes and is best known for sculptures and environments created entirely with beads initially applied with tweezers.  She therefore could be grouped with artists such as Tara Donovan, Jean Shin or Tom Friedman who work with large amounts of inexpensive and non- classical art materials that emphasize the need for intense and repetitive processes. Looking at her work one is awed by their perfection,  the immense amount of time and exacting effort required to make them yet,  especially with her earlier works such as The Kitchen and Backyard, they recreate common, every day almost banal environments bling-ed up through the use of multicolored, multifaceted glass beads. They comment on craft and women, feminism and time.  Somewhat a follow on to pop art.  Slightly later works, such as Trailer are more unsettling or satirical about the world around us. Although the Kitchen – a room sized sculpture- represented five years of solo labor, other works have employed assistants and, since her partial move to South Africa, close work with Zulu artisans. The artist has commented that when she first started to work with beads she was told that it was not allowed.  Her family at times bohemian later became born again fundamentalist Christians which may in part have been incorporated in the ambiguous melding of worlds.


Her works have included portraits of presidents, political consciousness raising sculptures dealing with violence and confinement such as Quick Cheap Overwhelming Victory, and Maximum Security or Security Fence, beautifully made and thought provoking sculptures such as Blanket, Book of Days, Cell, Continuous Mile, spiritual sculptures such as Book of Days  Deny and Repress Kitchenette, Devotional,  Gather.



A few figures- Homeostatis, Man, the Damned, The Heretic, The Worshiper, the Vessel, many with religious overtones or modeled after classical pieces are also a part of her work.



Since 2005, Liza Lou’s works seem to have moved away from creating environments to  more tonal, paintings still made with beads but emphasize the repetitive process of the works creation and the materiality and social consciousness demonstrated in the works. She is currently developing a major art work and sustainable employment project with a woman’s prison in Belem,  Brazil.  Her philosophical focus is on helping women, identifying with the day to day mundane, unrecognized environments of women and their  hand made work – craft- and elevating that to art.

Gallery representation is Lehman Maupin, Galerie Thaddeus Ropac, Goodman Gallery  and White Cube.



An island about a mile in circumference at high tide, quite a bit larger at low tide. A luxury Robinson Crusoe retreat off the coast of Zanzibar. The dream of a “pazzo” italian. A semi forced acquisition by the former CC Africa now,  &Beyond that wanted to purchase the Ngorogoro Crater Lodge and  had to take this resort to clinch the deal- it is now one of their most popular.  A honeymoon hot spot, scuba divers paradise. A beach retreat after a safari. A quick get away for South Africans. To know Mnemba is to love Mnemba.

12 luxury bandas- if by luxury you mean no windows, mosquito netting gracefully draped over your bed, thatched floors, no noise except the doves, perfect service, immaculate soft white sand, lovely food,  a clear blue ocean with dhows on the horizon.


It is a bit of a hike to get there, about an hour drive from Stone Town, Zanzibar’s capital and a Unesco World Heritage Site, though the access road is improving- hard to decide if that is progress as it may mean more people on the coast- a One and Only development is rumored. We tend to fly to Dar Es Salaam from Amsterdam, spend a night or two at the lovely Oyster House in Dar and then fly up to Stone Town- more on that in a separate post. The drive is followed by a short boat trip, departing from the beach amid the fishing dhows and, depending on the time of day, the fishermen laden with octopus or fish hung from small hooks.

The fantasy then begins. Many of the staff assemble at the beach to great you with waves, cold towels and lime drinks. You meet your personal butler. Your luggage is whisked away to your banda. You are given a brief tour of the resort, boat house, dining area, living room, shop, dropped off at your banda and left to relax, swim, paddle board, snorkel….

If you are lucky, during your stay you will have the opportunity to see giant sea turtles come up the beach in the dead of night to lay their eggs or- 52 days or so later – ” assist” by standing near and deterring crabs and birds in the determined walk of the newly born turtles to the ocean. Those are not tire tracks….

You will definitely have the opportunity to encounter at least one of the tiny deer like inhabitants, the shy Suni and even shyer Ader that roam the island. The rustling you hear around you is often them or the crabs, scurrying to hide from you.

Sundown in Africa is always a special event and at Mnemba you may be taken out in a dhow to sail about the island with the libations of your choice or your wonderful butler – Roger in our case- will bring it to your beach. A bit later in the evening, all of the guests and a few members of the staff assemble in the living room area, an open bar area for drinks, to share stories of their day and other travels. A great way to learn more about the wonders and beauties of Africa.


Dining is generally in the small dining area, with tables set out on the beach, lit by candles though “special” evenings are surprises organized by the staff with tables set up in the middle of the woods, outside of your banda on the beach. The food is healthy, tasteful and varied- you may end up craving red meat after a few days and if so they can accommodate a hamburger. Although there is a set menu for each meal, at breakfast, the chef will come by,  tell you about it, and you are free to make any changes you desire.

A member of the staff is a fantastic massage therapist and yoga practitioner- Dale I miss you- and also comes by either at breakfast or during lunch to arrange for times. The massages or yoga sessions are set up in your banda.

The scuba diving and snorkeling occur either right off the beach, or after short boat rides to adjoining reefs.


Time flies by and as soon as you leave, on the flight back, you plan your return.


Maastricht Tefaf. Day 2

I started off the day in the Antiques section. A well represented section with 96 booths. This area was quite a treat and based on proximity to the entrance prime real estate for the fair. It also in my mind qualified for some of the more extravagant booths as palatial rooms with rotundas an columns were created to house the beautiful wares like the one by Robbig- Munchen.


At Piva&C  Milano  I found beautiful lacquered moor figures mid 18th century  Venice, small 3 inch pocket globes be of which depicted Captain Cooks voyage and utensils from the 17th century with handles depicting mythological figures an allegories.


Pieter Hoogendijk, Naarden  had a beautiful armoire veneered with Ebony, Rio and Hondurras Rosewood and Tortoise shell attributed to Herman Doomer mid 17th century


As usual Axel Vervoort curated a beautiful arrangement of old and new, including a Giacometti cat and an AnishKapoor marble.


Antiquites were well represented as at Charles Ede and Rupert Wace Ancient Art


Harmakhis Archeologie has exquisite Bronze Age jewelry including a pair of Salgotarjan arm spirals from 1400–1300BC and a pair o spiral bracers.


The curated contemporary show Show Your Wound was anachronistic in the setting of the fair and in my opinion continues to seem an afterthought. I completely understand the fairs need to bring contemporary into the mis but perhaps taking a cue from the Venice Biennale and giving it a central dramatic space and emphasis would be more effective.


Then we moved into the Modern section. Quite a mixed bag of works but all of high quality were shown by the 52 exhibitors.

At Cardi Gallery a wonderful Gunther Uecker Weiss from 1988 drew my eye


Galerie Karsten Greve was a real treat as usually the Galerie at shows in the states only comes with a tiny selection of works. Here they had wonderful Fontana’s  – including glazed ceramic pieces – I particularly liked crucifixion -as well as Louise Bourgeois, Twombly, and  Joel Shapiro works.


Van der Weghe Gallery had some spectacular works by Picasso, Basquiat and Wool


Galerie Odermatt, Vedovi, Brussels also showcased Wool, Fontana, Twombly,  a tiny gem of a  de Kooning, and a haunting Magritte named ElseneurIMG_0072.JPGIMG_0071.JPG

Galerie Delaive showed several  Sam Francis pieces including particularly large 180×240 cm one


Hammer Galleries put together a beautiful show of Picasso and Matisse. Although they stressed in the presentation he influencers respect the two artists had for each other, the works did not necessarily make that point as the masterful exhibit by Moma has done.  Still the works were beautiful and the booth a pleasure.


Landau- probably one of the less curated booths but a plethora of nice works by among others Moore, Arp, Miro, de Chirico, Picasso, Marini, Gris, Tanguy, Ernst, Modigliani and Leger.


Tefaf is definitely worth a visit. It is a wonderful experience in a wonderful city…. more on Maastricht to come. I cannot recommend the experience enough. It typically runs early to mid March… See you there in 2017?

It is unclear if the expansion move to New York will change the experience. Many of the collectors were American in particular this year and many were there for the fair, to buy. Will the dealers therefore cease to bring their top works to Maastricht and instead opt to bring them to New York? Even if some of the top dealers were to do that it would change the feel of the fair and its importance. Time will tell


Maastricht Tefaf 2016

After years of wanting to come to Maastricht for Tefaf, I finally made it in 2016. And I was very glad to do so before its ” expansions ” to New York. What a difference feel  from the insanity that pervades other art fairs, Art Basel in Miami for example.What a focus on the artworks rather than the outfits of the viewers or the selfies with celebrities.  Perhaps the fastest way to convey the difference is that at Maastricht within the fair there are fabulous and fancy eating establishments. I counted eleven ranging from the fanciest which I believe to be the Restaurant La Concorde to a Tapas Bar. There were no celebrities on view and the fashion quota was minor. The art was spectacular. T

To my eyes,  the fair is a beautifully curated assembly of old and modern masters with an emphasis on Dutch and Italian masters to which a mix of highly curated precious objects one might find at the Armory Show in New York, FIAC, or the Paris Biennale and a walk through top end jewelry stores have been added. The various alleys even had the names of high rent streets of New York and Europe- Fifth Avenue, Bond St, Faubourg St Honore. The design section seems like an overthought as does much of the contemporary.

Although it seemed a shame to me that the fair was divided into sections, Painting, Antiques, Modern, Design,Classical  Antiquities, La Haute Joaillerie- I quite prefer the Italian esthetic of mixing styles and seeing how works hold up against each other- the display did help you figure out where you were on the map. It also enabled the collectors who seemed very focused and somewhat more one dimensional that I had expected to not have to waste there time looking at periods of work they did not care for. There is a theory that because Maastricht is difficult of access the collectors are more serious. They may be more serious but the difficulty of access is grossly overstated.  Brussels is an hour and a half away as is Düsseldorf. Amsterdam, surprisingly to me who never looks at a map rather further. Trains, cars and taxis are all viable options.

The fair draws 75,000 visitors, has 270 dealers and is massive. Perhaps the size of the various objects, including miniature netsuke and Faberge carved animals, as well as the span of history covered force one to slow down and leisurely admire the works on view.


Fortunately for those with time, the fair runs far longer than those in the USA.
Caylus Madrid has the complete set of eight paintings by Jacob de Backer made for the Marquis de Alfarras for the Palace of the Labyrinth of Horta, Barcelona Spain

Picture of grammar one of the paintings

Galerie Talabardon and Gautier Paris has the “new” find Rembrandt’s sense of smell a quite small.

G Sarti some beautiful italian religious  tempura on board icons

Agnew’s a small Van Dyck

and Fergus Hall a Van Dyck and Rubens



Conversation overheard- if you owned a Franz Hall’s– oh but you do…

De Jonkheere- Paris and Geneva Lucas Cranach the Younger, Abel Grimmer, Peter Brueghel the Younger and of course a Bosch




at Carlo Orsi Milan London a rather gruesome Neapolitan wax model of St John the Baptist’s head  which I did not photograph and a lovely Jan Brueghel the Elder a wooded landscape with St. John the Baptist

At Moretti a wonderful threesome of Bulgarini from Siena

At Patick Derom Gallery a beautiful Pol Bury


And an Alberto Burri at Tornabuoni Arte Florence

Fontana’ galore at Tornabuoni among others


Pearl Lam held court surrounded by a bevy of beauties. She had the best outfits….

Ben Brown Fine Arts showcased a prickly Anthony Gormly and a wonderful Vik Muniz Postcards from nowhere of Delft


Kugel a beautiful and complete chess set with a decor of chinoiserie S Augsburg and Dresden circa 1715


Heribert Tenschert Manuscripts Switzerland had a number of fabulous

Van Gelderland Traditional Indian Folk Jewellery

Jorge Welsh London Lisboa interesting pair of Painted Nodding Head Figures-,description did not state if like bobble head dolls they actually nod

A la Vieille Russie a wonderful series of Faberge carved animals and a gorgeous Novgorod Merchant


And that is all for day 1….. Quite a treat


The pleasure and process of book groups

I have been part of a book group for over 20 years, way before Oprah made it almost a household norm. Over time it has evolved quite dramatically although we still meet once a month. We were so serious at first. To propose a book, you had to have read it.  The host of book group was the emcee or chair of the meeting. The meeting started with an introduction on the author. Sounds a bit like an English lit class right. Oh and of course, you did not come if you had not read the book- the only reason I struggled through Portait of the Artist As A Young Man. Our group is and has always been small- less than 10 members-  and that membership has changed quite a bit over the years. Nowadays the best part of the book group is less the discussion of the book -since we no longer indulge in or force the more scholarly analysis- and more the choice of books. It is astonishing to me how such a small group has such a vast variety of interests. We read everything. Novels, biographies, history. Ok, not everything, no textbooks so far. And we have spirited discussions about the selections. Sometimes the voting has to be blind.

I know of book groups that always have a moderator- be it a teacher, professor or the author. More on that in a different post. I know of book groups that are much larger.  Our town has even started a town wide read together project. I know of book groups that focus on only one subject- Victorian novels, American history. I enjoy  the diversity of our readings. I have read books I had never heard of prior to the meetings on topics I would never have approached. This exposure has expanded my horizons and interests. Did I love all the selections-no way. But even when I did not, I came out of the meetings with a long list of other books to read that I did enjoy. Finally, in all fairness, book group also got me to read, finish and find pleasure if not enjoy books I would have stopped after a few chapters on my own.

This month we agreed to read Being Mortal and When Breath Becomes Air. As I was already reading My Life on the Line, I feel surrounded by illness, death and a small amount of hope as I read.  Pains, any pains cause a paranoid fear of cancer that my brain has to actively settle with yoga breathing. Stupid how suggestive the mind can be as you become engrossed in a tale.  But I also feel surrounded by the amazing strength of character, amount of energy, life, power and love of the writers. All of the books, which are beautifully written, sad and enlightening, address the importance of friends and family.  They also emphasize the importance of understanding what your values and beliefs are, what the vales and beliefs of the people you love are. They indirectly deal with the importance of good medical care, doctors and treatment since everyone in these books had access to the top practitioners in their respective fields.

Oprah started her book discussion club as part of the Oprah Winfrey show, in 1986, selecting a book, usually a novel to discuss every month. The club lasted 15 years and recommended over 70 books during 15 years. The first book recommended was The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacquelyn Mitchard.  Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 was launched in 2012. The first selection of Oprah 2.0 was Wild by Cheryl Strayed. The current book is much broader, operating more like your favorite small independent  bookstore

Bill Gates publishes his list of books on his blog Gatesnotes. He has been recommending books since 2010 with his first recommendation being Understanding Energy Use and Technology by David MacKay.

In 2015, Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook announced the creation of an online reading club that would read a book every two weeks. He said that he had decided on the titles based on their ability to ” emphasize learning about new cultures, beliefs, histories and technologies”. This reading club was only supposed to last one year. It had 140,000 members although unclear how many read all the books. As with both Oprah and Bill Gates there was a Mark Zuckerberg effect on the sale of books. Although I think the Oprah effect is/was the strongest. That may also have to do with the titles that are selected and their readability for a large and diverse audience. Mark Zuckerberg’s first suggestion was Moises Naims’ The end of Power.

Do you use social media to find books? @TelegraphBooks has 133,000 Twitter followers. #fridayreads, “amreading offer recommendations. I have mixed feelings about Goodreads now owned by Amazon, though I love the sampling option available on the Kindle so I can read more than just the jacket on a book to know what a book is about.  The most important part of being in a book group for me is the exposure to book titles and authors I have never heard of or considered. So what are you reading?