'The New Black Vanguard: Photography Between Art and Fashion' Opens This Weekend at Cleveland Museum of Art

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click to enlarge Gold Finger, New York, 2019.Adrienne Raquel (American, b. 1990). - Image courtesy of Aperture, NewYork, 2019. ©Adrienne Raquel
Image courtesy of Aperture, NewYork, 2019. ©Adrienne Raquel
Gold Finger, New York, 2019.Adrienne Raquel (American, b. 1990).

Art and fashion photography fuse in 'The New Black Vanguard: Photography Between Art and Fashion' presented by the Cleveland Museum of Art in collaboration with curator and art critic Antwaun Sargent who put out a book by the same title.

The exhibition, which opens Sunday and runs through Sept. 11, crosses genres and bends outmoded boundaries while challenging the idea that Blackness is homogenous. The show also meditates on Black bodies and Black lives as subject matter in art and fashion.

This vibrant exhibition highlights 15 pioneering creatives including Tyler Mitchell, the first African American to shoot a cover for Vogue in the magazine’s 125-year history, and Awol Erizku, whose work has appeared in Vogue, GQ, the New York Times and at the Museum of Modern Art.

A wide breath of contexts will be represented in this show, with artists from New York and Johannesburg to Lagos and London, whose work has adorned the pages of traditional lifestyle magazines, ad campaigns, and been showcased in museums.

Along with the aesthetic exploration in these works, there are intellectual and sociopolitical questions raised about how the lens of Euro-centric dogma has skewed how Black bodies have been portrayed in art and fashion. It is in the works and images in this show where we see Black bodies presented by Black artists, stylists and designers who are able to deconstruct former stigmas and biases in efforts to recondition peoples’ perspectives on Black bodies and how they’ve been portrayed in art and fashion.

“Historically, representations of Black lives, bodies, and experiences in art were limited to non-Black, usually Eurocentric/American interpretations, which often offered stereotypical perspectives that negated the wide and authentic spectrum of Blackness,” said Darnell Lisby, Assistant Curator, CMA. “Moreover, since art is an extension of the broader society, imagery associated with Black stereotypes dominated societal perceptions of Black experience…American Quil Lemons and South African-born Jamal Nxedlana shine a spotlight on the bravery of Black queer men, or male-presenting individuals, who live authentic lives despite expectations based in hyper masculinity placed upon them by members of Black communities and the world. The photographs of Cleveland-born Adrienne Raquel show how Black women reclaim their sexuality and use it as a form of power. Dana Scruggs defies colorism norms that favor lighter skin over darker, empowering Black people—especially Black women—to embrace the beauty of their skin and defy the unjust societal standards around beauty. While the artists in the exhibition illuminate a vast range of Black experiences through fashion, they share a common trait: they are Black artists reclaiming space to tell their stories instead of having them dictated by whiteness.”

The collaborative nature of fashion and celebrity photography — including work by stylists — is brought to the forefront in this exhibition.

The exhibition was organized by Aperture, a not-for-profit foundation that connects the photographic community and audiences. For the exhibition in Cleveland specifically, there will be fashion vignettes by three of the stylists represented in the show. Arielle Bobb-Willis and Daniel Obasi, who work both as stylists and photographers, and stylist Jermaine Daley each  will produce three-dimensional installations to demonstrate the important role stylists play in the world of fashion and photography.

“Here in Cleveland, we decided to make a unique addition to the show that would underline the collaborative nature of fashion photography and the central role occupied by the stylist,” explains Barbara Tannenbaum, Chair of Prints, Drawings, and Photography and Curator of Photography, CMA. “Darnell Lisby, Sarah Scaturro, and Barbara Tannenbaum, in consultation with Antwaun Sargent, selected three of the stylists represented in the exhibition and asked them to create fashion installations of clothing on mannequins just for Cleveland. These vignettes will also demonstrate the difference in viewing fashion in person versus through the photographer’s lens.”

Fashion photography is all around us, and chances are it has influenced your decisions as a consumer.

“At the end of the day, fashion photography has a commercial function – whether it’s to sell a product, a trend, or cultivate an aspiration," concludes Sarah Scaturro, Eric and Jane Nord Chief Conservator, CMA. “So, a fashion photograph speaks volumes about what culture and capitalism values. This includes who and what is in the photograph, what the model is doing, who shoots the photograph, and how props and clothes are placed. The power of this exhibition is that it intentionally foregrounds Blackness and asserts the primacy of Black creativity within fashion.”

The show offers combination ticket pricing which includes admission to Alberto Giacometti: Toward the Ultimate Figure, which is on view from March 12 to June 12, 2022.

While at CMA, one might also want to check out the 'Currents and Constellations: Black Art in Focus' exhibition which is on view for free through June 26, 2022 in the Julia and Larry Pollock Focus Gallery | Gallery 010.
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