Queen B Visits Hammer Museum
Beyoncé Knowles’ recent visit to the Hammer Museum was not for show. That's to say, the visit probably was motivated by the singer's serious interest in visual art and not a handler's scheme to cast her in a trendy new light, now that entertainment celebrities often are seen at museum galas and exhibition openings. Beyoncé Knowles does collect art and numerous master artists are represented in her collection. But the specific intent to check out two women artists' solo shows at the Hammer Museum is great public relations for Knowles' campaign to empower women.
She visited the LA museum with her mother, Tina Knowles Lawson, and her former fellow Destiny’s Child Kelly Rowland on November 10, 2015. Tina Knowles Lawson also collects art.
The three women spent about two hours viewing exhibitions of works by Njideka Akunyili Crosby and Frances Stark. They also met a few of the museum’s curators and took a photo with assistant curator Jamillah James, who organized the Crosby show; but otherwise, Beyoncé focused on the art, said a museum spokesperson.
“She didn’t ask for any special treatment. She was really down to earth,” the museum spokesperson said. "She came up to the welcome desk and got free admission stickers just like anyone else.”
Marcus B. Smith, a Houston art advisor and collector, guided some of the art acquisitions of Beyoncé and Tina Knowles (Lawson). In 2008, Smith told IRAAA that Beyoncé Knowles had purchased works by John Biggers (an oil painting and drawings), Angelbert Metoyer, Radcliffe Bailey, Thornton Dial and Elizabeth Catlett. Biggers and Metoyer are from Beyonce’s Houston hometown.
Angelbert Metoyer elaborated on the Knowles' acquisition of his work for this article. Tina Knowles was originally introduced to Metoyer's work by Marcus Smith who sent her exhibition catalogues and self-published books by the artist. But Houston philanthropist and art collector Carolyn Farb actually introduced Tina Knowles and Metoyer.
On the day after Thanksgiving 2007 Carolyn Farb brought Tina Knowles to Metoyer's Houston studio and Beyoncé and Jay Z dropped by later, recalls Metoyer. Noting Jay Z's interest in understanding people and "why they do what they do," Metoyer says that Jay Z took a similar interest in him and urged him to meet the master artists who he (Metoyer) admires "while they are still here."
Tina Knowles commissioned Metoyer to create two works based on old family photographs. He combined the images with mirrors and glass for a holographic effect. "I was attempting to work with transparency," he explains. The two commissioned works, Family Tree 1 and Family Tree 2, were hung in Jay Z's club and presented as a surprise to Beyoncé after a special event. Metoyer believes that the Knowles-Carter family may have acquired additional works by him through a third party or gallery. Bey and Jay are very friendly and responsive, Metoyer says, but he now lives in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and has not stayed in touch with them.
In the meantime, Marcus Smith took out subscriptions to the print IRAAA for Tina and Beyoncé Knowles.
Marcus B. Smith's early interest in art was influenced by his father Gerald B. Smith who is CEO of one of America’s largest minority-owned investment firms, the Houston-based Smith Graham & Company. Gerald Smith has been collecting traditional African objects and African American art for more than 25 years. As of 2008, artists represented in Smith’s collection included John Biggers, Romare Bearden, Lois Jones, Elizabeth Catlett and Kermit Oliver.
Beyoncé, her mother and Kelly Rowland viewed detailed, intricately wrought art work during their two-hour visit to the Hammer Museum. Densely-layered images cover most of the surfaces — including the walls, furniture and floors of the interiors and clothing and skin of the figures — of Njideka Akunyili Crosby's large-scale paintings.
According to the exhibition announcement, Hammer Projects: Njideka Akunyili Crosby is comprised of a selection of the artist’s early works that primarily focus on the figure. Often appearing as the subject of her paintings, Akunyili Crosby (b. 1983, Enugu, Nigeria) is shown amid family gatherings, in contemplation, or in private moments with her European-American husband. She makes extensive use of Xerox transfer printing, a largely Western technique, to incorporate found photography into the works consisting of family photographs; images from Nigerian popular culture; clippings from political, fashion, and society magazines; and ornamental patterns from traditional textiles. Her visual sensibility recalls the work of the American artists Romare Bearden, Richard Yarde, and Mickalene Thomas, whose two-dimensional works are heavily textured through their use of color and pattern. However Akunyili Crosby casts off in a singular direction, fusing African, European, and American influences and creative traditions while pondering the personal effects of living in an increasingly global, hybridized society.
“Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s complex work considers the tension between varied influences in her life,” remarks Hammer assistant curator Jamillah James. “Her earlier paintings in the Hammer Projects show and her new body of work in The Beautyful Ones are unified by their technical rigor and the confidence of their subjects.”
The Beautyful Ones companion exhibition (which the Knowles and Rowland did not view) is at the Hammer’s Art + Practice site in Leimert Park. Together, the shows reflect on Crosby’s Nigerian heritage, contemporary postcolonial African cosmopolitanism, and her experiences as an expatriate in the United States where she has lived since 1999. And they provide an important counter-narrative to the often-troubled representation of Africa’s complex political and social conditions.
The other Hammer show that Beyoncé, her mother and Rowland visited, UH OH: Frances Stark 1991-2015, is the most comprehensive survey to date of the L.A.-based artist Frances Stark (b. 1967, Newport Beach, CA).
On view to January 24, 2016, the exhibition brings together more than two decades of Stark’s poetic compositions and autobiographical reflections. The 125 works include Stark’s early carbon drawings, intricate collages, and mixed media paintings as well as her more recent videos. Some of the works use of text including words and phrases from pop songs and literature with imagery to create visual material that evokes the process of writing and explores doubt and pride, beauty, motherhood, artistry, class, literature, education, and communication.
— Juliette Harris