Queen B Visits Hammer Museum

Juliette Harris

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.  

Beyoncé, Hammer Museum assistant curator Jamillah James and Kelly Rowland at the Hammer Museum.  Courtesy, Hammer MuseumShe 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 (Deborah Colton Gallery)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.  

Njideka  Akunyili Crosby, I Refuse to be Invisible, 2010, ink, charcoal, acrylic and transfers on paper, 120 x 84.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, And We Begin To Let Go, 2013, acrylic, charcoal, pastel, marble dust, collage and transfers on paper, 84. ×105”  Image courtesy of the artist. Photo: Jason Wyche“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.

Frances Stark, My Best Thing, 2011. Digital video, color, sound.,100:00 min. Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. Purchase. Image courtesy of Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York.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.