Isaac Julien’s Momentous Moment: Burst of Deserved Attention

When I singled out Isaac Julien‘s five-screen video installation—“Once Again . . . (Statues Never Die)”—as one of my two top picks from the current Whitney Biennial (to Aug. 11), I was as yet unaware of his other notable recent attainments.

Here’s an update to the Julien news:

—He served as curator for the current Richmond Barthé: A New Day Is Coming (to May 31) at Michael Rosenfeld Gallery in NYC—a venue that for many years has showcased works by important black artists (notably this one). Rosenfeld’s press release calls Barthé “a quintessential artist of the Harlem Renaissance….During his years in New York (1929–1948), Barthé became a key figure in an elite milieu of creatives and intellectuals who discretely incorporated gay themes into their work.Though Barthé was never open about his sexuality, his frequent portrayals of the male nude were recognized as expressions of homoerotic desire by his friends and peers in the art and literary world.” This is Rosenfeld’s first solo exhibition for Barthé, who “has been an important presence in the gallery’s program for nearly 35 years.”

Barthé’s work is represented in the Met’s current Harlem Renaissance show by two bronze figures, including this one:

Barthe 1
Richmond Barthé ,”Feral Benga” [dancer François Benga], 1935-36
Boston Museum of Fine Arts

—Julien designed for the Apr. 24 Art Bash gala at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art “an immersive dinner experience…featuring photography and large-scale images from the artist’s series Ten Thousand Waves (in the words of the museum’s announcement).

—He received the 2024 Art Icon Award from the Whitechapel Gallery, London. (Previous winners have included: Rachel Whiteread (2019), Francis Alÿs (2020), Yinka Shonibare (2021), Tracey Emin (2022), Jenny Holzer (2023).

All of which is to say is that 2024 is shaping up to be a banner year on many fronts for Sir Isaac, a British artist, who in 2017 was named as Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for services to the arts and in 2022 was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II of England, shortly before her death:

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