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British Fashion Designer Grace Wales Bonner is Curating ‘Artist’s Choice’ Exhibition at Museum of Modern Art This Fall


HENRI CARTIER-BRESSON, “Washington, D.C.,” 1957 (gelatin silver print, 6 3/4 × 10 inches / 17.1 × 25.4 cm). | Gift of John C. Waddell. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2023 Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos, courtesy Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris

 

The practice of Wales Bonner is informed by Black art, history, and culture. She is presenting a selection of about 50 artworks from MoMA’s collection

 

THE HIGHLY REGARDED DESIGNS of Grace Wales Bonner are grounded in British tailoring, have referenced Haile Selassie and Jacob Lawrence, and are based on rigorous cultural research. Her latest project is also the result of research. After years exploring the Museum of Modern Art’s collection, Wales Bonner is organizing “Artist’s Choice: Grace Wales Bonner—Spirit Movers” at the New York museum.

Featuring works by an international slate of inter-generational artists including Terry Adkins, Anthony Barboza, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Moustapha Dimé, Agnes Martin, Man Ray, Betye Saar, and David Hammons, the exhibition opens Nov. 18.

MoMA’s exhibition announcement states that the show will “focus on Black cultural and aesthetic practices inspired by the styles, experiences, forms, and sounds of the African diaspora” and, according to Wales Bonner’s concept of spirit movers, showcase works that “evoke multiple histories, inspire contemplation, and conjure new connections between people and places.” The exhibition will reflect the complex mix of references that inspire her fashion collections. About 50 works will be on view.

“Grace Wales Bonner has changed the way we see style—not only as surface but as structure,” said MoMA exhibition curator Michelle Kuo. “Every detail of her polymathic designs, publications, exhibitions, and films is related to long histories, deep archives, and cultural identities across the diasporic world.

“Grace Wales Bonner has changed the way we see style—not only as surface but as structure. Every detail of her polymathic designs, publications, exhibitions, and films is related to long histories, deep archives, and cultural identities across the diasporic world.” MoMA Curator Michelle Kuo

 


Grace Wales Bonner. | Photo by Liz Johnson Artur

 

AFTER GRADUATING FROM CENTRAL SAINT MARTINS in London in 2014, she launched her eponymous label, Wales Bonner. Drawing on her British Jamaican heritage, her calling card is clothing that “proposes a distinct notion of cultural luxury that infuses European heritage with an Afro Atlantic spirit.”

The fashion industry took notice immediately. In 2015, Wales Bonner won the prize for Emerging Menswear Designer at the British Fashion Awards and followed up with the LVMH Young Designer award in 2016. Appreciation for her talent has endured. More recently, Wales Bonner was recognized with the CFDA International Men’s Designer of the Year award (2021). Along the way, she has benefitted from industry prizes that include mentorship: the British Fashion Council/Vogue Designer Fashion Fund (2019) and last month, the British Fashion Council/GQ Designer Fashion Fund award.

At the same time, Wales Bonner is no stranger to the art world. From the outset, she has been building an interdisciplinary fashion brand. She has found an audience for her menswear and womenswear among creatives, cultural historians, and style mavens, while thinking more expansively about the lens through which she expresses herself and presents her ideas around aesthetics, visual language, and cultural meaning.

Wales Bonner has found an audience for her menswear and womenswear among creatives, cultural historians, and style mavens, while thinking more expansively about the lens through which she expresses herself and presents her ideas around aesthetics, visual language, and cultural meaning.

In 2019, the fashion designer presented “Grace Wales Bonner: A Time for New Dreams” at Serpentine Galleries in London. The exhibition featured multi-sensory installations by Black Audio Film Collective, Rashid Johnson, Liz Johnson Artur, Kapwani Kiwanga, Eric N. Mack, and Paul Mpagi Sepuya, among others.

The show was accompanied by a series of events and concluded with the staging of Wales Bonner’s Autumn/Winter 2019 collection, Mumbo Jumbo. The collection gave a nod to author/activist Ishmael Reed and borrowed its name from a volume of essays by Ben Okri. The runway show took place in the exhibition gallery and the first model sported a varsity look emblazoned with the name “Ishmael Reed.” Okri read a poem and Reed played jazz.

 


MOUSTAPHA DIMÉ, “Lady with a Long Neck.” 1992 (wood, iron and paint, 6′ 8 1/2 x 39 x 12 inches / 204.5 x 99 x 30.5 cm). | Gift of Agnes Gund and Daniel Shapiro. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo by Jonathan Muzikar. Moustapha Dimé © 2023 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

WALES BONNER COLLABORATES WITH a spectrum of artists, photographers, writers, and poets and each collection she produces is accompanied by a narrative that tells the story of the clothes and the characters she envisioned as she designed them.

The introduction of Spirituals II, Wales Bonner’s Autumn/Winter 2017 collection, references second-generation Windrush and Ralph Ellison‘s novel “Invisible Man” and includes a poem by artist Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. The Blues Duets collection for Spring/Summer 2018, invoked a retrospective series by Hilton Als at the Artist’s Institute at Hunter College, including an essay excerpt by Als titled “James Baldwin/Jim Brown and the Children.”

A selection of tops, jackets, and pants from the Autumn/Winter 2018 menswear collection featured prints based on images from Jacob Lawrence paintings. Wales Bonner launched a partnership with Adidas in 2020. The first Adidas Originals capsule collection featured shoes and clothing with a 1970s vibe inspired by Bob Marley and dancehall.

Photographers such as Jeano Edwards, Tyler Mitchell, and Jalan and Jibril Durimel, have worked with Wales Bonner on images, campaign videos, and short films promoting the collections and visualizing the narratives on which they are based.

Last year, the label collaborated with Kerry James Marshall on a limited-edition capsule collection featuring two T-shirts benefitting Study and Struggle, a Mississippi-based organization focused on abolishing the prison industrial complex and empowering people who are incarcerated through political education, mutual aid, and community building.

 


BENJAMIN PATTERSON, “Paper Piece,” 1960 (ink on two sheets of paper with mailed envelope, sheet (.a, folded): 8 3/4 x 6 7/8 inches / 22.2 x 17.5 cm); sheet (.b (irreg.)): 8 3/4 x 6 7/8 inches (22.2 x 17.5 cm); sheet (.c): 4 1/2 x 8 inches (11.4 x 20.3 cm). | The Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection Gift. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2023 Ben Patterson

 

THE LATEST WOMENSWEAR COLLECTION (Autumn/Winter 2023) features “Man in a Shirt Drawer” (2017-18) by British, Turner Prize-winning artist Lubaina Himid reprinted on a silk scarf.

Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama narrated a short film for Horizon Blues, Wales Bonner’s Spring/Summer 2023 collection. Mahama works with jute sacks, which are ever present in trade markets in Ghana and speak to issues of migration, globalization, commodity, and economic exchange.

In the video, Mahama said, “One of the first times when I had a conversation with Grace, I thought it was particularly interesting how she was thinking about her fabrics in relation to space. A lot of these places that she’s collecting these ideas or fabrics from, they come with maybe certain specific histories, so I’m very much interested in the weights that the history comes with…”

“Her spring 2017 collection was as close as any might come to career defining. The clothing was dignified and regal, but instead of looking to historical depictions of European royalty or Asian dynasties for inspiration, which is standard practice in fashion, Wales Bonner turned to Africa. She paid homage to the coronation of Haile Selassie I, who was emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974,” Washington Post Fashion Critic Robin Givhan wrote in a profile of Wales Bonner in November 2022.

“The elegance of her collection defied the cliches, assumptions and prejudices about this vast part of the world. Most often, designers in Europe and the United States turn to Africa to express some variation on primitive or tribal. Wales Bonner evoked majesty.”

“The elegance of her collection defied the cliches, assumptions and prejudices about this vast part of the world. Most often, designers in Europe and the United States turn to Africa to express some variation on primitive or tribal. Wales Bonner evoked majesty.” — Fashion Critic Robin Givhan

 


TERRY ADKINS, “Last Trumpet,” 1995 (brass and sousaphone and trombone bells, four parts, each 216 × 24 × 24 inches / 548.6 × 61 × 61 cm). | Gift of David Booth; and gift of Mr. and Mrs. Murray Thompson (by exchange). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © Terry Adkins, Courtesy of the Estate of Terry Adkins

 

AT MOMA, WALES BONNER is bringing together works that explore an array of perspectives and histories. Themes of materiality, musicality, and storytelling are at the center of “Artist’s Choice: Grace Wales Bonner—Spirit Movers.” Selections span a variety of mediums with key works including Terry Adkins’s “Last Trumpet” (1995), “Lady with a Long Neck” (1992) by Senegalese artist Moustapha Dimé, and “Afro Asian Eclipse (or Black China)” (1978) by David Hammons. It will be on view for the first time since the museum acquired the work, which was gifted by the Hudgins Family in 2016.

Inspired by the Duke Ellington album The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse (1971), with this work Hammons is making a statement about the relationship between Afro-Atlantic and Afro-Pacific cultures. The work combines hair the artist collected from barbershop floors with paint on wire mesh with thread and paper mounted on a fabric scroll.

The exhibition will be accompanied by an artist’s book envisioned as “an archive of soulful expression.” Kuo said: “Like her exhibition, this book is a deeply personal meditation on and around modern Black expression—and it reflects Wales Bonner’s commitment to archival research as both a form of spirituality and an aesthetic practice.”

The book is titled “Grace Wales Bonner: Dream in the Rhythm—Visions of Sound and Spirit in the MoMA Collection.” Delving even further than the exhibition into MoMA’s collection and archive, the volume will feature nearly 80 works, creating a conversation between images, music, performance, and text, with poems and writings by seminal Black figures representing the past century, including Amiri Baraka, Nikki Giovanni, Langston Hughes, June Jordan, Robin Coste Lewis, Ishmael Reed, Greg Tate, Jean Toomer, Quincy Troupe, and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye.

“It is an immense honor to engage with the artists and works in MoMA’s collection, and I wish to extend my deepest thanks to the museum for allowing me the space to create so freely,” said Wales Bonner. “I hope the exhibition and associated publication resound with the spirit of the contributing artists and continue to conjure new dreams and new visions.” CT

 

Coming Soon: “Artist’s Choice: Grace Wales Bonner—Spirit Movers,” (Nov. 18, 2023-April 7, 2024), Museum of Modern Art, New York, N.Y., organized by Grace Wales Bonner with Michelle Kuo, Marlene Hess Curator in the Department of Painting and Sculpture, and Dana Liljegren, curatorial assistant. The show will be on view in the museum’s fist floor galleries, which are free and open to the public.

 

FIND MORE about Wales Bonner on the label’s website

FIND MORE about “Grace Wales Bonner: A Time for New Dreams” at Serpentine Galleries from the exhibition guide

FIND MORE about A Magazine Curated by Grace Wales Bonner, published in 2021 here and here

 


MATHIAS GOERITZ, “Message Number 7B, Ecclesiastes VII: 6,” 1959 (nails, metal foils, oil, and iron on wood panel, 17 7/8 x 13 5/8 x 3 3/8 inches / 45.1 x 34.5 x 8.4 cm). | Gift of Philip Johnson. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. D.R. © Mathias Goeritz 1959, License by L.M. Daniel Goeritz y Galeria La Caja Negra, Madrid

 


ANTHONY BARBOZA, “Reggie Nicholson, Henry Threadgill Sextet, Village Vanguard, New York City,” 1988 (gelatin silver print, 14 1/2 × 21 5/16 inches / 36.8 × 54.2 cm). | Geraldine J. Murphy Fund. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2023 Anthony Barboza

 

BOOKSHELF
A forthcoming book titled “Grace Wales Bonner: Dream in the Rhythm—Visions of Sound and Spirit in the MoMA Collection” will be published by the Museum of Modern Art to accompany Wales Bonner’s “Artist’s Choice” exhibition. The museum recently published the exhibition catalogs “Just Above Midtown: Changing Spaces” and “Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America.” From MoMA’s One on One seres, “Betye Saar: Black Girl’s Window,” “Faith Ringgold: Die,” and “Ming Smith: The Invisible Man,” each focus on single works of art.

 

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