Born in Harlem and raised in the Bronx, Larry Ossei-Mensah discovered the power of art and its ability to transform the way in which we view the world at a young age, as the graffiti that covered the subway cars and streets in the ‘80s captivated his eye. The self-taught curator held a day job in marketing while he absorbed everything in the art world, reading books, visiting countless exhibitions and artist studios has traveled the globe to look at art and visit artist studios, from Ghana — from where his family originates, to Detroit — where Ossei-Mensah served as a curator for the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, and to Greece — where Ossei-Mensah is co-curating the upcoming Athens Biennale this spring. Now fully established, the curator champions emerging artists of color, helping them to earn a presence in the predominantly white art world.
The artists he’s worked with run the gamut, and include Firelei Baez, Allison Janae Hamilton, Brendan Fernades, Ebony G. Patterson, Glenn Kaino and Stanley Whitney. Ossei-Mensah also co-founded ARTNOIR, a non-profit organization that started as a group of friends who loved to go see art together and has evolved into a group that looks “to make traditionally exclusive art world spaces feel colorful, inclusive and welcoming” and cultivate the next generation of Black and Brown curators, creators, and collectors.
Back in New York, Ossei-Mensah recently curated Let Freedom Ring, a digital billboard tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on view through January 22 that features work by Derrick Adams, Alvin Armstrong, Laylah Amatullah Barrayn, Lizania Cruz, Kameelah Janan Rasheed, Hank Willis Thomas, and Jasmine Wahi for the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Atoms joined Larry recently as he toured around the galleries of Chelsea, one of New York’s most prominent art districts. If you find yourself in New York City with an urge to see art, here are Ossei Mensah’s must-see spots. Watch the video above to discover the artists and galleries he selected, from Jack Whitten at Hauser & Wirth, to Nina Chanel Abney at Jack Shainman.
Ossei-Mensah highlights the late artist Jack Whitten’s work from the ‘90s from the exhibition I AM THE OBJECT. Whitten was among the few Black artists whose contemporaries were part of the Abstract Expressionist movement in the ‘50s and ‘60s. In this body of work the artist used materials like acrylic, recycled glass, plywood, and eggshells to create abstract mosaics that references historical figures, like in “Mask II: For Ronald Brown” (1996), which pays tribute to Ronald Brown, Bill Clinton’s press secretary who passed away unexpectedly in a plane crash. Hauser & Wirth also exhibits artists like Amy Sherald, who painted Michelle Obama’s portrait; and Mark Bradford; who represented the United States in the 2017 Venice Biennale, and multimedia artist Lorna Simpson, who is known for her photographic collages. 542 West 22nd Street, New York, +1 212 790 3900
Ossei-Mensah, then went to Jack Shainman to see the work of his old friend Nina Chanel Abney, whose bold, angular, figurative paintings depict Black subjects being. One painting in particular, of someone on a bike, resonated with Ossei-Mensah, who recalled the joy of the long bike rides in the summer as the threat of COVID-19 loomed. Jack Shainman also represents a number of artists, including Hank Willis Thomas, whose work is imbued with social justice, Paul Anthony Smith, and Civil Rights-era photographer Gordon Parks, who depicted Muhammed Ali as he traveled throughout a segregated South to compete and train. 524 West 24th Street, New York, +1 212 645 1701
Ossei-Mensah visited Pace Gallery’s two locations on West 25th Street to see the work of D.C.-based painter Sam Gilliam. Gilliam came of age in D.C.’s Civil Rights era, expanding on the notion of color-field painting through carefully draped abstract works. In his debut exhibition with Pace, Gilliam demonstrated his knowledge of the use of color though bold, pyramid shaped sculptures. In another body of work, he pays tribute to strong Black women in the abstract painting “Heroines, Beyoncé, Serena and Althea” (2020), in which bright hues of blue, yellow, and red are contrasted against a black background. Pace also exhibits conceptual artists Torkwase Dyson, Adam Pendleton, and abstractionist Agnes Martin. 540 West 25th Street and 510 West 25th Street, New York, +1 212 421 3292
Next, the curator walked to Mitchell-Innes & Nash to see the work of emerging painter Gideon Appah, who is from Ghana, like Ossei-Mensah’s family. The exhibition, titled Blue Boys Blues. In the exhibition, Appah placed figurative subjects in magical, fantasy-like settings, calling upon memory and tradition as he referenced in both metropolitan and intimate settings. Mitchell-Innes & Nash also shows the work of painter Eddie Martinez, conceptual digital artist Jacolby Satterwhite, and legendary performance artist Pope.L. 534 West 26th Street, New York, +1 212 744 7400
After, Ossei-Mensah went to Ross + Kramer, where he’s curating an upcoming exhibition, to see the work of Ana Benaroya, who Ossei-Mensah met when she was completing her MFA in Painting at Yale. Her work depicts colorful bulbous, exaggerated women who exude confidence, sexuality, and a no-nonsense attitude. Ross + Kramer also shows artists Ludovic Nkoth, February James, and Anna Park. 515 West 27th Street, New York, +1 917 675 7293
In 2017, Sanford Biggers traveled to Rome to participate in a residency at the American Academy in Rome as part of the Rome Prize. In the exhibition, Soft Truths [https://marianneboeskygallery.com/exhibitions/6-sanford-biggers-soft-truths/press_release_text/], Biggers displays marble sculptures that juxtapose ancient Greco-Roman sculpture with African sculpture, shifting the idea of what should be centered in art history. The artist works in a number of mediums — paintings, drawings, sculpture, textiles, films, mixed-media installation, music and performance — combining the classical and contemporary in response to historical instances of oppression in the African and Black communities. Marianne Boesky also represents artists Frank Stella, The Haas Brothers, and Ghada Amer. 507 West 24th Street, New York, +1 212 680 9889