NNENNA OKORE in the Wall Street Journal

20 Jan
 wall street journal logo

Paintings of a Caricaturist, Plus Two Sculptors

David Levine, Nnenna Okore and Juan Muñoz in Fine Art

Nnenna Okore: Twist and Turns

David Krut Projects

526 W. 26th St., (212) 255-3094

Through Jan. 17

‘Transitions’ (2013) by Nnenna Okore.
‘Transitions’ (2013) by Nnenna Okore. NNENNA OKORE/DAVID KRUT PROJECTS, NEW YORK

To Western art-world eyes, a lot of work made by contemporary artists with non-Western backgrounds is technically impressive but aesthetically a little suspicious. That is, we sense it looks good mostly because considerable labor and careful craft have gone into it. Because it often contains exotic or folkish materials, it has a kind of guaranteed visual floor under it. Whatever else happens, it won’t look outrightly bad.

In the hurly-burly of today’s big-city gallery scenes (especially New York’s), this can be a disadvantage. But it is one that the Nigerian-American sculptor, Nnenna Okore (b. 1975) overcomes. Not that Ms. Okore—who is an art professor in Chicago—avoids the problem; she actually doubles down on it.

Having spent an apprentice year under the internationally successful Ghanaian artist El Anatsui (whose fabriclike wall pieces, made of bits of refuse metal in his studio in Nigeria, grace a plethora of modern art museums), Ms. Okore has worked with sewing, dyeing, weaving and other unconventional processes.

For this exhibition, the artist has pared down the materials in her complex, weblike relief sculptures. The three-part, 10-foot-wide “Transitions” (2013), for example, consists of newspaper stiffened and colored with acrylic paint. Ms. Okore’s palette tends toward muted, organic greens and reds and, in some works, black. Although her art’s initial impact is that of the easy good looks that come with craft and applied African traditions, the emotional intensity in this exhibition lifts Ms. Okore’s work to a higher level.

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