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Who’s Who in American Art?

Discover who’s who in American art with this short but comprehensive guide to a few of our curators' favourite contemporary American artists.

By Sophie Heatley | 21 Jun 2021

Over the last century, thousands of noteworthy individuals have entered the art scene in the USA, from top curators and critics to pioneering painters and photographers. So, who is the creme de la creme, and why? According to our curators, this is where to begin.

 

David Wojnarowicz (1954–1992)

Self-Portrait by David Wojnarowicz (courtesy of Whitney Museum of American Art)

 

To a soundtrack of political precarity and spiritual revolution, David Wojnarowicz created radical works of timeless activism. He challenged ideas around the queer experience, love, loss, and the destructive nature of the American myth. A veritable multimedia powerhouse, his oeuvre spanned photography, painting, film, sculpture, writing, music and more. 

Some of his most forceful and memorable works protested government inaction against the HIV/AIDs crisis. David was thirty-seven when he died from AIDS-related complications, but his passion for countercultural art and refusal to be defined by any structure lives on.

 

Catherine Opie 

Self-Portrait/Nursing by Catherine Opie (courtesy of the Guggenheim)

 

Also infiltrating the counterculture circle is world-famous photographer Catherine Opie. Catherine is celebrated for her powerful photography, mixing traditional portraiture with more unusual means. The influential contemporanean examines the ideology behind the American dream and American identity. 

Her work – sometimes autobiographical, always politically charged – observes the connections and ruptures between mainstream and infrequent society. Informed by her experiences as a lesbian and spurred by a deep desire to explore the inner life of her subjects, Catherine’s work is at once personal and invasive, sensitive and revealing.

 

Juliana Huxtable

Untitled (Casual Power) by Juliana Huxtable (courtesy of the Guggenheim)

 

American artist, writer, performer, DJ, and co-founder of the NYC nightlife project Shock Value, Juliana Huxtable traverses the intersections of race, gender, queerness, and identity within a historical and contemporary cultural context. With a particular interest in internet communities and the virtual transformation of self, Juliana, who is transgender, explores ideas around gender fluidity with hybrid human-creature avatars and pacey video performances. 

The New York Times referred to the "artistic polymath" as having “pushed the limits of genre, exploring ideas about gender and politics in nearly every form imaginable,” – they’re not wrong. Her hyper-modern and often sexualised portraiture intentionally rejects categorisation. In this way, Juliana targets the forces that attempt to condition, shape and repress individual expression. 

 

Gray Wielebinski

Two Snakes by Gray Wielebinski (courtesy of the artist's website)

 

Born in 1991, Gray Wielebinski works with video, performance, installation, sculpture, collage and more. His wide-ranging portfolio articulates the many realities in which we live, while at the same time presenting an alternative, imaginative universe. Integral to Gray’s highly nuanced practice is the subversion of meanings and contexts to question the many belief systems ensconced in contemporary culture. 

Elements of mythology and the mundane collide in playful and thought-provoking ways. Gray confronts conflicting materials and recycles iconography and visual codes into new, ironic and arresting forms. Patching together imagery of classical antiquity and modern cultural phenomena, Gray’s collages and sculptures – with their loveable, carnivalesque qualities – resist all duality and structures of power. 

 

Salman Toor

Downtown Boys by Salmon Toor (courtesy of the artist's website)

 

New York-based Salman Toor was born in Lahore, Pakistan, in 1983 and now resides in East Village, NYC. His oscillating and insightful figurative works explore the many anxieties and changing states of identity, particularly for young queer men of colour and other marginalised bodies residing between New York and South Asia. His paintings examine the precarious space the queer and diasporic community occupy in contemporary public and private sectors.

Drawing from various gender and racial tropes, Salman looks at how the self and others perceive difference. Combining traditional, academic techniques and spontaneous, sketch-like styles, Salman instils his works with a nostalgic and longing atmosphere. Unspoken tensions and personal stories, nevertheless, seep through his allegorical canvases.

 

Corey Lamb

Nocturnal by Corey Lamb (courtesy of the artist's Instagram)

 

Texas-born artist Corey Lamb explores the extraordinary ordinariness of existence through painting. Corey looks at how our individual experiences stand out against a broad cultural tapestry of shared history. The artist cobbles together disparate narratives constructed around simple gestures and familiar motifs, resulting in works that shock for their relatability. Assertive yet instinctive applications of oil paint, acrylic and spray marks are used to highlight the malleable nature of reality and the many roles we play throughout our lives. With a particular emphasis on relationships and sex, Corey’s abstract paintings are fleshy, mocking and erotic with an unignorable sense of melancholy and theatre.

 

Rachael Tarravechia

Manhattan by Rachel Tarravechia (courtesy of the artist's Instgram)

 

Rachael Tarravechia stands out for her glorious candy-coloured scenes. Rachael's exuberantly coloured paintings examine the relationship between pop culture, the media, luxury fashion and social expectations. Bearing clear influences from Alice Neel and Takashi Murakami, her cartoonish works are intentionally maximalist and bright. Defined by organised, curated chaos, pink, glitter, and rhinestones galore emblazon displays of glamourous excess. Fairy dust and rabbit fur abound in pieces such as Memento Mori and Manhattan that seek to overindulge in fantasy while simultaneously presenting the emptiness of high fashion. Her latest paintings explore the need for grandeur in daily life, critiquing and admiring the impact of global designers such as Missoni, Louis Vuitton and Alexander McQueen.

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