Paul Mpagi Sepuya’s photography — a style of portraiture that reveals dynamics of power, sexuality, and cultural norms — has become a favorite both in and outside of the art world. Case in point: His work appeared on the cover of Artforum earlier this year and then, on the cover of Vogue Ukraine. His signature, which usually involves deconstructed elements of sets and his own (often naked) body, may leave viewers wondering: Which person in this image took the photo? What is their body language trying to tell us? And, perhaps more obviously: Is it OK that I’m aroused by this?
These arresting photos make Sepuya one of the most interesting artists of our time, but it was in this year’s Whitney Biennial that his genius further unfolded. The photographs, “a collaborative and co-authored group project,” each featured his friends and inspirations, who shared attribution. Sometimes you would only catch glimpses of Sepuya (an arm, or just his hands).
“So much has grown in terms of my work and its audience in the past few years,” he says. “I couldn’t be doing this without the longevity of friendships and collaboration, because every project requires the foundation of what came before it.”
If there is one to watch in the art world, rest assured it’s Diedrick Brackens. The weaver — who makes “large-scale wall and floor works” — recently celebrated his first institutional solo exhibition in New York at the New Museum. There, in the museum’s expansive lobby, guests experienced his colorful tapestries, which typically depict scenes from his life growing up as a queer Black man in the South.
“The weavings I make often ask questions about violence and seek to answer my own questions about what tenderness looks like,” Brackens says. But, while many art critics and reviewers have noted the personal or biographical nature of his work, Brackens intends for his art to stretch beyond the self. “I hope [it] is read in multiple ways, and speaks to folks who identify in a multitude of ways. Ultimately, I see the world through this Black queer lens, and that is the space from which I create and the set of experiences I hope to amplify.”
While Brackens gears up for what’s sure to be an even bigger set of accomplishments next year — he tells us he’s hoping to make a “return to [the Out100]” — he also has some simpler goals: “Buy real estate, learn more about the history of fashion, work out...and meet the man of my dreams.”
It’s hard not to marvel at the fantastic, often glittering works of art created by Raúl de Nieves, a darling of the art world who’s clocked all the right accomplishments to indicate his destiny for greatness, including his features in the Whitney Biennial, MoMA PS1, Documenta and Performa, and beyond. But this year, de Nieves celebrated his first-ever solo museum exhibition, called Fina, at the Cleveland Museum of Art at the Transformer Station. This particular exhibit was “characterized by the artist’s ongoing interest in transforming humble materials into spectacular objects that alter the spaces around them.”
Hailing from México, de Nieves has a distinctly queer knack for turning the ordinary into something extraordinary, a talent that was on display during his Company Gallery show, “As Far As UUU Take Me.” There, sculptures, masks, and stained glass windows created a fantasy that seemed otherworldly, but also, familiar — safe, even.
“I feel like my art has been an inspiration for many people, specially because of my race and background,” de Nieves says. “And also, the fact that I didn’t attend school allows others to see that motivation and drive are key elements to self-realization.”
As for what’s next for the artist, he wants to continue his growth, but he’s also focusing a bit more on the personal. “I want to be able to be closer to people, and form stronger bonds with those I love.”
This year, the award-winning filmmaker and visual artist Wu Tsang celebrated the opening of her largest solo exhibition yet at the Berlin-based Gropius Bau museum. This was a major accomplishment for Tsang, whose work focuses on creating art that challenges the definitions of binaries by showcasing what she refers to as “in-betweenness.”
But while her art is meant to be received, viewed, and maybe even analyzed, Tsang resists the urge to fall into the trap of traditional representation. “I think it’s not about being seen,” she told Artnews. “I’m thinking of image-making as a kind of ritual practice that will reflect something back.”
It’s partly this much-needed analysis of “visibility” that makes Tsang such an interesting artist, particularly as she’s had immense appeal and admiration beyond the art world. In November, she debuted ALL IT TOOK, a documentary starring the musician Kelela. According to the New Museum, the film “spans five years” and explores “the singer’s adaptability and fluidity within a system largely built on market constraints and notions of a (racialized) fixed image.”
“I see fashion photography as journalism, and art as a way to attack history,” says the photographer Collier Schorr. “I work inside, but that doesn’t mean I’m an insider.”
And therein lies the secret to Schorr’s formula of success: She is one of the most in-demand photographers in the game, precisely because it’s places like the fashion industry that need her lens, her talent, her eye to show them something they’ve never seen before. This year’s credentials include everything from photographing representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez for the cover of Time and appearing naked on the cover of art-world staple frieze magazine, to capturing supermodels her own age for Vogue Italia.But, after years of being at the top of her game, it’s easy to wonder: What keeps Schorr so motivated?
“My community,” she says, “gives me ammunition to express myself, gives me an agenda to push, and makes me feel like I’m not alone. It’s been a horrific year in many ways, but a huge step forward for visibility. If we lose sight of that, we’ll lose grasp on our collective power.”