They are fearless, and their works are among the season’s exciting shows. Drawing on memories and research, they propose new ways to live with our histories.
“Death doesn’t have to be a morbid thing,” Diamond Stingily said.
A sculptor and installation artist whose star is rapidly rising, Ms. Stingily is enacting her demise — again. Her first exhibition, in Chicago five years ago, was staged as a funeral, complete with flower arrangement and obituary. Her new show at Queer Thoughts, in TriBeCa, opening May 4, will include sleek metal-coated death masks, made from a mold of her face that friends helped her take.
“It’s a self-portrait in a way,” she said. “Because I can’t paint.”
It’s more than that, of course. When she senses an imminent life change, Ms. Stingily, who is also a poet and has kept journals since childhood, takes control of her story. Her “funeral” was her farewell to her home city when she knew it was time for fresh horizons; soon after, she came to New York, invited by the artist Martine Syms to participate in a video work, and stuck around with $300 to her name.
Now Ms. Stingily, who is 29 and based in Brooklyn, feels another page turning as she embarks on her 30s. “Where I come from most people have kids by now,” she said. “I’m at a time when a lot of things are changing, and my career is going in a way I never thought it would.”
A college dropout and veteran of countless retail and service jobs, Ms. Stingily has only recently been making her art full time, working from a small Bushwick studio. After appearances in two major shows at the New Museum — the Triennial (2018) and “Trigger: Gender as a Tool and a Weapon” (2017), her first museum solo exhibition took place last year, at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami. Titled “Life in My Pocket,” it gathered objects reminiscent of her childhood on Chicago’s West Side and in suburban Romeoville.
A rusting basketball hoop, police surveillance lights, Little Hug fruit juices, Ms. Stingily’s improved Double-Dutch jump ropes made of braided telephone cords — the items, supplemented by video, distilled private memories into a kind of visual tone that Ms. Stingily said people like her, who are black and working-class, might recognize.
“I think the work that I make is relatable,” she said. “People can see themselves, family members, or just issues and topics.”
Ms. Stingily is a creature of community. Her father, the singer and producer Byron Stingily, led Ten City, an important group in Chicago’s pioneering house music scene. Her mother is a hair stylist, and Ms. Stingily grew up around the salon. For a recent commission by the fashion brand Balenciaga, Ms. Stingily made a video work full of relatives and familiar locations — a warm, rough-hewed tribute.
For the new show, Ms. Stingily is making pieces from synthetic hair, a medium she had set aside for a time, tired of having to explain it to non-black people. “Those questions are microaggressions,” she said. But her draw to the material and its private meaning for her ended up prevailing. It’s her journey, after all. “I love making hair pieces,” she said. “It’s very meditative to me, and the result is pretty.”
Diamond Stingily, May 4 through June 16, Queer Thoughts, 373 Broadway No. C9, Manhattan; 212-680-0116, queerthoughts.com.
When the riots consumed South Los Angeles, Delano Dunn was 13 years old. Today, those five days in 1992 are often called an uprising, to denote the eruption of community frustration after a jury acquitted four Los Angeles police officers of assault charges in the infamous beating of Rodney King. But what Mr. Dunn saw from the family house off Central Avenue was, in fact, a riot.
“I sat on the porch and watched the neighborhood burn,” said Mr. Dunn, a painter and collagist who confronts these memories in new mixed-media works at the Lesley Heller Gallery on the Lower East Side. He recalls sounds: fights, sirens, gunshots. Looting was real. “I remember seeing a guy pushing a shopping cart with a safe in it down the alley. My grandfather owned two shops, and he was on the roof with his shotgun.”
On the last day, Mr. Dunn saw National Guard armored vehicles coming down his block. When he returned to school, in Santa Monica, he got odd looks. “My white friends asked me what I looted, what did I get,” he said. “I thought, this is what it means to be black and from a poor neighborhood. This is it.”
He filed it away, and returned to his comic books. In 1997, Mr. Dunn moved to New York City to attend the Pratt Institute, and later received his M.F.A. from the School of Visual Arts. A few months ago he moved to Illinois, as a teaching fellow at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Mr. Dunn’s work started out spare, and has grown more involved and personal. Racial perception was always a main concern, but sometimes at a remove — for instance, in the cigarette ads aimed at black smokers that he used in a 2013 series of mixed-media on board.
Now, however, he stretches the definition of collage, making pieces that have multiple surface layers — paper, plexiglass, wood — onto which he applies photographs, paint, vinyl, resin, tape, shoe polish, even glitter.
“There are moments of deceptive candy,” he said. “It’s bubbly and enticing, then you take a bite and it’s sour.”
Recently, Mr. Dunn, who is 40, said he has fretted over big themes — the arc of American and black history, or the challenge, brought home to him by the birth of his daughter, Violet, of making a world with real gender equality. It overwhelmed him at times.
“The lesson was to chill, do something more like a memory,” he said. “Don’t try to build this whole new world.”
The riots were that memory. In his new pieces, birds — filling the sky, perched with ambiguous intent — symbolize people caught up in the events. (It is a more refined image than cockroaches, which is what he remembers a news anchor calling the rioters.)
Images cut from period magazines depict people fighting, carrying goods, fleeing cops. In the background are flat monochrome sections or landscapes thick with deer and other allegorical animals that dissolve the documentation into reverie.
Mr. Dunn says he remembers the draw of the fires destroying businesses nearby. “The colors were so beautiful,” he said. “As I got older, I thought how crazy it was that something of such beauty could come from such destruction.”
It was affirming to compare notes with his mother and his grandfather, who just turned 100. The exercise has unlocked more themes to explore, some to do with police violence. “It felt sad but good to revisit this,” he said. “To sort of exorcise it, and see it on the canvas.”
Delano Dunn, through May 19, Lesley Heller Gallery, 54 Orchard Street, Manhattan; 212-410-6120, lesleyheller.com.
His father was a historian forged in Chicano and Native American political movements, and who taught in community colleges so as to reach black and brown students directly. His mother is a Mexican-born union organizer.
“But they were really cool with me being a painter,” Mr. Cabeza de Baca said. “My dad would say, you look really gríngo but that’s the way you’re going to infiltrate and change it from the inside.”
The prediction wasn’t off. Having trained at Cooper Union and Columbia University, Mr. Cabeza de Baca, 34, is honing a method that draws on the American canon, the insights of Native artists, and his own sense of the Southwest as physical and cultural terrain.
It’s a political project, yes. Mr. Cabeza de Baca’s ancestry is Spanish, Mexican, Apache, Zuni; his lineage goes back to Alvár Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca, the 16th-century conquistador who wandered for years in the Southwest after his mission went awry. The artist grew up partly in San Ysidro, Calif., across from Tijuana, and spends as much time as possible in New Mexico. Questions of conquest, forced removal, and the current border crisis are always on his mind.
But the project is an aesthetic one, as well. The Native painters Jaune Quick-to-See Smith and Edgar Heap of Birds count among his influences, but so does Jackson Pollock, whose attraction to Navajo sand painting — said to have inspired the drip technique — registers as simultaneously genuine and colonial.
“That’s another demon in the room,” Mr. Cabeza de Baca said. In the Columbia M.F.A. program, where he teaches, he puts the Lakota medicine wheel and Chinese color theory on equal footing with Josef Albers.
Mr. Cabeza de Baca’s first New York solo exhibition is at Boers-Li Gallery, on the East Side. His large-format oil works are busy and bright, with shades of orange, pink, golden brown. They feature landscape elements — a mesa, a field of flowers, chain-link fence — and turbulent abstract forms. Some layer in maps of the Southwest and its indigenous nations. Motifs from ancient petroglyphs dance through.
“The paintings are trying to create a new language in the way we represent the landscape,” he said. “Employing certain traditions of white, European landscape painters but trying to shatter that through abstraction, and through cave paintings too.”
The practice extends to works in ceramics, metal, brick and wood. The sculptural pieces have a reverent aspect — some by allusion, suggesting totems and altars; others literally, for instance a medicine bundle with sage and tobacco.
“With a lot of these forms I’m trying to ask my ancestors for help,” he said. “Just trying to summon them in some nonderogatory way. Not to be exotic, but to try to pare it down as much as possible to the most essential prayer or thought.”
‘Esteban Cabeza de Baca: Worlds Without Borders,’ through May 25, Boers-Li Gallery, 24 East 81st Street, Manhattan; 917-472-7712, boersligallery.com.
Sims, of course, was the 19th-century doctor whose status as a pioneer in modern gynecology long erased the fact that he performed savage experiments without anesthesia on nonconsenting black women. They were part of a gruesome American history of surgery on African-Americans in the name of science, notably documented in “Medical Apartheid,” a 2007 book by Harriet A. Washington.
The city’s decision to remove the statue followed years of activist effort. Amid the crescendo, in late 2017, was an exhibition at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn titled “White Man on a Pedestal,” by Ms. Garner and a fellow artist, Kenya (Robinson).
Ms. Garner’s works were spectacular and ghastly, full of meat hooks, medical instruments, and wounded fleshy forms. The centerpiece was a cast of the statue in hyper-realistic pink silicone skin. One day, in performance, a team of black women conducted vesicovaginal fistula surgery on the statue cast, with solemn music and a video projection.
“The concepts in the work take so much out of you,” Ms. Garner said. But the statue’s removal felt like a reward. “It gives me encouragement to continue the work, because I know that there are things that can happen from it.”
Ms. Garner, 32, grew up in Philadelphia and is based in Brooklyn. She trained in glass at the Rhode Island School of Design. At some point, the silicone she was using in molds became more interesting to her as a primary material.
Ms. Washington’s book, along with Rebecca Skloot’s “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” and Ms. Garner’s fascination with the body and medicine — a younger sister died after multiple aneurysms — did the rest.
In “She Is Risen,” her new exhibition at JTT downtown, Ms. Garner handles some unfinished business. There is an open abdomen packed with four tubes of glass beads in iridescent liquid. It conveys how Lacks, whose cervical cancer cells were harvested without her consent at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1951, was treated unsuccessfully with radium tubes.
“It ended up burning her from the inside out,” Ms. Garner said. She wants to return the attention to the suffering these women underwent, not their unwanted “immortality.”
Another work is a suspended American flag made of stitched black “hands,” skin on one side, exposed flesh on the other. A piece involving a vintage gramophone plays from time to time the audio of the state trooper stopping Sandra Bland for a traffic violation in Texas; she was found hanged in a jail cell a few days after her arrest in 2015.
In person Ms. Garner is warm and lively, not the least bit morbid. In her parallel practice as a tattoo artist, she brings beauty and desired modifications to people’s bodies.
Many of her clients are black women. “I’m almost acting as a healer,” she said.
‘Doreen Garner: She Is Risen,’ through May 26, JTT, 191 Chrystie Street, Manhattan; 212-574-8152, jttnyc.com.