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8 Artists to Discover at MoMA PS1’s Greater New York 2021

Shannon Lee
Oct 6, 2021 10:01PM

Robin Graubard, from the series “Peripheral Vision, 1979–2021. Courtesy of the artist, Office Baroque, and MoMA PS1.

To say a lot has happened in New York since the last edition of MoMA PS1’s quinquennial survey of New York–based artists, “Greater New York,” is a dizzying understatement. While the past half-decade has felt like an entire epoch, looking back, the cultural fabric of 2015 seems rather quaint and simple compared to the baffling knots art is tasked with untangling today. After being postponed for a year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s “Greater New York” exhibition meets these demands head-on. Featuring works by 47 artists from the five boroughs, this year’s show highlights the extraordinary tenacity, diversity, and creativity that the city fosters, now and throughout history.

This edition of “Greater New York” in particular looks to celebrate the resiliency of artists who have experienced, witnessed, and endured catastrophe. While the past two years have felt almost universally apocalyptic, many communities in New York have had to cope with world-ending realities continuously, and long before 2020. Those voices take center stage in the exhibition, from Native American artists whose unflinching works unpack the nation’s legacy of violence and erasure to those who lived through and were lost in the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.

“‘Greater New York’ offers an opportunity to process, mourn, and celebrate alongside New York City’s artists and communities,” said curator Ruba Katrib in the show’s press release. “The exhibition highlights artists who have worked persistently in New York City—in some cases over many decades and often without recognition—contributing to a more diverse and complex understanding of the incredible range of artists who give creative life to the city.”

Below, we highlight eight standout artists from the show. Their works serve as poignant reminders of New York truly great.


Nadia Ayari

B. 1981, Tunis, Tunisia. Lives and works in New York.

Nadia Ayari, Jetty I, 2020. Photo by onwhitewall. Courtesy of the artist, Fundación MEDIANOCHE0, and MoMA PS1.

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Lush color palettes and repeated forms have a mesmerizing effect in Nadia Ayari’s canvases. Working at the intersection of the personal and the political, Ayari creates subtle images that turn her subjects—be they plants, body parts, or objects—into distinct protagonists. Each series can be seen as an exploration of a different character.

Nadia Ayari
Easy, 2016
Taymour Grahne Projects
Nadia Ayari
Fold 1, 2018
Taymour Grahne Projects

Imbued with symbolism, the recent paintings on view at “Greater New York” play with the visual motif of a night-blooming jasmine plant. Ayari transforms its flowers, leaves, and stems into patterns and shapes that verge on the unrecognizable, uprooted from any specific context.

Paintings from this series are also featured in Ayari’s current solo exhibition with Taymour Grahne Projects in London. “Maybe this is a dream version of a world where branches are loops, skies are bright blue, and leaves are untethered,” mused Ayari to Fawz Kabra in an essay for the exhibition.


Rotimi Fani-Kayode

B. 1955, Lagos. D. 1989, London. Lived and worked in New York and London.

Rotimi Fani-Kayode
Nothing to Lose XIII (Bodies of Experience), 1989/2021
Hales Gallery

Throughout the 1980s, New York’s LGBTQ+ art scene was devastated by an epidemic that many within the mainstream refused to acknowledge. In just a few short years, AIDS had claimed a whole generation of talented young artists—including Rotimi Fani-Kayode. Born in Lagos to a prominent family, Fani-Kayode had spent most of his childhood in England before moving to the U.S. to attend Georgetown University. Shortly after, he moved to Brooklyn to enroll in the fine art and photography MFA program at Pratt Institute. It was there that he would meet one of his greatest influences, Robert Mapplethorpe.

Though Fani-Kayode’s artistic career only lasted six years, the photographs he produced in that time were remarkable. His beautifully composed and sensuous portraits exploring identity and otherness as a gay Nigerian immigrant living in New York City still feel extraordinarily contemporary over 30 years later. These deeply complex images weave together legacies of colonialism, exoticization, and racism with a disarming tenderness. Through such work, Fani-Kayode reclaimed his otherness as a source of beauty and strength. In 1983, he returned to England where he would become an active member of burgeoning Black artist collectives such as the Black Audio Film Collective and the Association of Black Photographers, the latter of which he co-founded. He died of AIDS-related complications in London in 1989.


Emilie Gossiaux

B. 1989, New Orleans. Lives and works in New York.

Emilie Gossiaux
Dancing London II, 2018
False Flag

While most visual artists might consider losing their vision to be career-ending, when Emilie Gossiaux lost her sight in 2010 at the age of 21, she saw a unique opportunity for exploration and growth. Using touch and intuition as guides, Gossiaux creates uncanny and often humorous drawings and sculptures that recall dreams and memories that she conjures in her mind’s eye. “My work is influenced by my experiences as a disabled person, my ideas of love as healing, and intimacy,” said the artist in a video accompanying her recent exhibition at The Shed this past summer.

Emilie Gossiaux
Self Portrait with Brace, 2018
False Flag
Emilie Gossiaux
Brooklyn, 2017
False Flag

The works on view at “Greater New York” reflect on the special relationship Gossiaux has with her guide dog, London. In one of the drawings, the artist is depicted holding hands with her canine companion, who has adopted a human body, while Gossiaux takes the form of a dog standing on its hind legs. Though the image may appear absurd, what ultimately permeates is a definitive, touching sincerity.

Through her multisensory approach, using one hand to draw or sculpt and the other to retrace the line or form, Gossiaux imbues her work with real, tactile care—a reminder that so often, representation is an act of love.


Robin Graubard

B. 1951, New York. Lives and works in New York.

Robin Graubard
Kim crashpad, 1985
Office Baroque

As a freelance news photographer for over 40 years, Robin Graubard has captured life both at the fringes and at the very center of society. Her photographs reveal a spectrum of day-to-day moments featuring everything from New York’s punk scene of the 1980s to John Gotti. Through her documentarian approach, Graubard presents her subjects in a deeply humane light, allowing viewers to feel completely immersed in their worlds. Her images are so candid and intimate, they often beg the question of how Graubard was able to gain such voyeuristic access to everyone from Gotti and Donald Trump to squatters and sex workers in Times Square.

Robin Graubard
Boy, 2007
Office Baroque
Robin Graubard
guy with boombox – Times Square, 1985
Office Baroque

When her photographs are presented en masse, as they’re displayed at “Greater New York,” one gets a sense of all the complex contradictions that are at the heart of this city’s distinctive friction and energy. Graubard’s work is a testament to how one place can mean so many different things for so many disparate personalities and communities.


G. Peter Jemison

B. 1945, Silver Creek, New York. Lives and works in Rochester, New York.

G. Peter Jemison, Indians Have Always Paid The Price, 2005. Photo by NMAI Photo Services. Courtesy of the artist, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, and MoMA PS1.

G. Peter Jemison
Hiawatha Sees a New Mind, 2020
K Art

Using culturally significant materials like paper bags and textiles, artist, curator, and historian G. Peter Jemison (Seneca Nation, Heron Clan) embodies orenda, the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) belief that every living thing and every part of creation contains a spiritual force. The cloth used in Jemison’s mixed-media paintings on view at MoMA PS1 reference the Canandaigua Treaty of 1794, which granted sovereignty of the Haudenosaunee in what is now known as upstate New York and mandated that the government set aside $4,500 for the tribe annually. Despite multiple violations and a significant reduction of land rights, this treaty still technically remains active. As a result, every year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers uses the allotted $4,500 to purchase cloth for the tribe, which Jemison repurposes for his mixed-media paintings. In one work, the artist inscribed the words, “Grandmother waited for treaty cloth / She called it annuity goods / Us kids called it newty goods,” highlighting the absurd futility of the government’s gesture.

G. Peter Jemison
Knarled, 2004
K Art
G. Peter Jemison
Milkweed Study, 2004
K Art

In addition to his paintings, the exhibition also features works from his ongoing series of drawings on paper bags. Jemison began creating these works during his tenure as the curator of New York’s American Indian Community House Gallery in the late 1970s and ’80s. During that time, he began exploring the significance of Native American bags; he found that paper bags in particular were a unifying element between him and his fellow New York City commuters.


Athena LaTocha

B. 1969, Anchorage, Alaska. Lives and works in New York.

The monumental mixed-media work by Athena LaTocha (Standing Rock Lakota, Keweenaw Bay Ojibwe) It Came From the North (2021) is one of the largest works of “Greater New York.” This enormous wall piece incorporates earth from New York’s Green-Wood cemetery, demolition debris from the city, and lead. Representing a specific environment, the work is part of her ongoing practice of exploring the ways both humanity and nature shape the land. “I look at how humans are shaping the earth,” LaTocha explained in the exhibition’s wall text. “Human power versus nature’s power. Both are incredible forces, but nature’s always going to win.”

LaTocha’s works are also explorations of a more Indigenous approach to landscapes, one that sees humankind as an integral part of the land as opposed to separate. “Sometimes I’m reluctant to use the word ‘landscape’ because there’s a certain kind of genre, a certain kind of concept or ideology when you think about the idea of landscape,” she explained in a 2017 interview with Pasatiempo. “It connotes a kind of reverence or allusion to something.…It’s this view or window into another world, a natural world or an industrial one.” Given the current state of our climate crisis, LaTocha’s works are sobering reminders that we are inextricably connected to our environments.


Ahmed Morsi

B. 1930, Alexandria, Egypt. Lives and works in New York.

Ahmed Morsi, Green Horse I, 2001. © Ahmed Morsi. Courtesy of the artist, Salon 94, and MoMA PS1.

Ahmed Morsi
Untitled: Nude Series, 1992
Gypsum Gallery

The Egyptian artist, poet, and art critic Ahmed Morsi is among the many artists receiving long-overdue recognition at this year’s “Greater New York.” Moving between Baghdad, Iraq, and Egypt throughout his early career, Morsi became entrenched in the Middle East’s bustling cultural renaissance throughout the late 1940s and ’50s. He wrote poetry, painted, and helped to establish Galerie ’68, a magazine that became the most prominent voice for Arabic modernism. In 1974, Morsi moved to New York City, where he continues to write and paint.

Ahmed Morsi
Walking the Bird I, 1971
Salon 94

Despite his tremendous legacy overseas as one of the core members of Egyptian Surrealism, up until a few years ago, Morsi was largely unknown in the U.S. According to a 2018 profile on the artist in Artforum, this was a deliberate choice: In the 1980s, after his first solo exhibition in New York City, Morsi was so disillusioned by the local art market that he decided to forgo showing his work almost entirely. He did, however, continue to write art criticism, contributing regularly to Arabic papers around the world until 2012. Recently, Morsi’s works have slowly but surely come to light. Last fall, Salon 94 featured his works in their online viewing room for Art Basel. Morsi’s prints are also currently on view at Gypsum Gallery in Cairo.


Tammy Nguyen

B. 1984, San Francisco. Lives and works in New York.

Tammy Nguyen, The Good Light Study No. 2, 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Rubber Factory.

Tammy Nguyen’s recent works on view at MoMA PS1 transform geopolitics and ecological devastation into visual allegories and disorienting patterns. In one canvas, the glittering silhouette of an eagle and its chick nest atop an eerie, obfuscated figure whose humanity is indicated only by the presence of a hand emerging from a blue-green shroud. This surreal ensemble is framed by lush foliage and lily pads; beyond them is a periwinkle sky.

Tammy Nguyen, Bats From the Good Light, 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Rubber Factory.

These paintings seem to exist in the same dreamlike universe as the works on view earlier this summer at Nguyen’s solo show at Smack Mellon. Titled “Freehold,” the exhibition featured recent works by Nguyen that were inspired by a visit to Forest City, a development project in Malaysia that posits itself as a futuristic, eco-friendly, duty-free utopia built on four manmade islands. When Nguyen visited in 2019, a press representative boldly stated: “No climate change here.” Through her powerful works, Nguyen dismantles this line of thought, underscoring the irrefutable and inescapable crisis that climate change represents. In addition to her own artistic practice, Nguyen is also the founder of Passenger Pigeon Press, which collaborates with artists, scientists, journalists, and creative writers to publish works that examine nuanced politics and forgotten histories.

Shannon Lee
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Jenna Gribbon, Luncheon on the grass, a recurring dream, 2020. Jenna Gribbon, April studio, parting glance, 2021. Jenna Gribbon, Silver Tongue, 2019