8 Curators Share Insights on the Artists of the Project Healthy Minds Benefit Auction

Artsy Editorial
Mar 15, 2022 7:28PM

This month, Artsy has teamed up with a cohort of prominent international curators to host “Impact: Project Healthy Minds,” a benefit auction to support Project Healthy Minds, the nonprofit that works to destigmatize mental health and expand access to mental health care. Each curator personally invited artists to participate, and the resulting sale features a dynamic group of emerging and midcareer talents, including Lucia Hierro, Hank Willis Thomas, Bea Bonafini, Tizta Berhanu, and many more.


The featured works—which include some pieces created specially for the auction, and range from photography and prints to painting and textiles—speak to Project Healthy Minds’s mission. “Art has the power to be transformative,” said Phil Schermer, founder of Project Healthy Minds. “It provides a lens through which we can interpret complicated ideas and express deep emotions. It can be calming yet energizing; complex yet simple. With art, we can teach and we can learn; we can be delighted and provoked. Often, when we pull back the curtain, we discover that behind some of the most powerful art in the world is a deeply emotional mental health back story.”

Here, the curators—Aindrea Emelife, Claudia Cheng, Hall W. Rockefeller, Marine Tanguy, Mollie Barnes, Samantha Coven Ehrlich, Storm Ascher, and Susanna Gold—share their insights on the featured artists and their works.

Aindrea Emelife

Independent curator

Alia Ali looks at how textiles express our inner selves. She posits the idea of textiles as a language, whilst also exploring the notion and power of seeing and being seen, taking on many meanings pertaining to the gaze, social culture, and politics. She seeks to highlight those who have been made invisible so we can understand the power that being seen truly holds. Ali is authentic—she collaborates with each community’s most experienced, nuanced, and creative communicators. She is a storyteller using the subjects’ own visual language—themselves and their dress. She gives agency to the personal and the political, the internal and the external.

Claudia Cheng

Art advisor and curator

Tizta Berhanu

Overlapped (2020) by Tizta Berhanu invites the viewer into moments of tenderness and intimacy, making the emotions we crave tangible in her work. Flooded with primary colors, her paintings ebb and flow in a subtle balance of vibrant opacity and dreamlike, transparent washes. The physical entanglement of bodies and limbs in her compositions strikes a chord of particular poignancy in a world of prolonged isolation.

Cecilia Granara’s work creates a liminal space that allows the viewer to sift through emotions, be conscious of bodily sensations, and repose in peaceful meditation. The artist created Relief (2021) specifically for this benefit auction to support Project Healthy Minds. Relief is inspired by the artist’s experience with Reiki, a healing practice in which the healer hovers hands over the body to sense where there is pain or tension to be released. The work’s psychedelic hues of salmon pink and cerulean blue are colors that are at once comforting and voluptuously alive.

Chantal Joffe’s female figures poignantly capture the essence of a moment or a psychological state. Full of raw emotion and alluding to self-reflection, her sculpture Self-Portrait (2020), was made in March 2020, speaking to the artist’s yearning for release from confinement and a hopefulness looking forward.

Jordan Ann Craig

Painter Jordan Ann Craig’s monumental, repeating geometries, which draw from the colors of the American West, feel contemporary and timeless at once. Marrying the bead and textile patterns of her Cheyenne heritage with the austere story of modernism, her paintings lend warmth and humanity to the cold remove of minimalism.

Shenequa’s layered, densely fashioned works draw from her childhood spent in an aunt’s beauty salon, where the braids, plaits, and knots in her elaborate weavings are expressions of the love and connection she found there. By using artificial hair, bobbi pins, and curlers, Shenequa elegantly draws a line between the Black women who come together to do their hair with the women who have communed across centuries to make textiles.

Lucia Hierro’s research trips consist of walks around the block in her neighborhood to see the objects that give shape and comfort to the lives of her community, members of the Latin American diaspora. She takes the objects she finds—from issues of TheNew Yorker to cans of Café Bustelo—and translates them into plush fabric and foam sculptures.

Marine Tanguy

CEO, MTArt Agency

Elisa Insua

Buenos Aires–born artist Elisa Insua’s work throws opulence and our hedonistic way of life right back in our faces. We can’t escape it, it becomes visceral, and we are left with the need to challenge it, change it, and do so quickly before the overwhelming nature of our irresponsible consumption creates a sea of waste.

Brooklyn-based, French and Senegalese artist Delphine Diallo offers multilayered artworks. She is not only working to redefine women’s portraiture, she is also addressing the need for a subject to be leading his or her portrait conceptually and to be rewarded in turn. It’s empowerment at all levels.

Jesu Moratiel has shown that in the era of NFTs, being multidisciplinary takes on a whole different meaning. His physical works—some of which involves freezing dead bees and suspending them in resin in order to capture the current challenge of climate change—are being confronted by his digital works, highlighting a time where oversexualization of our bodies is common.

Robert Montgomery is a globally known and highly regarded artist and poet. His work is hugely popular on the internet: The piece The People You Love Become Ghosts Inside of You has been shared online more than 20 million times. His works speak to my soul daily.

Mollie Barnes

Independent curator

Ayobola Kekere-Ekun

Ayobola Kekere-Ekun is one of the most exciting artists working today. Her quilling works such as Small Tiger III speak to a sense of calm questioning. Here reflecting on the human condition, power, and observations, Kekere-Ekun produces a powerful and humorous response to the subtle interplay in the dichotomy of the self. This feeling of a divorced self is particularly prevalent and relevant in such troubled and thoughtful times.

Kekere-Ekun’s expertly executed shaped papers are intricate and complex. The two sides of the self look back at one another in a questioning manner, both cyclopses looking to connect. A desire to understand the self, as well as connect with your inner thoughts, made Small Tiger III a perfect fit for this auction, focusing on supporting mental health and confronting your inner being.

Ariane Hughes’s piece All comes out in the wash (2022) reminds one of subtle reflection—the need to take a moment in time to understand the present and look positively to the future. The idiom title speaks to the banality of current anxieties, looking toward the inevitable future solutions. A tear-strewn iris flows to become dew drops, allowing for the growth of new flora, erupting from the corner of the canvas.

The work is intricate, sensual, and yet equally absurd and distorted. Hughes produces a thoughtful, familiar, yet unusual and exaggerated portal through paint. All comes out in the wash speaks of hopefulness, understanding and the importance of space and time to reflect.

Caroline Absher’s works have captured attention for years. Savannah (2022) reminisces on self-observation and carefree thoughts, basked in sunlight. The effortless calm of the subject inspires tenderness, relaxation, and vital moments of peace given to yourself. These moments of calm are encouraged in an ever-connected and noisy world.

Her work is deeply personal. Absher produces expertly multilayered paintings that both reveal and conceal themselves, vacillating between abstraction and figuration. Savannah encourages calm reflection and self-understanding. It is warm and beautiful.

Samantha Coven Ehrlich

Art advisor and curator

Marc Dennis

Study for From a Close Distance (2021) by Marc Dennis was driven by the artist’s desire of getting close to his favorite painting in New York and his frustration that he was unable to experience the work in person due to museum closures and the isolation of quarantine.

The feeling of isolation can turn into loneliness, which has tremendous effects on one’s mental health. Through the medium of watercolor, both relaxing and fluid in its nature, Dennis is pursuing a cathartic experience, as well as a window into the feeling of personal company that was so longed for and lost throughout the pandemic.

Storm Ascher

Founder, Superposition Gallery

Alteronce Gumby

I was very moved by the mission statement and goals that Project Healthy Minds has developed—to end the stigma related to mental health, make resources more accessible, and make mental health everyone’s business. I felt inspired to curate meditative works, such as Alteronce Gumby’s watercolor with hues of calming blue. The work and the medium itself gives way to relaxation and meditation.

Bryan Fernandez’s mixed-media paintings are works that make you realize you’re not alone. He depicts men spending time together and simply enjoying one another’s company: In one work, the subjects partake in a shisha smoke sesh, and in another, they enjoy a couple beers while sitting on alcohol crates. To me, in this context, this work highlights the importance of breaking down the stigma of drug and alcohol use in communities of color to make room for joy and healing.

Susanna W. Gold

Curator, art historian, and art advisor

Hank Willis Thomas

When I was considering artists whose work resonates with the process of recovery that Project Healthy Minds promotes, Hank Willis Thomas was a natural choice. I’ve admired Thomas’s work for years, particularly for his courage to address his own personal and cultural traumas. Weighty narratives of violence, inequity, and loss simmer just below the surface of many of his conceptual works, but the real power of his ideas lies in the healing that he finds through family and community. Wholeness, unity, and compassion are ideals that Thomas consistently evokes in his work, and describe those human qualities that allow us to find our strength in each other.

A rising star who is newly emerging from the MFA program at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Z the Rat is already gaining international attention for her self-portraits that often explore themes of mental health. Inward-looking by nature, the practice of self-portraiture gives Z the Rat the opportunity to confront tensions, confusions, and other emotional strains. Reinventing herself over and over again through ever-changing appearances, colors, costumes, and imagined environments, Z the Rat takes control of her anxieties by proactively determining her own circumstances, coming closer to her true self through her invented realities.

Betty Woodman is an icon of post-war American art whose work challenged long-entrenched views about the relationships between fine art, craft, modernism, and domesticity. Best known for her daringly inventive ceramic sculptures, drawings, and large-scale prints depicting theatrical ceramic forms, Woodman had a consistent goal: to achieve pure visual pleasure. Her light-filled, dancing abstractions describe the exuberant joy that we all strive to attain. In Woodman’s world, there is no place for pain. Positive energy pulses through her work, leaving only vitality, harmony, and delight.

I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with Michele Kishita over the past several years, and have watched the continued growth of her career as she takes her abstractions in fresh, adventurous directions. The landscape consistently forms the basis of her work, but specifically, it is the experience of the landscape that Kishita communicates so effectively. Because experience is always derived from context, Kishita’s environments evoke remarkably different responses, depending on whether her compositions emerge from varying climate or seasonal conditions; the effects of deforestation; or the sense of moving through and interacting with space.

The two paintings I’ve selected for the Project Healthy Minds auction were created in response to the pressures of the pandemic that have stretched us beyond what we all thought was possible. Through the sounds and sensations that her open, airy, and vibrant landscapes evoke, Kishita offers us a peaceful respite. They remove us from our current conditions and relocate us to a space of safety where we can find our way back to health and stability.

Artsy Editorial