The Artsy Vanguard 2020: American Artist

Allyssia Alleyne
Sep 11, 2020 8:00PM

American Artist

B. 1989, Altadena, California. Lives and works in New York.

American Artist, Untitled (Portal), 2018. Courtesy of the artist.


Legally changing one’s name is always a statement, but this is especially true when the name you choose is American Artist. When the interdisciplinary creator, who uses they/them pronouns, adopted the moniker in 2013, they issued a direct challenge to the pervasive stereotypes of whiteness and maleness attached to the term.

This challenge has extended to the virtual world: Their website is now the first hit when you Google “American Artist.” This impressive act of SEO wizardry is particularly fitting in the context of Artist’s practice, where virtual identity, algorithmic justice, and Blackness are often at the forefront. “My Blue Window,” their critically acclaimed solo exhibition at the Queens Museum in 2019, used installations and a specially designed app to reveal how algorithmic tools used by police to predict criminal activity work to reinforce anti-Black racism. That same year, “Dignity Images: Bayview-Hunters Point” at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco looked at the disparity between the images we post on social media and those we deliberately choose not to.

Artist’s thoughtful and provocative explorations have also been exhibited at MoMA PS1, the Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, as well as at galleries including Koenig & Clinton, Housing, Martos Gallery, Postmasters, and 47 Canal.

In July, through a work called Looted (2020), they temporarily replaced every image on the Whitney Museum of American Art’s website with close-ups of plywood boards, presenting a stark denouement of the art world’s lack of action in social justice movements, as well as institutional histories of colonialism and cultural theft. With the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and the increasing backlash against the tools of the surveillance state internationally, their work feels more urgent than ever.

The Artsy Vanguard 2020

The Artsy Vanguard 2020 is our annual list of the most promising artists shaping the future of contemporary art. This year, artists are organized into two categories: Newly Emerging, which presents artists who’ve gained momentum in the past year, showing at leading institutions and galleries; and Getting Their Due, which identifies artists who have persevered for decades, yet only recently received the spotlight they deserve. Now in its third edition, the feature was developed by the Artsy staff, in collaboration with our network of international curators and art professionals. Explore more of The Artsy Vanguard 2020.

Allyssia Alleyne

Header and thumbnail image, from left to right: American Artist, “Untitled (Portal),” 2018. Courtesy of the artist; Portrait of American Artist. Courtesy of American Artist; Installation view of “I’m Blue (If I Was █████ I Would Die),” 2019 at Koenig & Clinton, Brooklyn, NY. Photo by Jeffrey Sturges. Courtesy of the artist; American Artist, “I’m Blue,” 2019. Photo by Jeffrey Sturges. Courtesy of the artist; American Artist, “The Black Critique (Towards the Wild Beyond),” 2017. Photo by Martha Fleming-Ives. Courtesy of the artist.

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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