The Artsy Vanguard 2020: Emma Amos

Isis Davis-Marks
Sep 11, 2020 8:00PM

Emma Amos

B. 1937, Atlanta. D. 2020, Bedford, New Hampshire.

Emma Amos
The Overseer, ca. 1992

The Black women in Emma Amos’s works have agency: Diverging from their art-historical forebears, they don’t just lie passively on chaise lounges, but rather, they act. They incite important discussions of racism, sexism, and colonialism. In the 1994 painting Tightrope, for example, Amos depicted herself on a high wire, balancing precariously while holding up a T-shirt emblazoned with the likeness of Teha’amana, Paul Gauguin’s teenage Tahitian mistress—drawing attention to the much-lauded artist’s colonialist and predatory practice.

As a painter and printmaker, Amos, who died this past May at age 83, used a combination of bold colors, words, and textiles to create dynamic figurative works. In addition to her independent practice, Amos was a member of the historic African American artist collective Spiral Group, and was also one of the anonymous feminists behind the Guerrilla Girls.

In 2018, her painting Flower Sniffer (1966) was acquired by the Brooklyn Museum. Around the same time, her work was featured in two important traveling exhibitions that highlighted revolutionary Black art, “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power” and “We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85.” Amos is due to be celebrated in her first museum retrospective in 2021, beginning at the Georgia Museum of Art before traveling to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute in Utica, New York. This September, she is the subject of a solo show at New York gallery Ryan Lee.


Amos foresaw that her due recognition would come late. In a 1995 interview with bell hooks, the artist said of gaining art-world acclaim: “It’s not going to be me, or, if so, it’s going to be a late splurge on the order of what happened to Alice [Neel], Elizabeth Catlett, or Faith Ringgold.”

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.

Isis Davis-Marks

Header and thumbnail image, from left to right: Emma Amos, “Targets,” 1992; Emma Amos, “Will You Forget Me,” 1991; Portrait of Emma Amos by Becket Logan; Emma Amos, “Women and Children First, Howardena’s Portrait,” 1990. All images: © Emma Amos. Courtesy of Ryan Lee Gallery, New York.

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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