The Artsy Vanguard 2020: Kahlil Robert Irving

Benjamin Sutton
Sep 11, 2020 8:00PM

Kahlil Robert Irving

B. 1992, San Diego. Lives and works in St. Louis, Missouri.

Kahlil Robert Irving
Seen or Be Seen, 2020
Jenkins Johnson Gallery

Kahlil Robert Irving, Mixed Messages (Streets & Screens) AOL + Lottery, 2020. Photo by Peter Clough. Courtesy of the artist and Callicoon Fine Arts, New York.


Kahlil Robert Irving’s distinctive approach to ceramics—formally adventurous and infused with personal meaning and political resonance—has brought him a devoted and growing fan base since his first solo show with his New York gallery, Callicoon Fine Arts, in 2017. His tabletop works are rich assemblages of sculpted forms, often including casts of found objects (bottles, cans, takeout containers) overlaid with glazes and found or customized decals. His larger-scale sculptures resemble tiled floors and astronomical maps, pairing constellation-like shards with renderings of crushed bottles and crumpled newspapers. The forms are familiar, but their details are profoundly unexpected. His works tend to poetically foreground the violent legacies and realities that shape our daily environments, from the everyday detritus found on city streets to the aggressive forces that police them and the vitriolic responses that ensue on social media.

In recent solo shows—including his first institutional exhibition, at Wesleyan University in 2018; his second exhibition with Callicoon in 2019; a large-scale project that opened in February at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati; and a new show at Jenkins Johnson Gallery in San Francisco—Irving has incorporated other media into his practice, including prints and flags. Most distinctive may be his series of riotous digital collages that incorporate memes, pop culture ephemera, screenshots of social media posts and articles, and more. As in much of his work, some of these elements address issues of identity and racial violence directly; others are more ambiguous.

Irving’s work is featured in the Whitney Museum’s “Making Knowing: Craft in Art, 1950–2019,” and this fall, he’ll be one of three artists featured in the Great Rivers Biennial at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis.

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.

Benjamin Sutton

Header and thumbnail image, from left to right: Kahlil Robert Irving, “HE IS A MAN | Daily Mystery Law and Order - Serenity for US ALL,” 2018. Photo by Jackie Furtado; Portrait of Kahlil Robert Irving by Attilio D’Agostino; Kahlil Robert Irving, “Rose Memorial 2018 edition: {RIP ALS} - STL,” 2018. Photo by Jackie Furtado; Kahlil Robert Irving, “Spring streets & stars | Rose Memories & foil (To: Jack),” 2019. Photo by Jackie Furtado. All images courtesy of the artist and Callicoon Fine Arts, 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