The Artsy Vanguard 2020: Ming Smith

Charlotte Jansen
Sep 11, 2020 8:00PM

Ming Smith

B. 1947, Detroit. Lives and works in New York.

Ming Smith, Flying High, Coney Island, 1976. © Ming Smith 2020. Courtesy the artist and Pippy Houldsworth Gallery.

Ming Smith, Symmetry on the Ivory Coast, Abidjan, Ivory Coast, 1972. © Ming Smith 2020. Courtesy the artist and Pippy Houldsworth Gallery.


Ming Smith has made history throughout her artistic career, which began in the 1970s. And while she had some success early on—in 1978, she became the first female African American photographer to have her work in the collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art—only recently are Smith’s many achievements in photography being identified and celebrated.

In 2010, she was included in “Pictures by Women: A History of Modern Photography” at MoMA, and in 2017, her work was shown as part of the acclaimed group exhibitions “We Wanted A Revolution: Black Radical Women 1965–85” at the Brooklyn Museum and “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power,” which began at Tate Modern and traveled to several U.S. institutions. However, 2020 is proving to be the year Smith is in the spotlight: So far, she was awarded the International Center of Photography’s 2020 Infinity Award, had a solo exhibition at Pippy Houldsworth Gallery in London, and is set to release an Aperture monograph this year. Additionally, Jenkins Johnson Gallery—which has worked with Smith for several years—is planning a forthcoming solo show and will feature her work in its presentations for Frieze London, Paris Photo, and Art Basel in Miami Beach.

Smith’s work is also a highlight of a major retrospective of the Black photography collective known as the Kamoinge Workshop; the exhibition opened at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts earlier this year, and will travel to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and the Cincinnati Art Museum. She will also be included in the forthcoming MoMA exhibition “Just Above Midtown: 1974 to the Present,” which will examine the legacy of the titular pioneering gallery run by Linda Goode Bryant; the show is tentatively planned for 2022.

Smith’s inclusion in these high-profile exhibitions attests to her importance not only as an individual artist, but also as one who has continuously been involved in wider cultural movements. Smith’s association with Kamoinge was also significant in shaping her as an artist. Technically experimental, Smith has an intuitive and fluid style: Her signatures include double-exposed prints, slow shutter speeds, and collaging and painting over her images. Influenced by Gordon Parks and Diane Arbus, Smith prefers to take candid street shots, but she manages to find magic in the mundane.

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.

Charlotte Jansen

Header and Thumbnail Image, from left to right: Ming Smith, “Young Woman with Buggy, Coney Island,” 1976. Courtesy of Pippy Houldsworth Gallery; Ming Smith, “Self-Portrait,” (Self-Portrait Series), 1972, collaged ca. 1990s, reprinted 2019, painted 2019. Courtesy of Jenkins Johnson Gallery; Portrait of Ming Smith by Brandon Thomas Brown. Courtesy of Pippy Houldsworth Gallery; Ming Smith, “Grace Jones at Studio 54,” 1978. Courtesy of Jenkins Johnson Gallery. All images: © Ming Smith 2020. Courtesy of the artist.