The Artsy Vanguard 2020: Salman Toor

Harley Wong
Sep 11, 2020 8:00PM

Salman Toor

B. 1983, Lahore, Pakistan. Lives and works in New York.

Salman Toor, The Arrival, 2019. © Salman Toor. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

Salman Toor, Man with Scarf and Shoe, 2020. © Salman Toor. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.


Following the success of his exhibitions at Aicon Gallery in New York and Nature Morte in New Delhi, Salman Toor only had nine months to prepare for his solo show at the Whitney Museum, “How Will I Know,” originally slated to open in March 2020. Painted from memory and imagination, Toor’s quotidian scenes of contemporary queer South Asian men often reference the art-historical canon. The Bar on East 13th (2019) reimagines Édouard Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1882), while Lunch (2019) more subtly references the iconography of Jacopo Bassano’s The Supper at Emmaus (ca. 1538).

Toor has often described his subjects as fluctuating between queer boy and Brown immigrant man. At times, his lanky figures sway and drink as Whitney Houston plays in the background—made evident by the aptly titled Dancing to Whitney (2018). Gentle and jovial, the figures lean towards one another in tender embraces or partake in glamorous makeovers, reminiscent of a romantic comedy.

In other works, Toor’s protagonists are surveilled by lingering police officers and airport security. Through fictional characters with faces aglow by the light of phone screens or enveloped by faint halos, Toor chronicles the multiplicity of his experiences, both dreamy and grim, in his adopted home of New York and his hometown of Lahore, Pakistan.

Although COVID-19 has postponed the opening of his Whitney show—his first solo museum exhibition—Toor’s work is already held in the museum’s collection, as well as that of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and Tate. In June, he joined the roster of New York gallery Luhring Augustine, which plans to organize an exhibition of his paintings in the coming years. Recently, Toor’s Downtown Boys (2020) was featured on bus shelters across New York City as part of “Art on the Grid,” commissioned by the Public Art Fund.

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.

Harley Wong

Header and thumbnail image, from left to right: Salman Toor, “Downtown Boys,” 2020. Commissioned by Public Art Fund for Art on the Grid, June 29 – September 20, 2020; Salman Toor, “Bar Boy,” 2019; Portrait of Salman Toor; Salman Toor, “Mehfil/Party,” 2019. All images: © Salman Toor. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.