The Artsy Vanguard 2021
Contemporary art is a barometer for the moment in which it was created. Consciously or not, artists working today are absorbing and harnessing the uncertainty, grief, pain, and occasional joy of the present, and channeling it into their paintings and drawings, sculptures and assemblages, films and digital animations. And it’s the artists in the early stages of their careers who have the most to prove: Not only must they live up to this moment, they must make their name known in the process.
The Artsy Vanguard is our annual feature recognizing the most promising artists working today. This year, we feature 20 emerging artists who are propelling contemporary art forward through their urgent, moving, original work. These artists are driving some of the most salient material and conceptual themes we’re experiencing in art today, including bold figurative painting; uncanny reflections of the present; identity-driven portraiture; abstraction imbued with spirituality; and an embrace of craft techniques.
This fourth edition of The Artsy Vanguard is a triumphant new chapter, as we present an in-person exhibition in Miami featuring the 20 artists’ works, including many available to collect on Artsy, in The Artsy Vanguard 2021 Collection. Curated by Erin Jenoa Gilbert, sponsored by MNTN, and generously supported by Mana Public Arts, the show is located at 555 NW 24th Street, Miami, and open to the public from December 2nd through 5th, 12–6 p.m.
Here, we are honored to introduce the artists of The Artsy Vanguard 2021.
B. 1985, Austria. Lives and works in Los Angeles; New Orleans; and Marrakech, Morocco.
Portrait of Alia Ali at 193 Gallery in Paris, 2021. Photo by Elohimedia. Courtesy of Alia Ali.
“My work is dedicated to those hidden in plain sight: the migrants,” said Alia Ali, reading over Zoom from a moving open letter she has written, an extended poem that will accompany all of her forthcoming exhibitions. “If we are not honored by others then we have the power to honor each other,” she continued.
Read the full profile on Alia Ali by Charlotte Jansen.
B. 1985, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Lives and works in New York.
Portrait of Alteronce Gumby by A’ja Dotson. Courtesy of Alteronce Gumby.
Standing in front of Alteronce Gumby’s painting Black Star (2019) is what it must feel like to be enveloped in the Milky Way. A whipped palette of dark metallics filled with mystery and mysticism cascade across a lightning bolt–shaped canvas. The shades are both indeterminate and intoxicating. With each velveteen brushstroke, he unearths the nuanced tones that live deep within colors. Through his abstract paintings, Gumby takes viewers on an odyssey beyond the provincial politics of the present, nudging open the door to worlds both within ourselves and well beyond this one.
Read the full profile on Alteronce Gumby by Jewels Dodson.
B. San Diego. Lives and works in New York.
Portrait of Alvin Armstrong by Nivia Hernandez. Courtesy of Alvin Armstrong.
Looking at Alvin Armstrong’s vibrant, velocity-filled paintings, one would never guess that the artist only began painting three years ago. Take the pair of monumental canvases currently on view at The Artsy Vanguard exhibition in Miami, for example. Titled The Grass Ain’t Always Greener and The Grass Is Always Greener (both 2021), the works each feature a pair of riders astride glowing chestnut-brown horses galloping full force towards the viewer, thundering explosively off of the surface of the painting.
Read the full profile on Alvin Armstrong by Shannon Lee.
B. 1990, Bonn, Germany. Lives and works in London.
Portrait of Bea Bonafini by Antonio Palmieri. Courtesy of Bea Bonafini.
The first thing you notice are the colors. Bea Bonafini’s sculptures and painted wall pieces—which appear as standalone works or components of immersive installations—come in a palette that sits somewhere at the intersection of Hilma af Klint and the Memphis Group. Pinks oscillate between rose quartz and salmon; oranges recall both cuneiform tablets and contemporary pill bottles; and blues shift between neon luminescence and pastel gauziness.
Read the full profile on Bea Bonafini by Olivia Giovetti.
B. 1986, Tianjin, China. Lives and works in Beijing.
Portrait of Bodu Yang. Courtesy of Bodu Yang.
Bodu Yang is best known for her depictions of unusual interiors and edifices, a theme that has preoccupied her since childhood. Her grandfather, who worked at a publishing house, once brought home a set of books on architectural painting; she pored over the contents, copying the pictures and visiting the rooms in her mind’s eye. “At the time, life was still a huge mystery; everything I encountered hadn’t yet been given a definition,” she said. “I started drawing before I learned to read because I could never keep my hands still and it felt like a natural form of play.”
Read the full profile on Bodu Yang by Ophelia Lai.
B. 1996, Tenares, Dominican Republic. Lives and works in New Jersey.
Portrait of Bony Ramirez by Frenel Morris. Courtesy of Bony Ramirez.
When he was 13, Bony Ramirez’s family informed him that they were taking a vacation to the United States from their home in the Dominican Republic. “I was told that we were just coming for two weeks, to visit Disney World, and we were going to come back,” he said. “We never went to Disney World, and we’ve never been back.” Today, at 25, Ramirez’s art career is on the rise. But the departure from his home country looms over his mixed-media paintings, which often feature dreamily distorted, life-size depictions of imagined figures from the Dominican Republic and its colonial past.
Read the full profile on Bony Ramirez by Gabrielle Bruney.
B. 1976, Maastricht, the Netherlands. Lives and works in Maastricht.
Portrait of Esther Janssen. Courtesy of Esther Janssen.
“I think I traumatized myself when I was really young,” Esther Janssen said. “I got this oil paint set from my father—who was a painter as well—and tried to copy Monet’s garden as my first painting ever when I was eight or seven. And I thought: ‘This looks so bad. I cannot paint. I’m not a painter.’ I decided that very early based on one painting, and somehow this stuck with me.” Fast forward and Janssen has proven her prepubescent self wrong.
Read the full profile on Esther Janssen by Allyssia Alleyne.
B. 1988, Pasadena, California. Lives and works in Los Angeles.
Portrait of Gabriella Sanchez. Courtesy of Gabriella Sanchez.
Gabriella Sanchez has a way with words. Words are the foundation of her abstracted portraits, framing them and suggesting points of entry and exit for the viewer. Sanchez plays in syntax, etymology, and the structure of words, reconstituting familial archives, rupturing colonial thought, and mapping a visual landscape of a wondering interiority.
Read the full profile on Gabriella Sanchez by Essence Harden.
B. 1988, St. Louis, Missouri. Lives and works in New York.
Portrait of Kennedy Yanko by Noemad. Courtesy of Kennedy Yanko.
The sculptures Kennedy Yanko is best known for are made by combining chunks of metal with swatches of paint skins—a medium of her own accidental, experimental creation that looks just as it sounds. The works are large and abstract, appearing as bent and folded arrangements. Though Yanko promises this isn’t her main intention, the combination of metal and paint skin shifts our understanding of each medium’s malleability. Suddenly, a supple material appears fixed, a rigid material offers its flexibility.
Read the full profile on Kennedy Yanko by Jacqui Germain.
B. 1990, Stockholm. Lives and works in Stockholm.
Portrait of Lap-See Lam by Beata Holmgren/Studio Femme for ELLE. Courtesy of Lap-See Lam.
When the artist Lap-See Lam first used a 3D laser scanner seven years ago, the results took her by surprise. She had hoped to capture a precise recreation of the interior of a Chinese restaurant in her hometown of Stockholm. But the images that came out, far from realistic, were fragmented and distorted. Tables and chairs appeared jagged, like decayed objects in a shipwreck. She liked the glitchy scans, seeing in them a reflection of her complicated relationship to a subject that was personal.
Read the full profile on Lap-See Lam by Claire Voon.
B. 1993, London. Lives and works in Manchester, England.
Portrait of Louise Giovanelli. Courtesy of Louise Giovanelli.
Louise Giovanelli’s eerily glamorous and contemplative visions of fleeting moments owe their intrigue to the artist’s deft, layered technique, which baffles even the most trained eye. Absorbingly mysterious and lushly tactile, her paintings have cemented a place for the 28-year-old among a wave of contemporary artists creating figurative work responding to the cacophony of digital imagery.
Read the full profile on Louise Giovanelli by Osman Can Yerebakan.
B. 1995, Mexico City. Lives and works in Mexico City.
Portrait of María Fragoso by Jordan Weitzman. Courtesy of the artist and 1969 Gallery.
In red-hued paintings and drawings, María Fragoso creates lush environments rich in mystery, passion, and pleasure. She weaves together seemingly disparate elements through a set of recurring symbols: saliva represents affection and devotion; figs, shells, flowers, and pomegranates signify fertility; and gloves and onions allude to an obscured yet alluring interiority.
Read the full profile on María Fragoso by Cornelia Smith.
B. 1986, Sarcelles, France. Lives and works in Paris.
Portrait of Mathilde Denize by Claire Dorn. Courtesy of Mathilde Denize.
Mathilde Denize’s debut New York solo show, “Reverse for a Better Move,” opened at Perrotin this past September, featuring small paintings, sculptures, and painted, wall-hung assemblages—many of them in the shape of giant bomber jackets and blazers. These color-soaked wall pieces feature the odd hand, eye, or pocket that Denize made by cutting up her paintings and applying them to the assemblages as swatches. They also feature occasional found objects, like a big shiny shell.
Read the full profile on Mathilde Denize by Casey Lesser.
B. 1992, Miami. Lives and works in Miami.
Portrait of Reginald O’Neal by Anthony Spinello. Courtesy of Spinello Projects.
Reginald O’Neal is known for his deft figurative paintings, rendered through soft brushstrokes that create an undeniable tenderness. His loving portrayals of friends, family, and personal objects range from cropped depictions of a person’s clasped hands to complex tableaux featuring multiple subjects, mingling at a party or riding dirt bikes. Often, O’Neal conveys experiences of violence, memory, and loss. Looking at these paintings, with their dark, muted color palettes and deep shadows, feels like stepping into a hazy flashback.
Read the full profile on Reginald O’Neal by Isis Davis Marks.
B. 1989, Philadelphia. Lives and works in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Portrait of Shikeith, 2021. Courtesy of Shikeith.
Shikeith occupies multiple aesthetic realms at once. Working across film, photography, sculpture, and installation, the visual artist presents work that is edgy, yet sensitive to unspoken truths about identity, transformation, trauma, and healing. Shikeith explores complex feelings in a relatable way, building off his experience as a queer Black man. Perhaps that’s why he’s able to reach people who may not otherwise see themselves as consumers or appreciators of art; his work encourages vulnerability and a deep connection to his subjects’ emotional worlds.
Read the full profile on Shikeith by Nicole Martinez.
B. 1985, New Delhi. Lives and works in New Delhi.
Portrait of Tanya Goel. Courtesy of Tanya Goel and Nature Morte, New Delhi.
“During the lockdown, being limited to Delhi—specifically between my home and studio—I started looking at and noticing the chromatic shifts and changes of flowers,” Tanya Goel said. “I would observe a flower through the course of the day and see how the light affected and changed it, from its budding stage to it withering away and dying.” The resulting series of works on paper, “Botanical Studies,” had its public debut in October at Frieze London in the booth of Goel’s gallery, Nature Morte. With saturated tones applied in circles, the works appear abstract but are rooted in real-life observation. For Goel, the series is a continuation of her practice of visually and materially processing the physical world.
Read the full profile on Tanya Goel by Benjamin Sutton.
B. 1983, Addis Ababa. Lives and works in New York.
Portrait of Tariku Shiferaw by Christopher Garcia Valle. Courtesy of Tariku Shiferaw and Galerie Lelong & Co.
Abstract painter Tariku Shiferaw believes one of his earliest breakthroughs happened one of his first days of high school. His freshman homeroom teacher, Mr. Elliotte, told the class, “Do not let the system tell you what to think,” then disconnected the classroom’s public announcement system. Shiferaw recalls that his teacher was a “hippie muralist who played Afrobeat music” and Mr. Elliote’s distinct repudiation of systemic control left an indelible impact. Shiferaw smiles to himself as he recalls these early moments, recognizing now the influence they had on his individual approach to art.
Read the full profile on Tariku Shiferaw by Erica Cardwell.
B. 1985, Harare, Zimbabwe. Lives and works in Chitungwiza, Zimbabwe.
Portrait of Wallen Mapondera. Courtesy of Wallen Mapondera.
The multimedia artist Wallen Mapondera has borne witness to many social and political upheavals in his native Zimbabwe—and these experiences largely inform his work. In large-scale, tapestry-like installations that are woven together from detritus, he comments on contemporary East African life. These sculptural works have contained everything from plastic bags, toilet paper, egg crates, cotton buds, and wax thread to a heavy-duty military tent.
Read the full profile on Wallen Mapondera by Jareh Das.
B. 1986, Ethiopia. Lives and works in Ethiopia and Norway.
Portrait of Wendimagegn Belete. Courtesy of Wendimagegn Belete.
Wendimagegn Belete is a passionate excavator of the past. For his latest work, a multimedia mural titled Your Gaze Makes Me (2021), the Ethiopian artist placed ethnographic portraits collected from online archives into an immense, gridlike composition that exalts anonymous Ethiopian people. He then layered salvaged African mementos—pieces of jewelry, tools, masks, and bells—onto each image, breathing new life into ancestral histories that would otherwise have been forgotten.
Read the full profile on Wendimagegn Belete by Salomé Gómez-Upegui.
B. 1989, São Paulo. Lives and works in São Paulo.
Portrait of Yuli Yamagata. Courtesy of Yuli Yamagata.
The Brazilian artist Yuli Yamagata has a true knack for the uncanny. Her nightmarish yet eerily alluring installations are playful stage sets of the unconscious. Yamagata gives form to cyborgs, twisted human body parts, horror tales, and other phantasmagoria.
Header and thumbnail image by Artsy, featuring, from left to right, Tariku Shiferaw, “Durag Activity,” 2021. Courtesy of Galerie Lelong; Esther Janssen,“The Silence VI,” 2021. Courtesy of Unit London; Bony Ramirez, “Butterfly,” 2021. Courtesy of Thierry Goldberg Gallery; Bodu Yang, “In The Museum Q,” 2021. Courtesy of MINE PROJECT; and Louise Giovanelli, “Plexus,” 2021. Courtesy of GRIMM Gallery.