Breakout Talents

Artsy Editors
Apr 30, 2018 6:32PM

There’s no formula for how to break into the art world as a young artist, but a few key career markers tend to hold true, like getting picked up by a tastemaking young dealer or getting tapped for a group show at an influential museum. For many of the 15 freshest faces included in The Artsy Vanguard—a new, annual list of the 50 most influential talents shaping the future of contemporary art practice—a combination of those hallmarks holds true. Others, meanwhile, have charted entirely new paths toward art world relevance.

Lina Iris Viktor

B. 1987, London. Lives and works in London and New York.

Lina Iris Viktor by Daniel Dorsa for Artsy.


Lina Iris Viktor, a British-Liberian conceptual artist and painter, made waves earlier this year when she alleged that a music video for a song by Kendrick Lamar and SZA (“All the Stars,” from the Black Panther soundtrack) had copied her paintings and infringed on her copyright. If one metric for success is a Hollywood blockbuster allegedly stealing your ideas, Viktor is well on her way.

It’s hardly the only moment when she’s held the spotlight over the last 12 months. Recent works in the artist’s “Constellation” painting series (which she began in 2016) were presented by Mariane Ibrahim Gallery in a solo booth at this year’s Armory Show, where they glowed with 24-karat gold leaf. (Viktor’s standout exhibitions and attendant buzz have also recently propelled her works to become some of the most inquired-upon on Artsy.)

Viktor’s dense geometric shapes draw inspiration from African textile patterns and modern African architecture. “It’s like she’s taking the Modernists’ appropriation of African references and turning things upside down in Africa’s favor,” says curator Francesca Gavin. “You can feel a really strong art historical lineage here—both Western and African.”

The artist, who divides her time between London and New York, has been busy—she had a solo show at Amar Gallery in London last year, and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art recently acquired pieces by Viktor for its permanent collection. This summer, her work will be on view in Palermo, Italy, as part of Manifesta 12, the influential biennial that is a vital stop on the art-world calendar. And in the fall, she’s the subject of a solo show at the New Orleans Museum of Art, opening in October.

Eliza Douglas

B. 1984, New York. Lives and works in Frankfurt, Germany.


Eliza Douglas is best known for her surreal and slightly loopy paintings of impossibly elongated arms and legs, as well as her performances with her partner Anne Imhof (the Golden Lion-winning star of last year’s Venice Biennale). The centerpiece of the pair’s recent two-person show at Galerie Buchholz in New York was a suite of large-scale paintings combining the artists’ overlapping signatures into expressive floor-to-ceiling scrawls, perhaps a sly nod to their burgeoning, quasi-celebrity status.

Douglas has become a familiar face via her turn as a model for Balenciaga and her athletic endurance-performance in Imhof’s Venice Biennale contribution, Faust (2017). But there’s substance beneath all the high-profile flash—with recent exhibitions at Schinkel Pavillon in Berlin and Overduin & Co. in Los Angeles, plus a flurry of group shows in the U.S., Europe, and Asia, under her belt, it’s clear Douglas can command an audience all on her own. Next on the artist’s itinerary: a solo show at the Jewish Museum, opening on May 4th. In the institution’s lobby, she’ll present a series of new paintings that engage with both her personal family history and the legacy of McCarthyism in America.

Cynthia Talmadge

B. 1989, New York. Lives and works in New York.

Cynthia Talmadge by Daniel Dorsa for Artsy.

Cynthia Talmadge’s work often explores unconventional processes (like sand painting), and focuses on ordinary moments: the entranceway to a funeral parlor, the title credits to the soap opera Days of Our Lives. “I was struck by Cynthia’s sleight-of-hand,” says Stefania Bortolami, founder of the gallery Bortolami, who has two of Talmadge’s works hanging in her house (her gallery doesn’t work directly with the artist). “At face value she makes very pretty paintings that are formally adept and technically very well executed, but when their content is examined more carefully, they show the dark underbelly of the American psyche, serving it with a healthy side of humor. We live in very political times, and these works underline and glamourize the idiosyncrasies of our society, from a woman’s perspective and without judgement.”

Talmadge is represented by spunky Chinatown outfit 56 Henry, which hosted her first solo show in January 2017, as well as a solo booth of the artist’s work at NADA Miami in December. For the former, “Leaves of Absence,” the artist created a sort of life-size diorama visible from the street. It was part of Talmadge’s ongoing series of imagined rooms at well-known drug rehab centers and psychiatric hospitals. Sly, biting, and not without pathos, the show earned her approving nods in Artforum and from New York magazine’s Jerry Saltz.

The artist returns to 56 Henry in September, with a solo show of pointillist paintings made in honor of an Upper East Side funeral chapel of which Talmadge is especially enamored. She’ll also show a selection of sand paintings based on scenes from soap operas at Halsey McKay Gallery in East Hampton this summer.

Li Binyuan

B. 1985, Hunan, China. Lives and works in Beijing.

In 2013, Li Binyuan ran across Beijing, fully nude and bearing an enormous crucifix. Since then, he has enacted performances that involve solitary feats of endurance, such as jumping up and down for minutes while a train thunders past, or repeatedly falling to the muddy ground on a piece of land he inherited upon his father’s death.

Klaus Biesenbach, the director of MoMA PS1, first encountered Li’s work during a visit to the artist’s Beijing studio. The trip was arranged as part of MoMA PS1 and the K11 Art Foundation’s joint research initiative connecting the institutions with emerging Chinese artists; the result was a two-person show at MoMA PS1, which opened this spring.

“Land: Zhang Huan and Li Binyuan,” running through September 3rd, includes videos and photographs documenting performances by the titular artists. It places Li’s work within an admirable lineage of Chinese performance art: Zhang’s influential works exploring the relationship between the body and the natural environment shaped the Chinese avant-garde for a generation.

Gallery Yang in Beijing first began showing Li’s work in 2013, the same year as his nude sprint across the city. But “Land” marks the artist’s first presentation at a major institution in North America. It follows a long list of shows across Asia, including a solo exhibition at Beijing’s Today Art Museum in 2014; two group shows at Shanghai’s Power Station of Art (in 2014 and 2015); and a 2016 performance for a group show at the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design in Manila (which involved Li wearing a Chinese guard’s uniform and standing stoically in front of a government building, much to the confusion of onlookers). This summer, he’ll take part in the Second Yinchuan Biennale, opening in June at the city’s Museum of Contemporary Art.

Allison Janae Hamilton

B. 1984, Lexington, Kentucky. Lives and works in New York.

Allison Janae Hamilton by Daniel Dorsa for Artsy.

Allison Janae Hamilton’s installations, photographs, and videos are rife with Spanish moss, wild horses, stuffed alligators, and masked ghosts, ensconcing the viewer in a fantastical and eerie world. “Allison transports us to a haunting and haunted rural terrain, using enigmatic imagery that merges beauty and brutality,” says Susan Cross, who co-curated Hamilton’s 2018 solo show at MASS MoCA.

There’s a mythical quality to Hamilton’s aesthetic. In the video The Land of Milk or Honey (2016), we see a young girl riding a white horse, her face obscured by what appears to be a bird skull. Another video, A balm for the living (2016), turns a cozy bedroom into the scene of what might be a ghostly visitation. Hamilton imbues familiar things with a surreal, discomfiting energy. Floridaland, a 2017 installation shown at Columbia University’s Wallach Art Gallery, cast a spell with taxidermied alligators and horse hair.      

Hamilton’s solo show at MASS MoCA comes right on the heels of her appointment as a 2018 artist-in-residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem (she shares the post with rising talents Sable Elyse Smith and Tschabalala Self). This spring, Hamilton will be included—along with household names like Mark Dion and Maya Lin—in “Indicators: Artists on Climate Change,” a group show opening May 19th at Storm King Art Center. “For our exhibition, she is creating a work that not only explores the ramifications of climate change for vulnerable communities, but suggests that cultural production can be a force for community and rebuilding in the wake of natural disaster,” notes Storm King curator Nora R. Lawrence.

Wong Ping

B. 1984, Hong Kong. Lives and works in Hong Kong.

Some artists eschew narrative while others are natural storytellers, and Wong Ping is definitely in the latter camp. An inventive installation artist and animator (he once did post-production for Cartoon Network), Wong makes short films that tell oddball tales: a wandering nose, an anxious tree riding a city bus, or a grown man who tries to, literally, return to the safety of the womb. The artist’s cheery style and anthropomorphic animals temper the often grim themes of inadequacy, loss, and frustrated desire that he infuses into his work.

Represented by tastemaking Hong Kong- and Shanghai-based gallery Edouard Malingue, Wong has also shown solo at Interstitial, an experimental arts space in Seattle. Recently, he was included in the New Museum Triennial in New York, and as part of a screening series at Dallas Contemporary. Perhaps his most high-profile outing to date comes this May with a new commission at the Guggenheim Museum: a multimedia installation that explores the pitfalls of our digital economy’s relentless pace. Titled Dear, can I give you a hand? (2018), the work is part of the latest (and last) installment of the museum’s Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Chinese Art Initiative, where Wong will show alongside well-known artists like Cao Fei and fellow Artsy Vanguard honoree Samson Young.

Sanam Khatibi

B. 1979, Tehran, Iran. Lives and works in Brussels.

At first glance, Sanam Khatibi’s paintings seem bestial, in both senses of the word—full of animal behavior and human cruelty. In one large oil painting from 2017, a coterie of pale, naked women skin rabbits and hang their small bodies from a tree; in another, a woman embraces a lupine monster with the claws and teeth of a beast, but the nether regions of a man. Yet Khatibi’s brushwork is refined, and her compositions reference medieval tapestry. The results can recall a feminist update of Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights (1490–1500) or Edgar Degas’s 19th-century history paintings.

Khatibi’s work is especially resonant in the current moment because her female subjects are presented as protagonists, not victims. They hunt, tame, or seduce the wild beasts, rather than being ravaged by them. The artist’s current solo show, now on view at Artlead Salon in Brussels through May 27th, extends this theme into ceramics, tapestry, and embroidery.

Khatibi has shown widely in Belgium, where she lives and works, and has recently begun to make inroads in the U.S., particularly in Los Angeles. There, she’s been included in a 2017 group exhibition at Various Small Fires (alongside the likes of Katherine Bradford, Ana Mendieta, and Marianne Vitale), and enjoyed a solo outing at The Cabin, an unconventional and buzzy alternative space modeled on the Unabomber’s former lodgings. Khatibi’s next leap forward is inclusion in a group exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Marseille, France, opening May 13th.

TM Davy

B. 1980, New York. Lives and works in New York.

TM Davy by Daniel Dorsa for Artsy.

Born and based in New York City, TM Davy is known for his delicate portraits with heavy chiaroscuro, as well as compositions that capture the lighting effects of flickering candle flames. A 2017 solo exhibition at Lower East Side gallery 11R found his draftsmanship in fine form, as he presented nearly life-sized paintings of horses. Davy’s approach to figuration is achingly dreamy and unapologetically realistic; he has a knack for bringing art history to bear on the contemporary, often with a proudly queer edge (witness the 2008 painting Kalup Reclining, his elegant nude portrait of the artist Kalup Linzy, posed in a way that alludes to the ambience of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’s Grande Odalisque of 1814).  

Davy is currently represented by Van Doren Waxter in New York, following the gallery’s merger with 11R last year. European audiences can see his work at Galerie Thomas Fuchs in Stuttgart in June, his third solo show on the continent. And his paintings are currently a highlight in “The Lure of the Dark: Contemporary Painters Conjure the Night” at MASS MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts.

“Davy’s works are making visitors swoon, moving us with their incredible skill, but also with their unabashed romanticism,” says MASS MoCA curator Susan Cross. Highlighting his “emotional portraits of love, intimacy, and friendship,” she points specifically to a new 11-square-foot canvas, Fire Island Moonrise (2018). “It’s a masterful study of light and atmosphere—as well as an homage to Henri Rousseau—but it also hints at the importance of Davy’s close-knit community of artists and friends on Fire Island.”

Sadie Barnette

B. 1984, Oakland, California. Lives and works in Oakland.

Sadie Barnette’s powerful traveling exhibition “Dear 1968,…” opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego on April 19th, its third institutional stop. The work here centers on a collection of archival documents, which are both political and deeply intimate: Barnette’s father’s FBI file, a record of surveillance conducted after he founded the Compton chapter of the Black Panther Party in the late 1960s.

A recent show of the artist’s work at Fort Gansevoort in New York explored similar themes in Barnette’s distinctive graphic style, combining photography, drawing, and text. Barnette was included in a host of group shows across the U.S. in 2017—from the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit to the California African American Museum in Los Angeles—suggesting that her work has extra resonance in this time of cultural and social upheaval. She was also a highlight of last year’s “Excerpt” at the Studio Museum in Harlem, an institution where she previously was an artist-in-residence.

“Barnette is bringing conceptual art practices and strategies to bear on her family history,” says the artist Hank Willis Thomas, who included her in a group show (“Young, Gifted and Black”) that he curated in 2015 for Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg, South Africa. “Her work both universalizes personal experiences and connects them to larger structural inequities.”  

Hannah Levy

B. 1991, New York. Lives and works in New York.

Hannah Levy by Daniel Dorsa for Artsy.

Hannah Levy’s recent solo show at Clearing was fleshy yet slick. The exhibition included a single-channel video that showed a close-up of feminine fingers extracting pearls from the moist interior of a large oyster. Below the screen, a trio of steel and silicone sculptures suggested scaled-down lounge chairs dotted here and there with pearls. Much of the show’s materials—alabaster, silicone, the pearls, even the meat of the oyster—were all the color of pale pink flesh, indicating, perhaps, a critique of our habitual conflation of whiteness with value and status.

Levy’s approach to sculpture, which derives from an interest in industrial design, explores how the objects we live with can encode our biases and aspirations. She gravitates toward the forms of furniture, exploring the connections between art and design. Her experiments often further cross disciplinary borders. For a performance coinciding with “Past Skin,” a 2017 group show at MoMA PS1 that featured her own work, Levy crafted unnerving silicone-and-latex costumes for a performance choreographed by Phoebe Berglund.

Recently, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark included Levy in “Being There,” a group show that paired her alongside the likes of Cécile B. Evans and Ryan Trecartin. And in April, she opened a solo exhibition at the Dublin space Mother’s Tankstation Limited, where she’s also now on the official roster.

Lucia Hierro

B. 1987, New York. Lives and works in New York.

Dominican-American artist Lucia Hierro’s recent work explores sticky issues of culture, class, and taste via familiar objects in explosive proportions. At her recent solo exhibition at Elizabeth Dee (and her first ever), monumental soft sculptures of candy-colored shopping bags hung from the ceiling. The gauzy, poly-organza fabric totes were filled with digitally printed versions of the sorts of commercial objects populating the Washington Heights neighborhood where the artist grew up: Vicks VapoRub, Air Jordans, baseball cards, and bags of pork skins.

“She’s the only female artist of this generation who’s engaging in a visceral conversation with the history of Pop art, utilizing objects that are familiar to her and her community,” says Larry Ossei-Mensah, an independent curator and the organizer of Hierro’s show at Elizabeth Dee. “Since graduating from Yale in 2013, her work has really shifted and evolved,” he continues. “In the last five years, she’s developed a singular language. I expect a lot from her in the years to come.”

Meanwhile, Hierro has been burnishing her résumé with a stint at the Saratoga Springs artist retreat Yaddo in 2013, as well as the Fountainhead Residency in Miami in 2016. Most recently, she was one of three resident artists at the Red Bull House of Art in Detroit, a program that culminated with an exhibition at the space in April (on view through May 28th).

Tyler Mitchell

B. 1995, Atlanta. Lives and works in New York.

Tyler Mitchell by Daniel Dorsa for Artsy.

Photographer and filmmaker Tyler Mitchell isn’t represented by a gallery, nor has he been included in any group shows—but the recent NYU Tisch graduate is proof that there’s more than one way to launch an art career.

Mitchell is popular on Instagram (over 40,000 followers and counting) for his tender portraits of both friends and celebrities, and he’s beloved by magazines like i-D and Dazed, where he has been both the subject of feature articles and an editorial photographer. Teen Vogue also recently tapped him for a series of empathic portraits of student activists affected by gun violence.

The majority of Mitchell’s visible creative output is currently video-based advertising for brands including Givenchy, Marc Jacobs, and American Eagle, along with editorial shoots for fashion magazines. But, like Bruce Weber and Richard Avedon before him, he’s cannily making the leap from fashion photography to art. His self-published photobook, El Paquete (2015), explores the burgeoning culture of skateboarding in Cuba, and he’s currently in post-production on an experimental film about teens and race (entitled Chasing Pink, Found Red) that he plans to start screening this year. Expect other career-defining news in the near future.

Janiva Ellis

B. 1987, Oakland, California. Lives and works in Los Angeles.

Janiva Ellis, one of the most talked-about artists at this year’s New Museum Triennial, paints with a bright and confident verve that belies her often dark subject matter. Her figures seem uneasy, even anguished, as their skin melts from their faces, or while they’re being menaced by fragments of unfriendly childhood cartoons.

Ellis still has a short résumé, but it’s impressive. She’s represented by 47 Canal—the downtown gallery that counts breakout stars Anicka Yi and Ajay Kurian in its stable of artists—and had her debut solo show there in summer 2017; apparently, there’s an eager waiting list of prospective collectors competing over her modest output.

Reviewing Ellis’s inclusion in a group show at Karma International in Los Angeles that same summer, the New York Times dubbed her work “discreetly blistering.” This past February, she was awarded the Rema Hort Mann Foundation Emerging Artist Grant, which has previously been awarded to such artists as Obama portraitist Kehinde Wiley, as well as Sarah Sze, whose work graced the U.S. Pavilion at the 2013 Venice Biennale.

“Her work, with its humor and color, is a welcome addition to the cultural conversation,” says Rema Hort Mann Foundation board member Michael Hort, who is also a formidable collector. “We very much look forward to what’s to come from her.”

Xinyi Cheng

B. 1989, Wuhan, China. Lives and works in Amsterdam.

Xinyi Cheng paints men in vulnerable moments; they might be getting a shave, sleeping, or leaning in for a kiss. Cheng’s work fits neatly within the recent vogue for figurative painting and for the female gaze, a fuzzily defined term that’s often used to describe depictions of men made by women artists, particularly when the work reverses prescribed gender roles. Hatuey Ramos Fermin, one of the co-curators of the 2015 AIM Biennial at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, selected Cheng for the exhibition because he was fascinated by the artist’s “mysterious narratives” and her “nuanced approach to contemporary masculinity.”

Yet the power of Cheng’s work goes beyond merely turning the tables. Her 2017 solo show at Paris’s Galerie Balice Hertling was filled with large, confident canvases that saw the artist expanding her formal vocabulary, from scenes of action and conflict—such as paintings of naked men tussling in nature—to delicately rendered tablescapes reminiscent of Jane Freilicher’s taut still-lifes.

Antenna Space, the Shanghai-based gallery that previously helped launch the careers of Chinese artists Guan Xiao and Li Ming, began representing Cheng in 2017. Last year, the gallery dedicated its booth at Frieze London to a solo presentation of Cheng’s work, and this June they’ll open a solo exhibition of her work in Shanghai.

Kelly Akashi

B. 1983, Los Angeles. Lives and works in Los Angeles.

Kelly Akashi, a Los Angeles-based artist working primarily in photography and sculpture, leaves no material behind. She displays equal facility with bronze, wax, blown glass, and photogram prints. That playful combination of materials drew critical notice during a recent solo show at SculptureCenter in New York, her debut exhibition at a major institution. “She rose to the occasion,” says Laurie Ziegler, a board member of the national arts nonprofit Artadia, who marvels at the way Akashi marshalls diverse media to explore ideas of “combustion and change.”

The artist’s sculpture is delicate yet confident, and she often focuses on small gestures and snippets of human anatomy: A typical piece might pair a bronze hand holding what appears to be a bulbous glass banana. Ziegler says she’s particularly fond of Akashi’s works that incorporate hands. “Whether climbing up a wall, dangling in the center of a room, resting on blown glass, or seated on a tabletop, there is something magical and refreshing about them,” she says.

The artist has previously had solo shows at venues like Ghebaly Gallery in Los Angeles and New York’s tastemaking Tomorrow Gallery (now Downs & Ross). In March, Akashi debuted a new body of work at Art Basel in Hong Kong in a solo booth with Ghebaly Gallery. In 2019, she’ll unveil a permanent commission for Lu Xun’s Sifang Art Museum in Nanjing, China.

Artsy Editors

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Hannah Levy was represented by the gallery Clearing. Ms. Levy is not represented by that gallery.

Portraits photographed in New York City at Milk Studios. Header image: Portrait of Tyler Mitchell by Daniel Dorsa for Artsy. Produced with support from Sister Productions.