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05/08/24: An Ethiopian Painter Makes a Splash

Tesfaye Urgessa’s distinct aesthetic fuses Ethiopian iconography with German neo-Expressionism; surrealistic furniture debuts in New York; we find out why everyone really loves Picabia; and more openings.

“Feet half-buried” by Tesfaye Urgessa. Photo: Courtesy Saatchi Yates

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A Lebanese Painter Who Defied Expectations; Interior Furniture Gets Surreal; Remembering West African Portraiture; and Other Openings This May

London, “Tesfaye Urgessa” (Until June 16)
To coincide with Tesfaye Urgessa’s commission for the first-ever Ethiopian pavilion at this year’s 60th Venice Biennale, a survey of his practice is being presented in a cloudier city. The painter’s distinct aesthetic fuses Ethiopian iconography with German neo-Expressionism—honed during his years studying and working in Germany—and examines race and identity politics. Having returned to his hometown of Addis Ababa, his work has taken on political themes of migration and displacement.

Miami, “Huguette Caland: Outside the Line (1970–84)” (Until Oct. 6)
“I love every minute of my life,” the late Lebanese artist Huguette Caland said to the Los Angeles Times in 2003. “I squeeze it like an orange, and I eat the peel, because I don’t want to miss a thing.” In her art, Caland relishes in life, beauty, and the body. Her most well-known series of paintings, “Bribes de Corps” (Body Parts), celebrates forms of the flesh in lush colors and delicate lines. Though her work was exhibited worldwide, she was not known locally in Los Angeles, where she would settle down. The Institute of Contemporary Art in Miami will be the first American museum to present a much overdue survey of her work.

New York City, “Rogan Gregory: Elysian Dream” (Until Aug. 9)
Gregory’s furniture pieces are the stuff of Dalí’s dreams: puddle-like coffee tables, furry mirrors, dripping lamps. Made from wood, bronze, and most recently textiles, this Los Angeles–based artist’s anamorphic works exceed conventions of what shape furniture should take. For this exhibit, he furnishes a mock bedroom and living room, imagining a surreal living space.

New York City, “Everyone Loves Picabia” (Opens May 3)
Best known as a Dadaist, Francis Picabia’s career really defied definition. From paintings to poetry and impressionism to cubism, the early-20th-century French artist dabbled in it all. To celebrate its 10th birthday, David Lewis gallery presents five of Picabia’s works alongside 24 contemporary artists inspired by him, examining his enduring influence.

Paris, “Look at Me!” (Opens May 4)
Studio portraiture was the most popular form of photography in West Africa in the 1950s. To have a portrait taken was a special treat, and portraitists became highly respected, serving as the keeper of their community’s memory. The portraits by Oumar Ly, Seydou Keïta, Sanlé Sory, and Malick Sidibé feature bell-bottomed teenagers, painted backdrops, and solemn figures posed with fun accessories. These moving snapshots capture the daily life, and culture of postcolonial Africa.

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