Few artists have done more to push video art forward in recent years than Isaac Julien, and in 2019, it seemed that all his efforts came to fruition. His 10-screen film installation Lessons of the Hour (2019) – which dramatizes events in the life of the 19th-century scholar and activist Frederick Douglass with lush details and cinematic grandeur – debuted at Metro Pictures in New York in March and went on to be shown in Rochester, New York, and Savannah, Georgia. The nine-channel film installation Lina Bo Bardi – A Marvelous Entanglement (2019), Julien’s homage to the titular Brazilian modernist architect, premiered at Victoria Miro in London in June and then made a splash stateside in December, when it was one of the standout works in Art Basel in Miami Beach’s new Meridians sector (where it was co-presented by the galleries Victoria Miro, Nara Roesler, and Jessica Silverman, in collaboration with Ron Mandos). This year also marked the 30th anniversary of Julien’s breakout work: his 1989 paean to the Harlem Renaissance…
…Beyond making and showing his own work, Julien also kept very busy this year supporting the work of other artists. In March, he was hired as a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he’ll help develop the new Isaac Julien Lab (wherein students can gain experience by working on the artist’s projects). He is also serving on the jury for the Dream Commission, a new initiative by luxury automaker Rolls-Royce to support moving-image art by emerging and mid-career artists. And as the art world descended on London for Frieze in October, Victoria Miro opened “Rock My Soul,” a powerhouse exhibition of black female and non-binary artists curated by Julien. At the time of its opening, in an interview with the Evening Standard, he reflected on the evolution of his medium of choice: “Innovation in the moving image is taking place in the museums and galleries, not really the cinema.” This year, Julien continued to innovate in startling and powerful ways.
…Perpetually in demand, Kusama also made headlines this year as institutions across the U.S. put her “Infinity Mirror Rooms” on view. Love is Calling (2013) is currently on view at the ICA Boston; Infinity Mirrored Room – My Heart is Dancing into the Universe (2018) went on permanent view at the Crystal Bridges Museum in October; and All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins (2016), a piece that is owned by Saudi royalty, is being shown at ICA Miami.
Image: Portrait of Isaac Julien, 2019, taken in the exhibition Rock My Soul at Victoria Miro (2 October–2 November 2019)
Photography: Matt Writtle for the Evening Standard