Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art

The Yale Center for British Art launched an exhibit titled “The Hilton Als Series: Lynette Yiadom-Boakye” earlier this month, showcasing recent works of British contemporary artist Lynette Yiadom-Boakye.

Curated by Hilton Als — a theater critic for the New Yorker and Pulitzer-prize winning author — the display features paintings and etchings completed by Yiadom-Boakye between 2012 and 2018. It includes six paintings borrowed from private collections and a portfolio of etchings from the YCBA’s holdings.

In an interview with the News, YCBA’s Chief Curator of Art Collections Matthew Hargraves said he attempted to provide a range of Yiadom-Boakye’s work “both in terms of scale, from very small works to very large pictures, and in terms of the kinds of subjects she tackles.”

“Underlying all of that, you can see how figures in her paintings inhabit spaces on their own terms — they belong and own the space around them,” Hargraves said.

Yiadom-Boakye is a figurative painter whose drawings are driven by her imagination. Hargraves said that she is interested in both the Western tradition, particularly painters like Manet, and the representation of black subjects in her work. Hargraves added that Yiadom-Boakye’s work belongs to a long tradition of images of “black nobility” — a tradition he said is not always recognized in art history.

This display of Yiadom-Boakye’s work is the second in a series of three YCBA exhibitions curated by Als. These installments are devoted to contemporary female artists in Britain. His first installment in 2018 centered around the works of Celia Paul, and his final exhibit of this series will feature works by Njideka Akunyili Crosby in 2020.

According to Hargraves, this exhibit series was “catalyzed” by Als’ 2016 Windham-Campbell Literature Prize. Als and the YCBA began discussing the possibility of this exhibit series during the 2016 festival.

Hargraves said Als is an “important figure” in contemporary literary world, who has curated and written about both American and British contemporary art. He added that the artists that Als has typically selected are people he has great “affinity” with.

“He’s developed friendships with and has gotten to know their work deeply in that time,” said Hargraves. “The selections he has made have been drawn from those close relationships with those artists.”

Als selected the works for the exhibit, while Hargraves acted as house curator, facilitating the acquisition and organization of the various works. Hargraves mentioned that Als worked closely with Yiadom-Boakye herself to put the show together, and the conversations the two had largely guided his curatorial decisions.

Hargraves said the exhibit is a “fantastic intervention by one of the most contemporary British artists.”

“We tend to think narrowly about British art,” he said. “[The exhibit] demonstrates that when we talk about British art, it’s not about the story of one small island, but really about a transnational phenomena.”

Als will be giving an accompanying lecture to the exhibit on Oct. 10 at 5:30 p.m. at the YCBA.

Freya Savla | freya.savla@yale.edu