Culture Type highlights Ming Smith

By Vicotria L. Valentine



Galleries displaying works by African American artists won both booth prizes at the latest edition of Frieze New York. Presenting works by pioneering photographer Ming Smith, Jenkins Johnson Gallery won the 2019 Frieze Stand Prize and Company gallery received the 2019 Frame Prize for its solo exhibition of works by up-and-coming artist Jonathan Lyndon Chase.


The galleries were recognized for their exceptional presentations at Frieze New York held on Randall’s Island May 3-5, with panels of international art experts judging the prizes. Three jurors, including Thelma Golden, director and chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem, decided the Stand Prize. Lauren Haynes, contemporary art curator at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, was part of the three-member jury that weighed in on the Frame Prize.


Stand Prize- Jenkins Johnson Gallery


Jenkins Johnson participated in a special section of Frieze paying tribute to Just Above Midtown (JAM) gallery. The legendary space was founded by Linda Goode Bryant in 1974 and operated until 1986. Working in collaboration with Bryant, Franklin Sirmans, director of the Perez Art Museum Miami, curated the section inviting galleries representing JAM artists, such as Ming Smith, to mount solo exhibitions of their work.


Photographs by Smith dating from the 1970s to 80s were on view in the Jenkins Johnson booth. The gallery is based in San Francisco and has a satellite space in Brooklyn. Smith’s images included self-portraits, cultural icons such as James Baldwin, Grace Jones, and Gordon Parks, and subjects such as Alvin Ailey’s funeral, jazz musicians, fleeting moments, and neighborhood scenes. Employing a variety of enhancing techniques including double exposure, collage, and painting, Smith’s photographs have an ethereal, otherworldly feel.


Smith was the first female member of Kamoinge, the New York collective of African American photographers. Currently, her work is featured in the traveling exhibition “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power.” A graduate of Howard University, Smith lives in New York City.


“Our decision to honor the JAM initiative in general and Ming Smith in particular was unanimous,” Nancy Spector, one of the jurors who serves as artistic director and chief curator at the Guggenheim Museum, said in a statement. “We recognized that the presentation constituted an important recuperation of an artist’s practice that is not as well-known as it should be. Her booth at Frieze is filled with vintage prints, which is rare to see in the case of artists active in the 1970s and early 80s who did not have a market at that time. Her unique, experimental photographic style is very accomplished and should be celebrated.”