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In Conversation | Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe and Larry Ossei-Mensah

Phoenix Art Museum (PhxArt) will present renowned artist Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe and curator Larry Ossei-Mensah in conversation during the Museum’s spring Lenhardt Lecture, a key component of the Dawn and David Lenhardt Contemporary Art Initiative. Quaicoe is known for his lush portraits of friends and family members that utilize bold colors to communicate personal narratives and distinct identities. His figurative forms, including a recent series of Black American cowboys, exude empowerment, redemption, sophistication, humility, curiosity, and quietude and often reflect U.S. gender and race dynamics. Coinciding with the program at PhxArt, the Museum has acquired Quaicoe’s portrait Profile of Larry Ossei (2022), which will be on view this spring in the Museum’s Katz Wing for Modern Art and is the fifth work acquired by the Museum through the Lenhardt Contemporary Art Initiative. This spring’s Lenhardt Lecture will place Quaicoe in dialogue with the subject of this recent acquisition—Larry Ossei-Mensah—representing an exciting opportunity to learn about the process of portraiture and the give and take between artist and subject. 

“We are thrilled to bring Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe and Larry Ossei-Mensah to Phoenix Art Museum as part of our ongoing Lenhardt Lecture series, made possible through the vision and generosity of Dawn and David Lenhardt,” said Jeremy Mikolajczak, the Sybil Harrington Director and CEO of Phoenix Art Museum. “Quaicoe’s ability to capture the essence of his subjects is masterful, and his portrait of Ossei-Mensah—a rising force in the field of contemporary art—is no different. This work, with Ossei-Mensah dressed as a cowboy, provides an opportunity for our visitors to consider stories and identities historically excluded from narratives about the American West as well as the art world at large, and we are grateful to the Lenhardt family for enabling the Museum to add this important painting to our permanent collection.”

Born in Accra, Ghana, and now based in Oregon, Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe (b. 1988) is one of the leading West African artists of his generation. Quaicoe approaches painting as an exploratory medium that presents an opportunity to engage with topics of personal identity, pervading social dynamics, and the history of painting itself. Rendered in an approachable scale, his richly textured portraits are intimate and powerful, utilizing bold, concentrated fields of color to capture the emotions and defining characteristics of his sitters. His recent series of portraits featuring Black cowboys modernize the genre, discontinuing a widespread inaccurate and exclusionary account of U.S. history. Quaicoe, who studied painting at the Ghanatta College of Art and Design for Fine Art, has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions, including ONE BUT TWO (Haadzii) (2021) and Black Like Me (2020) at Roberts Projects gallery in Los Angeles, Calif., as well as BLACK RODEO: Cowboys of the 21st Century (2022) at Almine Rech Gallery in Brussels, Belgium.

For the SPRING LENHARDT LECTURE at PhxArt, Quaicoe will appear in conversation with Ghanaian-American curator and cultural critic Larry Ossei-Mensah. A native of the Bronx, Ossei-Mensah uses art as a forum to redefine how we see ourselves and the world around us. Currently, he serves as curator-at-large at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) and formerly served as the Susanne Feld Hilberry Senior Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Detroit. Ossei-Mensah has worked with artists such as Steve McQueen, Catherine Opie, Nick Cave, Guadalupe Maravilla, Ebony G. Patterson, Judy Chicago, and Amoako Boafo, to name a few, and his exhibitions and projects have appeared in various national and international venues, including the Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver; Ben Brown Fine Arts in Hong Kong and London; the Museum of African Diaspora in San Francisco; MASS MoCA; and the 7th Athens Biennale in Athens, Greece, which he co-curated with OSMK Social Club.

“Dawn and I are very pleased to welcome Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe and Larry Ossei-Mensah to Phoenix Art Museum for this spring’s Lenhardt Lecture,” said David Lenhardt, vice chair of the Museum’s Board of Trustees. “Quaicoe’s empowering works use portraiture as a form of diasporic cultural investigation, allowing us to probe into social topics of our past and present. We are excited to help bring him and Ossei-Mensah to Phoenix so our community can learn more about their collaboration, their processes, and the histories they are focused on uncovering and uplifting.”

Quaicoe’s Profile of Larry Ossei (2022) is the fifth work acquired into the Museum’s collection with funds from the Lenhardt Contemporary Art Initiative, which was expanded in 2021 to support the diversification of the contemporary art collection of Phoenix Art Museum through the acquisition of works by artists contributing to discourses on race, gender, and other socially relevant concerns, including those by Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and women artists, among others. The painting fashions Ossei-Mensah, considered a rising curatorial star, as a Black cowboy, interrogating the erasure of Black identity within an art-historical context and within western American histories. The work will be on view in the Museum’s Katz Wing for Modern Art beginning this spring and in conjunction with the March Lenhardt Lecture.

“Quaicoe’s portrait of Ossei-Mensah not only diversifies the Museum’s holdings of contemporary art but broadens our understanding of the American West and what we consider American art,” said Christian Ramírez, assistant curator of contemporary and community art initiatives. “We are grateful to the Lenhardt family for their continued dedication to expanding representation across our programs and acquisitions.”