Derek Fordjour - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in association with Yongle Hong Kong Thursday, December 1, 2022 | Phillips

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  • “The most instrumental, insurgent painting for this moment must be of figures, and those figures must be black, unapologetically so.”
    — Kerry James Marshall


    Derek Fordjour is an American multidisciplinary artist who works across video, collage, sculpture and painting to project his unique creative vision. His works largely depict Black figures engaging in cultural rituals and rites of passage, who strive to manoeuvre through the ambiguity of success while being scrutinised through the prism of race.



    The present lot shown at Josh Lilley Gallery booth, Art Basel Miami Beach 2018


    Fordjour’s rise as an artist mimics the industry of his work, having only had his first exhibition in 2014, The Big Game, whilst completing his MFA at Hunter College. Figures like Nari Ward and Kerry James Marshall would point him in the right direction, but it would be a residency at the Sugar Hill Museum in New York that garnered critical acclaim. Fordjour then detonated the public eye with the sale of Agency and Regulation (study) at Phillips New York in September 2019, before his booth at Frieze was bought up by influential collectors Jay-Z and Beyoncé.



    Derek Fordjour, Agency and Regulation (study), 2016
    Sold for USD137,500 (Premium) at Phillips New York, 24 September 2019


    His artistic process is that of singularity and pain-staking intricacy. After preliminary layers of paint, he then glues cardboard tiles before wrapping the canvas in layers of newspaper (usually seven or eight). What follows next is a procedure of addition and subtraction: scraping away areas of newspaper, adding further polygons of cardboard, and finally drawing with charcoal and painting in acrylics. The country that this labyrinth of medium and material creates is nothing short of breathtaking; a complex topography that glides over the pictorial space, running crags and crevasses through the canvas as we become helpless in their mysteries.


    “During tough times I worked with newspaper, which is a fragile material, but the joy of drawing on such a surface with vine charcoal freed me from the oppression of easel painting. I enjoyed how liberating it was.
    It allowed me to start cutting, but then I had this hollow object that needed more support. Experimenting with ways to create more support ended up creating a new kind of surface. Now I react to something in every painting.”
    Derek Fordjour


    The subversion of the mundane nature by using periodicals as layers within the work holds deeper meaning. He always uses the fabled, salmon pink pages of the Financial Times, a paper whose illustrious reputation holds personal resonance for him as an artist: ‘The Financial Times is making an effort to differentiate itself from the pool of other newsprint with its distinctive colour. The idea of individuation—the desire to distinguish oneself in the face of being stereotyped or grouped—has a tension that I identify with.’ i


    Now 48 and reaching a mature stage in his career, Fordjour has found his voice and carved his seat in the cacophonic, sensory-overloaded modern world. Single Pivot Turn stands as the epitome of this assured development; a single figure dominates the composition, caught in the wild abandon of dance – a corporal traversion that oozes with dynamism. The passion of the act is attuned by the concealed features of the dancer who is garbed in Tyrian magenta, a balance between anonymity and prestige. Imperial associations aside, the figure closely matches the Zaouli dancers of the Ivory Coast, who focus on foot gyrations and similarly don face masks and purple costumes.



    Left: Turkish Dancers in Traditional Costume

    Right: A Zouli dancer
    Image by Inger Vandyke


    The dance, commonly performed during funerals, lends Single Pivot Turn the mantle of precursor to his celebrated 2020 show, SELF MUST DIE, held at Petzel Gallery which focused on funerary tradition operated by Black figures.



     Derek Fordjour, Pall Bearers, 2020


    Further African signifiers are found in the patchwork of the work’s setting, which resemble the woven plastic floor mats found all over West Africa; the rhythmic mosaic of diamonds blinding the boundaries between foreground and background as the two planes oscillate between each other.


    Plastic woven mats


    Yet the mystical symbolism that suffuses the present lot is tempered by the social landscape in which it is produced. The idea of performance is intrinsic both to this work, and his practice as a whole; ‘I love learning other ways to have a conversation. Painting has its utility, but performance is another register.’ ii Indeed, within the context of Black success in a White America, showmanship has often provided a route to both achievement and degradation, a phenomenon placed under a bright spotlight in recent years as subcultures like hip-hop have become avenues for widespread accessible entertainment despite its anti-establishment and racial expression origins. As such, with Single Pivot Turn, Fordjour toys with the ornate, blurring the line between luxury and obligation while constructing an arena of allegorical nuance that forces the boundaries of discourse to be redrawn and hitting refresh on the conversation.


    Yet the artist shakes off the crown of a spokesman for Black artistic production, asserting that ‘I cannot speak for other black artists. My primary artistic goal is freedom’ iii. Nonetheless Fordjour sees himself in the fabric of his works, admitting their shades of self-portraiture. These liminal spaces, both physically and essentially, is where the magic of his practice lies – at the crossroads between the the personal and the social.



    Collector’s Digest


    Derek Fordjour was recently appointed the Alex Katz Chair at Cooper Union, serves as a Core Critic at the Yale School of Art, and was named the 2016 Sugarhill Museum Artist-in-Residence and the 2018 Deutsche Bank NYFA Fellow.


    Recently, the artist had solo shows held at the Pond Society, Shanghai; Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis; and Petzel Gallery, New York. Recent group exhibitions include The Slipstream: Reflection, Resilience, and Resistance in the Art of Our Time, Brooklyn Museum, New York (2021); Present Generations: Creating the Scantland Collection of the Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio (2021); and 100 Drawings from Now, The Drawing Center, New York (2020).


    Fordjour’s work is included in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum; Dallas Museum of Art; Guggenheim Museum, New York; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Pérez Art Museum Miami; The Studio Museum of Harlem, New York; and Whitney Museum, New York among others.


    The Metropolitan Transit Authority of New York commissioned Fordjour to create a series of mosaics for Manhattan’s 145th Street subway station which were unveiled in 2018.



    i Derek Fordjour, quoted in Paul Laster, ‘Derek Fordjour's Vibrant Interactions’, Ocula Magazine, 23 June 2021, online

    ii Derek Fourdjour, quoted in Siddhartha Mitter, ‘Derek Fordjour, From Anguish to Transcendence’, The New York Times, 19 November 2020, online

    iii Derek Fourdjour, quoted in Jackie Wullschläger, ‘Derek Fordjour on painting the African-American experience’, The Financial Times, 20 October 2020, online

    • Provenance

      Josh Lilley Gallery, London
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2018


Single Pivot Turn

signed and dated 'FORDJOUR '18' on the reverse
acrylic, charcoal and oil pastel on newspaper mounted on canvas
255 x 150.1 cm. (100 3/8 x 59 1/8 in.)
Executed in 2018.

Full Cataloguing

HK$2,000,000 - 3,000,000 

Sold for HK$4,032,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in association with Yongle

Hong Kong Auction 1 December 2022