Exclusive: Curator Amani Olu and the Case for Black and White Photography


If you’ve been to any arty parties recently, especially of the contemporary photo variety, chances are you’ve run into Amani Olu. Nattily dressed, attired in giant glasses, and typically surrounded by a coterie of friends, artists, and Brooklyn cultural savants, Olu has professed his desire to become a tastemaker in contemporary photography by curating independent exhibitions, running a gallery, and publishing collector’s guides. His latest curatorial work by amani olu projects is collected in After Color, a new exhibition at Bose Pacia gallery in Chelsea.

After Color examines how contemporary artists utilize the traditional medium of black-and-white photography to conceptualize and strengthen their work. The exhibition also serves as a comment on the large-scale, color photography that has dominated the contemporary photo world in the past quarter decade.

The nine artists represented in After Color fall along a broad spectrum of photography practice, from the staged portraiture of Pushpamala N (above, left) to Talia Chetrit’s Photoshop gradients translated into silver gelatin prints (above, right). Our particular favorites are two pieces by Michael Vahrenwald depicting depression therapy light boxes as a pseudo-landscape (below).

We chatted with Olu to get the scoop on collecting young and the tension between black-and-white and color photography in the contemporary market.

Flavorpill: How do you find new artists to represent? Do you source much of your curated exhibitions from past projects like The Collector’s Guide to Emerging Art Photography?

Amani Olu: I find artists by attending art fairs, visiting artist studios and through the recommendations of trusted associates. I do reference The Collector’s Guide for curatorial projects, but not any more than any other potential venue. I would say it is fairly even.

FP: You represent Michael Vahrenwald, who has two images in the After Color exhibition. What are some other notable inclusions in the show? What do you look for when curating a group show — individualism along a theme or a more cohesive collection?

AO: All of the artists are notable in their own right. What is important about this group is that they are able to revive photographic tradition and make it innovative and fresh. For any exhibition I curate I always looks for work that fits into the theme, yet is distinct and innovative on its own. For After Color, I sought artists who were making conceptual black-and-white photographs that contributed to the discussion on how non-color images function in the contemporary art world. I was also keen on work that allowed for new interpretations of the medium itself.

FP: Explain a bit about the black-and-white theme of the Bose Pacia exhibition. We’ve seen contemporary photography strongly influenced by William Eggleston, for example — saturated color, organic and spontaneous shots, finding curiosities in mundane existence. What is so attractive to you about formalized, monotone work?

AO: The work featured here references the formal elements and processes of traditional photography while also incorporating the visual complexity, technology and vocabulary of conceptual and color art photography. In other words, these works are not solely formal, monochromatic photographs, which seldom commands my attention as a curator. I do appreciate color photography influenced by the likes of Eggleston, but for this exhibition I wanted to work with a different type of image.

FP: What does black and white photography evoke for you, and by whom are you influenced as a curator?

AO: Black-and-white photography is often reminiscent of history or evokes feelings of nostalgia. I am not particularly keen on these formal characteristics of black-and-white. In terms of After Color it is exciting and refreshing to work with artists who are making a conscious decision to use black-and-white film to strengthen their ideas as opposed to working with color because it is in vogue.

Jon Feinstein, co-founder and curatorial director of Humble Arts Foundation, has had the most influence on my curatorial practice. After Color was particularly influenced by Charlotte Cotton’s essay, The New Color: The Return of Black-and-White and shaped by many discussions with one of my latest curatorial influences, Michael Bühler-Rose, who also has work in the exhibition.

FP: In the past couple of years, you’ve directed a non-profit, published a book, hosted a booth at two art fairs, participated in an Aperture panel, and operated a gallery. What’s next for amani olu projects?

AO: I would like to have the privilege and support to continue to work in a multitude of environments. Currently, I am organizing Young Curators, New Ideas II, a curator-focused group exhibition that opens at P.P.O.W. Gallery on August 6th. My ongoing/long-term goals are to focus on the artists I represent, situate Humble Arts Foundation in the larger contemporary art world and curate exhibitions in more spaces such as art fairs and museums.

FP: Any advice you’d like to share for the young collector? Names we should keep tabs on?

AO: Every emerging collector I meet I tell them one thing: Love the work you buy, you have to live with it. Then I shamelessly ask them to come to me for all their collector needs, as the artists I represent are a good place to begin a collection.

After Color curated by amani olu runs from July 8 – August 21 at Bose Pacia Gallery (508 West 26th Street, 11th Floor). The opening reception is on Wednesday, July 8th from 6-9 p.m.