In June 2021, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek opens the solo exhibition Michael Armitage – Account of an Illiterate Man with MICHAEL ARMITAGE (b. 1984), one of the most interesting voices in contemporary painting.
Armitage, who was born in Kenya and trained at the Slade School of Art and the Royal Academy of Arts in London, works between East-African and European traditions carefully selected and freely combined in works by the artist. Armitage’s monumental oil paintings interweave political events, pop culture, social media, folklore and personal memories with mythology and dreamlike imagery.
Michael Armitage – Account of an Illiterate Man is the first solo exhibition by the artist in Scandinavia, presenting a series of key works as well as new works on loan from private collectors and major art museums. The exhibition is also the first to present Armitage’s work in a site-specific installation based on the six millennia of art and archaeological artefacts in the Glyptotek’s collections. The installation has been curated in a close collaboration between the Glyptotek and the artist himself.
An account between past and present Armitage divides his time between Nairobi and London, and citing the history and culture of both cities forms the basis of his works. As an artist he draws inspiration from Western avant-garde artists such as Goya, Manet and Gauguin, as well as East-African modernists such as Meek Gichugu (b. 1932, Ngecha, Kenya), Chelenge (b. 1961, Kericho, Kenya), and Jak Katarikawe (c. 1938–2018, Kampala, Uganda). He brings different cultures and epochs into play, also by looking back at antiquity at the same time as not losing sight of contemporary news media and the politics of his native Kenya.
Armitage’s versatile practice can also be seen in his technique. Instead of conventional canvasses he paints on Lubugo, a traditional Ugandan bark cloth the artist discovered at a tourist market in Nairobi. Lubugo is made of the bark of fig trees that is soaked, beaten, then dried, developing holes and deep indents when stretched. This is the organic material on which Armitage’s universe unfolds – a landscape of rich, intricate stories.
The Glyptotek continues to present new angles on the museum’s extensive collections of art and ancient artefacts. In close dialogue with Michael Armitage, the museum highlights the artist’s multifaceted cultural heritage by juxtaposing his works with sources of inspiration found in the Glyptotek’s extensive collections. The exhibition takes the form of a series of original, site-specific dialogues in which masterpieces from the French Collection, including Édouard Manet’s The Execution of Emperor Maximilian (1867), Berthe Morisot’s The Wet Nurse (1880), and Paul Cézanne’s The Bathers (1898/1902), can be seen alongside ancient Egyptian creatures of granite and bronze and marble sculptures depicting myths such as that of the god Apollo and King Juba II of Numidia.
The exhibition offers a reflective space, taking visitors on a journey where ancient iconography and the art historical canon enter dialogues with us as viewers, our cultural heritage, and the political world we live in today. As Armitage himself says: “Painting is a way of thinking through something, trying to understand an experience or an event a little better and trying to communicate something of the problem to others.”
About the artist Michael Armitage was born in 1984 in Nairobi, Kenya, and lives and works between London and Nairobi. He received his BA in Fine Art from the Slade School of Fine Art, London (2007) and holds a Postgraduate Diploma from the Royal Academy Schools, London (2010).
Solo exhibitions include: Haus der Kunst, Munich (2020), The Norval Foundation, Cape Town (2020), Projects 110, Studio Museum in collaboration and at MoMA, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art Sydney (2019), Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo , Turin (2019); South London Gallery (2017); Turner Contemporary, Margate, UK (2017); White Cube, Hong Kong (2017); Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, San Francisco (2016); White Cube, London (2015), and Royal Academy Schools Studios, London (2010).
Selected group exhibitions include Whitechapel Art Gallery (2020), 58th Venice Biennale (2019); Nasher Museum of Art, Durham, North Carolina (2018); Prospect.4, New Orleans (2017); Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh (2017); HOME, Manchester, UK (2016); Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne, UK (2016); Yuan Art Museum, Beijing (2015); 13th Biennale de Lyon, France (2015); Palazzo Capris, Turin, Italy (2015); South London Gallery (2014), and Drawing Room, London (2013).
Michael Armitage – Account of an Illiterate Man is the third in a series of exhibitions with internationally acclaimed contemporary artists at the Glyptotek in 2019, 2020 and 2021, all made possible thanks to the support of the Obel Family Foundation. The exhibition will be accompanied by an illustrated catalogue.