November 29, 2020

Derek Fordjour at Petzel Gallery

Derek Fordjour's exhibit, SELF MUST DIE, at Petzel Gallery explores multiple faces of death in the present time whether figuratively from covid or racial violence or the metaphorical death of the ego
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Galleries

About the Exhibit - SELF MUST DIE

Derek Fordjour’s exhibit, SELF MUST DIE, is on view at Petzel Gallery’s Chelsea location from November 14th - December 19th.

Derek Fordjour

This is Fordjour’s first exhibit with the gallery since they announced their representation of him in April of 2019. The entrance to the exhibit features a small doorway with sculptures 'performing inside.' This is a bit of for-shadowing for what's to come later in the exhibit.

Derek Fordjour

It’s characteristic of Fordjour’s practice to use bright colors and nostalgic objects to communicate heavy social subjects. 

Derek Fordjour

The two themes Fordjour’s work speaks to are “anxiety around death, and hyper-visible racial violence.” 

Derek Fordjour
“Woven into his new work at Petzel Gallery are lessons drawn from his own journey to art stardom, and from a year of Black grief.” - The New York Times (source)
image courtesy of the artist
Derek Fordjour

The center of the first room of the exhibit (see below) features a church pew and is titled 'VESTIBULE', which is meant to transform the gallery space into a "sacred space of memorial." 

Derek Fordjour

The paintings featured in VESTIBULE are “ based on Black funerary tradition.” (source

Derek Fordjour
"In SELF MUST DIE, Fordjour interrogates the inevitability of actual death, made more urgent by the realities of a global pandemic, and points to the aspirational death of the artist’s ego brought into focus by a burgeoning career. It is both cultural manifesto and personal declaration.” (source
Derek Fordjour

Fordjour has had his own run-ins with the police in his early art school years and has a son in college currently during a year filled with Black Lives Matter protests and increased visibility to violence against the Black community, so these subjects weighed heavily on his mind when creating works for this exhibit. 

Derek Fordjour
“[VESTIBULE]  refashions the gallery as a secular yet sacred space of memorial.” (source
Derek Fordjour
Derek Fordjour
Derek Fordjour

In the second part of the gallery, you see the works that Fordjour has created this year with his unique collage technique. 

Derek Fordjour
Derek Fordjour
“Mr. Fordjour often depicts Black athletes and performers — dancers, riders, rowers, drum-majors — as strivers who navigate the ambiguities that come with their achievement, and the racial scrutiny that accompanies visibility in the mainstream culture.” The New York Times (source
Derek Fordjour
“To me, feeling vulnerable is something that everybody understands. Maybe I don’t know what it’s like to be you, or you don’t know what it’s like to be me—but we certainly know what it feels like to be vulnerable. It was a discovery for me to realize that this is what I’m talking about: being a human being and not feeling safe.” - Derek Fordjour (source
Derek Fordjour
“My work is concerned with pattern, I’m curious about the ways in which patterns can be changed or the ways that they remain fixed. How do we gauge social progress? Is it happening now? Is it not happening? Are we pushing against something that is fixed?” - Derek Fordjour (source
Derek Fordjour

What’s completely new for Fordjour is his expansion into performance art...but not the kind that may be coming to mind for some of you. The exhibit features a piece called, Fly Away, which is a “collaboration between Fordjour and award-winning puppeteer Nick Lehane,” and is a puppet show. 

Derek Fordjour

If you are in New York and are interested in seeing the show the performances are scheduled at 2pm and 5pm daily. Tickets are free and available at  flyawayshow.com.

Derek Fordjour
“I love learning other ways to have a conversation, painting has its utility, but performance is another register.” - Derek Fordjour (source
Derek Fordjour
“I was interested in taking the themes I think about in my paintings, sculpture, and installation work and adapting them to performance. The first big issue is that of control and questioning the interdependence of an artist and a dealer, and how much independence is achievable when you operate within an ecosystem of interdependency.” - Derek Fordjour (source
Derek Fordjour

Whether it’s the physical layers in his paintings or the metaphorical layers in his performance work, there’s a lot to unpack in Fordjour’s art, but thanks to its immaculate execution and approachable nature you left feeling humbled, empathetic, and empowered. 

Video of the Exhibit

About the Artist - Derek Fordjour

Derek Fordjour earned his BA at Morehouse College, and his MA in Art Education at Harvard University and an MFA in Painting at Hunter College.

Derek Fordjour

He lives and works in New York. He’s represented by Night Gallery, Petzel Gallery, and Josh Lilley Gallery. 

“Fordjour was recently appointed the Alex Katz Chair of Painting at The Cooper Union and serves as a Core Critic at Yale University School of Art.” (source

Fun Fact: Jay Z & Beyonce allegedly own at least 10 of his works.

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