“Badass Art Man”: Danny Simmons
African American Museum of Philadelphia
701 Arch Street Philadelphia, PA 19106
April 24th – May 31st, 2015
“Badass Art Man” at the African American Museum of Philadelphia.
A retrospective of painting by Danny Simmons and highlights from his collection.
On view at the African American Museum of Philadelphia through May 31st 2015, Danny Simmons showcases his development as an artist and collector in a stunning retrospective.
Danny Simmons, a self proclaimed Neo-African Abstract Expressionist, connects to the history of art and spiritual realms through his painting. His large works showcase broad strokes and warm colors layered with symbols and mark-making that create floating compositions. Painting is a spiritual practice for Simmons. Inspirations from cultural heritage, ancient forms and contemporary artists all come into conversation on canvas.
Danny Simmons is an artist, poet, writer, and community builder. He is the co-founder of Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation and Def Poetry Jam. A longtime resident of Brooklyn, Danny has been an active board member in community organizations such as the Brooklyn Museum, BAM, Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation, the New York State Council for the Arts, and many more. His outlook on creating art is similar to creating community. Art, like community building, takes insights into history, being a cultural ambassador, and creating a place for conversation as people relate to the past and present to create social change for the future.
One of the unique angles of "Badass Art Man" is that the African American Museum of Philadelphia not only shows examples of Simmons’ paintings from the last 15-20 years but also objects and artwork from his esteemed collection. As an avid supporter of the arts, Simmons collects art made by emerging and mid career artists. On view are works by Stan Squirewell, Kara Walker, Allison Janae Hamilton, Derrick Adams, Alexandria Smith, Wangechi Mutu, Simone Liegh, Xenobia Bailey, Leonardo Benzant, Alisha Wormsley, Mickalene Thomas, James Van Der Zee, Michael Paul Britto, and many more. Additionally, the contemporary works are partnered with highlights from Simmons’ vast collection of African art, including masks, figures, and staffs. Simmons’ appreciation of antique African items runs deep.
Much like the exhibition, when one visited Simmons' previous home, a town house in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, he or she was struck by the abundance of antique African objects paired with contemporary works. The vertical beaded forms of urban shaman and sculptor Leonardo Benzant stand out, while a Simone Leigh breast-like chandelier hangs from the ceiling. On the way up the stairs to his studio a large Mickalene Thomas photo hangs on the wall, surrounded salon-style by photographs of the Black female made by African American photographers and more contemporary artworks such as a collage piece by Alexandria Smith and a collage drawing by Derrick Adams.
The works shown in “Badass Art Man” are just the tip of the iceberg of his collection. “Badass Art Man” is extremely well curated; the artworks and objects are all in conversation with one another. Here the objects and artworks have breathing room so viewers can take the time to see the relationships between pieces.
On the first level of the exhibition a large antique carved mask sits center in front of one of Simmons’ larger paintings. The relationship between the facial curvature of the mask and the sweeping curves of paint speak to commonalities between the contemporary painter and traditional African carver.
In the left corner of the upstairs gallery, near the comic books that highlight African American super heroes, a Wangechi Mutu watercolor and collage hangs next to an Alexandria Smith collage. Wangechi Mutu had her first solo exhibition in Chelsea, NYC, at Rush Arts Gallery in 1999. Simmons, a founder of Rush and a champion of her work, is honored to have such a well renowned Kenyan artist in his collection. Wangechi recently founded Africa’s Out, a non-profit dedicated to fighting for the rights and lives of the African LGBTQI community, with its inaugural fundraiser happening in NYC on June 5th. She will also be the featured artist at this year’s Art For Life event to benefit Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation. At the African American Museum of Philadelphia her work hangs next to a piece by Alexandria Smith, who was the 2011 Artist in Residence at Rush Arts Gallery. This was Alexandria's first Artist in Residence and it culminated with a solo exhibition in the Rush Arts Gallery project space in September 2011. At the same time at Rush Arts Gallery Wangechi Mutu presented a video art installation of a Kenyan artist group Just a Band. The exhibition brought many Wangechi fans to Rush Arts Gallery, giving the emerging Alexandria Smith fantastic exposure as an artist. To see their pieces paired together at a museum in Philadelphia is to see the power of a community non-profit gallery as it fosters and engages the careers of artists.
2011 Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series National winner Stan Squirewell had exhibited at Rush Arts Gallery and Corridor Gallery prior to getting this national award. His showcased photograph is a striking black and white print with additional painted elements and it hangs next to a Kara Walker print from 2011, when she was the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation Featured Artist at Art For Life, the Annual fundraising gala in the Hamptons benefitting Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation, hosted by Russell Simmons.
On the other side of the Kara Walker piece, a large photo named “Waiting in the Woods” by 2014 Rush Artist in Residence Allison Janae Hamilton guards the space. The photo is of a mystical woman adorned with horns standing in the forest, dressed in a Victorian style wedding dress and comes from Janae Hamilton's recent series “Kingdom of the Marvelous.” This work was showcased at Rush Arts Gallery in September 2014. Janae Hamilton’s first exhibition with Rush was a 2012 solo exhibition “Space is the Place” at the Corridor Gallery project space in Brooklyn. Her work was selected through the Rush Arts Gallery artist submissions, which are accepted annually between Feb. 15th and April 15th. Information about taking part in this emerging artist opportunity can be found on www.rushphilanthropic.org.
On the second level exhibition space a Simone Leigh sculpture sits in front of a framed Xenobia Bailey, next to a recent Danny Simmons painting that also incorporates fabric and collage. This trifecta of art is poignant and shows Simmons’ admiration and respect for these two renowned female artists. Continuing left along the wall, a contemporary sculpture by artist Sol Sax named “My Afro-deity Gets Down and Dirty in Contact Sports” is reminiscent of a shrine idol and is made of found sports-related objects. This piece is partnered with a Derrick Adams collage drawing. Derrick Adams was the Director of Rush Arts Gallery for many years and was pivotal in advancing the careers of many artists. He is now represented by Jack Tilton Gallery and recently his social sculpture and curated radio station “The Holdout” curated by Dexter Wimberly was presented at Aljira Art Center in Newark, NJ.
Throughout “Badass Art Man” artists who have shown at Rush Arts Gallery punctuate the exhibition. Michael Paul Britto has a large political movie poster-like piece “Dirrrty Harriet Tubman; Now that’s a badass bitch” which speaks to Simmons’ interest in politics, sci-fi and comics. A gracious Alisha Wormsley is placed with a James Van Der Zee. A large Mickalene Thomas photograph reflects the smaller Alisha Wormsley and James Van Der Zee, punctuated by two of Simmons’ newer paintings that also incorporate fabric. Danny is not only a champion of emerging black artists but also a champion of female artists.
“Badass Art Man” shows the many sides of Danny Simmons. He is an artist connected to the spirits of art and culture, a collector, a community maker and above all a champion for Art. He stands strong on his principles and politics and believes in positive action to make the world a better place. Thank you, Danny, for sharing this all-encompassing spirit with the world. Ideally it will bring better understandings between communities, cultures, and contemporary art lovers.
- Charlotte Mouquin