Review: ‘Bronx Calling Sixth AIM Biennial’ at Bronx Museum of the Arts

A view of one corner of an art installation
An installation view of ‘Bronx Calling: Sixth AIM Biennial.’ Courtesy The Bronx Museum of the Arts

The Bronx Museum of the Arts is way up there, but if you can make the trek to 166th Street, it’s worth checking out “Bronx Calling: Sixth AIM Biennial,” a two-part exhibition showcasing the works of the fifty-three artists who took part in the museum’s Artist in Marketplace Fellowship between 2020 and 2023. The AIM Fellowship, billed as the museum’s flagship artist development program, has helped push forward artists’ careers since 1980. Past cohorts have included boldface names in the art world like Glenn Ligon, Sarah Oppenheimer and Diana Al-Hadid.

The business-focused fellowship supports emerging artists from around the city but art in the Bronx can and should be its own special thing, prompting a question: What does art in the Bronx look like? Street art and graffiti come to mind—the Bronx Museum already did a Henry Chalfant retrospective—and there’s also the borough’s hip-hop history. Beyond that, what defines it today?

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Properly, this is the Bronx Museum’s AIM Biennial but that hasn’t stopped media outlets from referring to the Bronx Museum’s biennial or even just the Bronx biennial. And so while there are artists from all five boroughs in this exhibition, perhaps we can agree that the Bronx-based or born artists deserve the spotlight.

Part one of the biennial features the work of twenty-seven artists whose art explores myriad topics within an overarching theme: the struggles of urban life.

There are illustrative pieces by Bronx-based artist Ruth Rodriguez, who creates striking portraits of women on cloth and paper. Part comic book style, part diary, Rodriguez’s work traces back to her Dominican heritage. She buys her fabric from a store in the Bronx and uses her grandmother’s passport, voter registration cards and other biographical pieces in her artwork, which explores the idea of the exhausted woman—one who works hard for little to no reward.

What looks like braided black hair but is the detail of a sculpture made of old tires
Kim Dacres, ‘Merle Rose Knight Crown’ (detail), 2021. Courtesy The Bronx Museum of the Arts

Another highlight is the selection of sculptures by Kim Dacres, the Bronx-born, Jamaican American artist who recycles bicycle and auto tires into intricate sculptural portraits. On view are two from 2021: Patience and Merle Rose Knight Crown, which both have extraordinary braids made from used black rubber. Dacres’ pieces are marvels in craftsmanship with complex considerations of beauty and hair. As the artist explains in the statement pinned to the wall: “I’m shaping how representations of Black women and people broaden who is entitled to space and deserving of honorifics and monuments.”

A wall display of paper artworks in many colors
Yesuk Seo, ‘No Where Now Here,’ 2021. Courtesy The Bronx Museum of the Arts

Textile work abounds in “Bronx Calling.” Dangling from the ceiling, Seoul-based artist Yesuk Seo’s colorful fabric work, Nowhere, Now Here, bridges the gap between printmaking and sculpture. Thin, almost transparent fabrics hang from the ceiling and depict dreamy scenes from the artist’s past. It almost looks like photos have been painted and layered on the cloth, and the artist writes in their statement that these pixelated images trace their early memories of their childhood home or city they grew up in.

Then there’s the beauty of Ami Park’s wall pieces. The Queens-based South Korean artist is showing three pieces made from cotton rope, yarn and fabric that are surprisingly fashion-forward. To the artist, the assemblage is a footprint in her immigration journey from Asia to the U.S., and the spinning of yarn and thread is the labor-intensive web that symbolizes this chapter in her life.

A painting of a mostly green canvas with one red detail in the center
Walter Cruz, ‘Peace Be With You,’ 2023. Courtesy The Bronx Museum of the Arts

Other highlights from the biennial include a piece by Luis A. Gutierrez called Lo Invisible, Una Fruta Tropical, which tells the untold story of United Fruit Company workers in Colombia in 1928; several works by Bronx-born artist Walter Cruz, who is the co-founder of Zeal, a cooperative that helps Black artists; and photos by Santina Amato, who creates strange, surreal tableaus of women in domestic settings under amorphous blankets made from dough.

Admittedly, this showcase of young talent might be humble and small compared to the big-budget biennial celebrations typically mounted in New York City or around the world, but size shouldn’t matter. It’s the impact that counts. A lot is going on culturally in this overlooked corner of the city, and the local artist’s tales are as worthy of being told as anyone else’s. If you’re willing to make the trip up to the Bronx to see this show, you’ll leave feeling inspired.

Part One of Bronx Calling: Sixth AIM Biennial” is on view at The Bronx Museum of the Arts through the end of the month. Part Two opens on April 12.

The Bronx Biennial Showcases the Struggles of Urban Life

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