Night Gallery is proud to announce Sweet Tooth, an exhibition of new work by Anthony Olubunmi Akinbola. This is the artist’s second solo show with the gallery, following 2021’s Market.
The Nigerian-American artist Anthony Olubunmi Akinbola is known for his ongoing CAMOUFLAGE series, which utilizes the durag as primary material. Through the artist’s intervention, the durag transcends immediate recognition to become a formal and conceptual vehicle for rigorous abstractions. Breaking from traditional approaches to painting and sculpture, the works revel in stylistic range and present an evolving dialogue between line, texture, and color.
Sweet Tooth introduces multidimensional works into the CAMOUFLAGE oeuvre, complemented by expanded palettes reminiscent of the stripes on candy wrappers or a circus tent. Freestanding claw machines—some of which contain extravagant prizes to be won while others function as vitrines for figurative sculptures—are held within vibrant wall works that evoke a festival or Carnival celebration. As the show’s title suggests, Akinbola is interested here in the slippery balance between indulgence and discipline, aptly offering viewers a haptic experience of art rather than a solely visual one.
Intended to be played by audiences, the machines prompt a consideration of the tensions between intrinsic and prescribed value; the authenticity or quality of a prize is less significant than the psychological rush of potentially winning one and feeling closer with each attempt. The prize is a formality in order to get you to play the game. Elsewhere, Akinbola reappropriates claw machines as display cases for a series of clown sculptures. Jesters and clowns—who historically perform unexpectedly keen cultural commentary via satire and exaggeration—are cleverly symbolic for Akinbola’s larger exploration of unchecked self-allowance. In their lampooning naiveté, the clowns seem to know the game to be rigged, and wait patiently for our brains to catch up.
In his new suite of CAMOUFLAGE paintings, Akinbola has expanded the visual language of his linework to echo the broader themes of duality: harmony and dissonance, repetition and deviation, reliance and independence. Working in diversified color arrangements and new formal orientations, the works take on a festive quality as Akinbola joins the lineage of abstract painters using the stripe motif to forge experimental color relationships, such as Sean Scully or Ian Davenport.
Prominent in several cultures around the world, Carnival is characterized by maximalism; sheer opulence and pleasure just before the pious restriction of Lent. In Sweet Tooth, Akinbola at once tempts and tempers our desires with a palpable spirit of playfulness and experimentation. Ask any Mardi Gras celebrant or cotton candy aficionado: total deprivation is no fun, too much fun is no fun at all.
Anthony Olubunmi Akinbola (b. 1991 Missouri) has had solo exhibitions at Sean Kelly, New York; Night Gallery, Los Angeles; Galerie Krinzinger, Vienna; Carbon 12, Dubai; John Kohler Art Center, Sheboygan; and the Queens Museum, New York. His work has been featured in group shows at Hauser & Wirth, New York and Los Angeles; Pace Gallery, New York; and the Bernard A. Zuckerman Museum of Art, Kennesaw, among others. Akinbola's work is included in the permanent collections of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York and Zabludowicz Collection, London. Akinbola lives and works in New York.