African-American Artist Jennifer Packer Captures the Times


New York-based painter Jennifer Packer recalibrates art historical approaches to portraiture and still life, casting these enduring genres in a fresh political and contemporary light, while keeping them rooted in a deeply personal context. Combining observation, improvisation and memory, Packer’s intimate portraits of friends and family members and flower still paintings insist on the emotional and physical essence of their contemporary Black lives.
Tia, oil on canvas collection by Joel Wachs by Jennifer Packer. Photo courtesy Matt Grub
This survey exhibition at the Serpentine London – The Eye is Not Satisfied With Seeing is the artist’s first in a European institution. It includes paintings and drawings from the past decade alongside new work created in her Bronx studio over the last twelve months.  A solo exhibition at the Renaissance Society, Chicago, in 2017 and her participation in the Whitney Biennial 2019 in New York, together with recent awards, have seen Packer become recognised as one of the most significant artists of her generation.
Jennifer Packer The Eye Is Not Satisfied With Seeing Installation 5 December – 2020 14 March 2021-Serpentine Galleries Photo George Darrell
Featuring 34 works dated from 2011 to 2020, the exhibition  presents portraits of artists from Packer’s New York circle, monochromatic paintings, intimate interiors and flower still lifes including Say Her Name (2017), painted in response to the suspicious death of Sandra Bland, a Black American woman who is largely believed to have been murdered while in police custody in 2015.
The exhibition  also includes drawings, which for Packer are rarely just a study but hold a weight of their own that differs from paintings. Through this survey of work the exhibition draws out timely and necessary discussions on racial politics, representation and art history.
Hans Ulrich Obrist, Artistic Director, and Bettina Korek, Chief Executive of the  Serpentine commented:

“Jennifer Packer’s paintings demonstrate great commitment from the artist and therefore demand slow, sustained attention from the viewer.  We have returned to her works many times over the last few years, and in planning this exhibition, they have resonated strongly with the pressing themes of our time, yet continue to remain deeply personal. It feels important to share these remarkable paintings and drawings with our audience at the Serpentine this year.” Galleries.

The exhibition is temporarily closed during lockdown but the artist can currently be viewed virtually discussing her work here.
Packer says:

“When I walk through museum collections, I see all the things that aren’t there.” 

main photo: Jennifer Packer courtesy Paul Tucker