Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University presents Nina Chanel Abney: Royal Flush

Nina Chanel Abney, Mad 51st, 2012. Acrylic on canvas, 40 x 30 inches. Collection of Jeanne Williams and Jason Greenman. Courtesy of Kravets Wehby Gallery, New York. © Nina Chanel Abney.


Nina Chanel Abney: Royal Flush

Nasher Museum of Art at Duke UniversityFebruary 16–July 16, 2017

Opening: February 16, 2017, 10am–9pm

Duke University
Nasher Museum of Art
2001 Campus Dr.
Durham, NC 27701

The Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University presents Nina Chanel Abney: Royal Flush, the first solo exhibition in a museum for the Chicago-born artist. The exhibition is a 10-year survey of approximately 30 of the artist’s paintings, watercolors and collages. Abney will also create a large, temporary wall drawing specifically for the museum. Abney, born in 1982, is at the forefront of a generation of artists that is unapologetically revitalizing narrative figurative painting, and as a skillful storyteller, she visually articulates the complex social dynamics of contemporary urban life.

“We are so excited to introduce this important young artist to wider audiences,” said Marshall N. Price, Nancy Hanks Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art and curator of the exhibition. “In her monumental paintings, Abney takes on some of the most pressing issues today from racial dynamics and criminal justice to consumerism and celebrity culture. Her seductive visual language is comprised of a jumble of figures, words and shapes to the point of information overload. With this as her backdrop, Abney creates paintings that explore some of the deeper recesses of human nature.”

Nina Chanel Abney: Royal Flush will travel to the Chicago Cultural Center and then to Los Angeles, where it will be jointly presented by the Institute of Contemporary Art and the California African American Museum.

The artist has said that her work is “easy to swallow, hard to digest,” and certainly its playful and seductive nature belies its often serious tone. She was identified by Vanity Fair magazine as one of the many artists championing the Black Lives Matter movement.

Abney’s densely packed paintings can be challenging to decipher. Several of her early paintings directly confront interracial violence and now seem like eerily prescient harbingers in the wake of the recent deaths of African Americans and police in cities across the country. Often based on real events, Abney’s works take us on occasionally uncomfortable existential investigations of our own imperfect humanity.

The title of the exhibition is taken from a player’s most valuable hand in the game of poker. Royal Flush is something of double entendre. “It refers to Abney’s work, which contains iconography reminiscent of playing cards and the four different suits,” Price said. “But the title Royal Flush also suggests that the artist holds a valuable hand. When Abney ‘lays her cards on the table,’ she presents paintings rich in critical commentary and meaningful metaphor.”

The exhibition will be accompanied by a richly illustrated, full-color catalogue published by the Nasher Museum and distributed by Duke University Press.

This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. The exhibition is also supported by Ann Chanler and Andrew Scheman; Parker & Otis; Susan Rosenthal and Michael Hershfield; and Gail Belvett.

About the Nasher Museum
The Nasher Museum has celebrated its first decade as a major center for the arts on Duke University’s campus and in the surrounding Research Triangle area. The museum organizes and presents leading-edge exhibitions that travel to institutions worldwide. The growing collection includes a focus on work by artists of African descent and photography. Other major strengths include European medieval art, European and American paintings, Outsider art, classical antiquities, African art and ancient American art. More than 1 million people have visited the museum since it opened in 2005. For more information, visit