Press Release  January 11, 2021

Salman Toor: How Will I Know

Collection of Christie Zhou; image courtesy the artist.

Salman Toor, Four Friends, 2019. Oil on panel.

Salman Toor’s first solo museum exhibition—originally scheduled to open in March 2020 but postponed due to the pandemic—is presented by the Whitney Museum of American Art from November 13, 2020 to April 4, 2021. Primarily making intimate oil-on-panel works, Toor expands the tradition of figurative painting by melding sketch-like immediacy with disarming detail to create affecting views of young, queer Brown men living in New York City and South Asia. Salman Toor: How Will I Know is part of the Whitney’s emerging artists program, which most recently included solo shows by Kevin Beasley and Eckhaus Latta, and will be on view in the first-floor John R. Eckel, Jr. Foundation Gallery, which is accessible to the public free-of-charge.

Image courtesy the artist

Salman Toor, The Arrival, 2019. Oil on panel. 18 x 14 in.


“Over the past few years the field of figurative painting has been reimagined once again, this time by artists frankly depicting lives and cultures that were all too often overlooked,” said Scott Rothkopf, Senior Deputy Director and Nancy and Steve Crown Family Chief Curator. “Salman Toor is one of the most exciting of these young talents, conjuring beautiful stories across his canvases with a sensitive and elegant touch.”

Considering the figures he paints to be imaginary versions of himself and his friends, Toor portrays his subjects with empathy to counter the judgments he feels are often imposed on them by the outside world. Allusions to art history—notably classical European and modern Indian painting—feature throughout the artist’s work, endowing his narratives, which are drawn from experience, with elements of fantasy. Recurring color palettes, notably muted greens used to evoke a nocturnal atmosphere, heighten the emotion and drama of Toor’s compositions. In these dreamy vignettes, characters dance in cramped apartments, binge-watch period dramas, play with puppies, and style their friends’ hair. Meanwhile, another group of works, more somber in tone, highlights moments of nostalgia and alienation. One painting depicts a morose family dinner; in a series of works, forlorn men stand with their personal belongings on display for the scrutiny of immigration officers. Rich in personal detail and situated within a queer diasporic community, Toor’s paintings evocatively consider how vulnerability appears in public and private life.

Image courtesy the artist

Salman Toor, Puppy Play Date, 2019. Oil on panel. 40 x 30 in.


Curatorial assistant Ambika Trasi says, “Toor’s tender depictions of friendship and solitude while at leisure reflect on our hyper-connected present and yet still feel incredibly timeless. Painting his characters as though haloed in divine light or as well-dressed dandies, his work pays homage to 'chosen family' and the importance it has for the communities that he references.”

“His paintings are so attuned to the subtle nuances of pre-pandemic life,” says Nancy and Fred Poses Curator Christopher Y. Lew. “Toor captures the quiet celebrations and anxieties of the day to day; and it’s thrilling to share his poignant vision with our visitors.”


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