We acknowledge the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the Country on which the Art Gallery of NSW stands.





Nina Chanel Abney

United States of America

1982 –

  • Details

    Media category
    Materials used
    acrylic and spray paint on canvas, 5 panels
    213.4 x 762.0 x 5.1 cm overall :

    a - panel 1, 213.4 x 152.4 x 5.1 cm

    b - panel 2, 213.4 x 152.4 x 5.1 cm

    c - panel 3, 213.4 x 152.4 x 5.1 cm

    d - panel 4, 213.4 x 152.4 x 5.1 cm

    e - panel 5, 213.4 x 152.4 x 5.1 cm

    Signature & date

    Signed and dated u.r.c. verso "NINA CHANEL ABNEY 2021".

    Purchased with funds provided by Andy Song and the Mollie and Jim Gowing Bequest 2021
    North Building, lower level 1
    Accession number
    © Nina Chanel Abney

    Reproduction requests

    Artist information
    Nina Chanel Abney

    Works in the collection


  • About

    There are paintings of dancers. And there are paintings that dance. Acclaimed US painter Nina Chanel Abney offers both in '2 STEP', her spectacular response to the famed Dance murals Henri Matisse made at the Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, in 1932-33. In an abstracted landscape that could be a beach or a pool, dancers jump, slide, wave and gesticulate with jubilant, syncopated energy. Their flat bright colours and crisp clear outlines reveal Abney’s long-time fascination with Matisse and his late cut-outs, and with the ways in which the Black modernist Romare Bearden (1911-88) used a Matissean visual language to tell stories of his time.

    Abney riffs on the pastoral themes and scenes of luxurious pleasure found in early Matisse, while adding ambiguous signs and details that remind us that this is a work from the 21st century. The dancers appear to have kicked past gates to reach this paradisiacal landscape, where they exchange facial features and body parts in a celebration of gender-fluidity. Abney’s iconic X-signs could be kisses or visual ‘beats’ but also suggest censorship or erasure, while the black silhouettes that raise their arms, as if in joy, could also be figures surrendering under threat of violence (Abney has created a number of works that directly address police brutality in contemporary America). There’s a hint of masquerade and reclamation too, as the dancers don white masks that sometimes allude to Matisse and Picasso’s modernist primitivism.

    Abney has named her painting not for the ballroom two-step but a fundamental move in hip-hop dancing – a simple step from which a dancer can build (as Abney does visually) something complex and dazzling. Created as part of her project 'FRAMILY TIES' for the Gallery’s 2021 Matisse Alive program, Abney’s '2 STEP' is a portrait of unbound, collective energy that energises any room it hangs in.

  • Exhibition history

    Shown in 2 exhibitions

    • Matisse Alive, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 11 Oct 2021–03 Apr 2022

    • Making Worlds, Art Gallery of New South Wales, North Building, Sydney, 03 Dec 2022–2023

Other works by Nina Chanel Abney