Derek Fordjour's "Worst to Be First III," 2020, has been acquired by the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Fordjour is a New York-based artist who works primarily in painting, sculpture, and installation. His work is generally concerned with game theory, competition, sporting, pageantry, and rules-based systems. Notions of racial tokenism, gender inequality, and the impact of socioeconomic disparities are central to his practice. Fordjour's ongoing series “Worst to Be First” specifically refers to the notion of “firsts” as markers of social progress. Each work presents a monumental portrait of a figure in attire that distinguishes their profession. Although their clothing and, implicitly, the status that their uniforms confer upon them imply biographical narrative, the central figures’ features are unclear. While the works appear to honor the subjects, the obsfucation of identity advances concepts of exceptionalism, questioning the extent to which individual achievement can effectively eradicate systemic inequality. Like much of Fordjour’s work, the painting interrogates the futility of heroism. In a recent interview about the first painting in the series, Fordjour stated that “growing up, we were encouraged to value achievement as means of agency for the marginalized, but there was no consideration of the personal toll of the pursuit.”
Derek Fordjour was born in Memphis, Tennessee to parents of Ghanaian heritage. His work has been exhibited in numerous venues including Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, Nasher Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of Contemporary Art. He has received commissions for public projects including a permanent installation for Metropolitan Transit Authority of New York City at 145th Street Subway Station and The Whitney Museum Billboard Project. He was awarded 2016 Sugarhill Museum Artist-in-Residence, the 2017 Sharpe Walentas Studio Program in New York City, and named the 2018 Deutsche Bank NYFA Fellowship Award. He is a graduate of Morehouse College in Atlanta Georgia, earned a Master’s Degree in Art Education from Harvard University and an MFA in painting at Hunter College. His work has been reviewed in The New York Times, Financial Times, The Los Angeles Times, and Hyperallergic. He has also been featured in several publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair and Forbes Magazine. He was recently appointed The Alex Katz Chair at Cooper Union and serves as a Core Critic at Yale University School of Art. His work also appears in several collections including The Studio Museum of Harlem, Brooklyn Museum, Perez Museum, Dallas Museum of Art, The Whitney Museum and LACMA.