Radcliffe Bailey, an artist who examined Black American experience, has died at 55.

Radcliffe Bailey, known for his sculptural assemblages and paintings that reflected on the history and experiences of Black Americans, passed away at the age of 55 in Atlanta. His brother, Roy, confirmed his death, revealing the late artist’s long battle with brain cancer.

Born in Bridgetown, New Jersey, in 1968, Bailey established himself as a pivotal figure in contemporary art, known for integrating readymade objects into his works to tell powerful stories of Black heritage and identity. Often, his art featured materials rich in symbolism, such as Georgian red clay, African figurines, and archival tintypes from his family collection. Bailey’s later works, such as Nommo, created for the 2019 Istanbul Biennial, incorporated sound elements to enhance his rich visual narratives. Among his most acclaimed works was the 2009–11 installation Windward Coast, in which a black bust floats amid a sea of wooden piano keys, suggesting the toll of the Middle Passage.

Bailey’s work, spanning the artist’s three-decade career, is included in permanent collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the National Gallery and Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C., the Art Institute of Chicago, and the High Museum in Atlanta.

“Radcliffe was a true force, creating work that resonated with so many on a profoundly intellectual and emotional level,” a representative from Jack Shainman Gallery, the New York–based gallery that represented him, said in a statement. “We could not be more appreciative of the years we’ve spent collaborating as colleagues, though above all, we are beyond grateful for the friendship that has blossomed from our time together. To say his presence will be missed is an enormous understatement. Radcliffe is and always will be irreplaceable, and he leaves behind a great legacy that we will continue to cherish and revere.”

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