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Amoako Boafo

By Kelly Crow

About a decade ago, Amoako Boafo was working as a pallbearer in his home city of Accra in Ghana, selling portraits for $100 apiece in shows mounted in hotel lobbies. Now, the 35-year-old is being positioned to break out at the Art Basel Miami Beach fair.

The artist, whose name is pronounced “Ah-moe-AH-ko Bo-AH-fo,” has the backing of Don and Mera Rubell, longtime Miami collectors who are known for propelling artists to new heights. They are devoting an entire room to the artist at their new Rubell Museum, an exhibition space that opens to the public Wednesday and is shaping up to be the must-see show of fair week.

The Rubells’ contemporary-art collection, which they’ve long displayed in a Miami warehouse as the Rubell Family Collection, has been reconceived as a museum and is opening in a much larger space near downtown Miami with a restaurant, bookstore and other museum-scale offerings, designed by architect Annabelle Selldorf.

They plan to show a pair of Mr. Boafo’s self-portraits as well as depictions of his friends, whom he paints gazing boldly out at viewers or glancing downward in restive contemplation. His figures’ clothes and backdrops are mainly white or bright patches of color. He uses his fingers, rather than a brush, to paint their faces and hands, a choice that has become his signature.

“His finger-painting style makes me feel like I’m watching a sculptor, like I’m watching him carve these faces onto the canvas,” says Ms. Rubell.