In this book, art historian Darby English explores the year 1971, when two exhibitions opened that brought modernist painting and sculpture into the burning heart of United States cultural politics: Contemporary Black Artists in America, at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and The DeLuxe Show, a racially integrated abstract art exhibition presented in a renovated movie theater in a Houston ghetto.
1971: A Year in the Life of Color looks at many black artists’ desire to gain freedom from overt racial representation, as well as their efforts—and those of their advocates—to further that aim through public exhibition. Amid calls to define a “black aesthetic,” these experiments with modernist art prioritized cultural interaction and instability. Contemporary Black Artists in America highlighted abstraction as a stance against normative approaches, while The DeLuxe Show positioned abstraction in a center of urban blight. The importance of these experiments, English argues, came partly from color’s special status as a cultural symbol and partly from investigations of color already under way in late modern art and criticism. With their supporters, black modernists—among them Peter Bradley, Frederick Eversley, Alvin Loving, Raymond Saunders, and Alma Thomas—rose above the demand to represent or be represented, compromising nothing in their appeals for interracial collaboration and, above all, responding with optimism rather than cynicism to the surrounding culture’s preoccupation with color.
An essential African American artist of his era, Archibald Motley Jr. created paintings of black Chicago that aligned him with the revisionist aims of the New Negro Renaissance. Yet Motley's approach to constructing a New Negro--a dignified figure both accomplished and worthy of respect--reflected the challenges faced by African American artists working on the project of racial reinvention and uplift.
Phoebe Wolfskill demonstrates how Motley's art embodied the tenuous nature of the Black Renaissance and the wide range of ideas that structured it. Focusing on key works in Motley's oeuvre, Wolfskill reveals the artist's complexity and the variety of influences that informed his work. Motley’s paintings suggest that the racist, problematic image of the Old Negro was not a relic of the past but an influence that pervaded the Black Renaissance. Exploring Motley in relation to works by notable black and non-black contemporaries, Wolfskill reinterprets Motley's oeuvre as part of a broad effort to define American cultural identity through race, class, gender, religion, and regional affiliation.
“This important study is the first to confront head-on the avoidance of the visual that has plagued black studies in the United States. The Art of History opens the often hermetic world of black visual culture to a much broader realm in which questions central to contemporary feminism, black studies, and cultural theory are brought to bear.”—Judith Wilson, University of California, Irvine
“The Art of History is an important book that expands the significance of visual culture to African American studies debates. It provides cogent and insightful explorations of the work of contemporary African American women artists. Scholars and general readers alike are sure to be compelled by this original and innovative study.”—Valerie Smith, author of Not Just Race, Not Just Gender: Black Feminist Readings
In this lively and engaging book, Lisa Gail Collins examines the work of contemporary African American women artists. Her study comes at a time when an unprecedented number of these artists—photographers, filmmakers, painters, installation and mixed-media artists—have garnered the attention and imagination of the art-viewing public.
To better understand the significance of this particular historical moment in American visual arts, Collins focuses on four “problems” that recur when these artists confront their histories: the documentation of truth; the status of the black female body; the relationship between art and cultural contact and change; and the relationship between art and black girlhood. By examining the social and cultural histories which African American women artists engage, Collins illuminates a dialogue between past and present imagemakers.
The Art of History is a major contribution to the study of American visual culture. It will be of use to both scholars and students in art history, African American studies, American studies, and women’s studies.
In Black Gathering Sarah Jane Cervenak engages with Black artists and writers who create alternative spaces for Black people to gather free from interruption or regulation. Drawing together Black feminist theory, critical theories of ecology and ecoaesthetics, and Black aesthetics, Cervenak shows how novelists, poets, and visual artists such as Gayl Jones, Toni Morrison, Clementine Hunter, Samiya Bashir, and Leonardo Drew advance an ecological imagination that unsettles Western philosophical ideas of the earth as given to humans. In their aestheticization and conceptualization of gathering, these artists investigate the relationships among art, the environment, home, and forms of Black togetherness. Cervenak argues that by offering a formal and conceptual praxis of gathering, Black artists imagine liberation and alternative ways of being in the world that exist beyond those Enlightenment philosophies that presume Black people and earth as given to enclosure and ownership.
Examining works by Toni Morrison, Paule Marshall, Faith Ringgold, and Betye Saar, this innovative book frames black women's aesthetic sensibilities across art forms. Investigating the relationship between vernacular folk culture and formal expression, this study establishes how each of the four artists engaged the identity issues of the 1960s and used folklore as a strategy for crossing borders in the works they created during the following two decades.
As a dynamic, open-ended process, folklore historically has enabled African-descended people to establish differential identity, resist dominance, and affirm group solidarity. This book documents the use of expressive forms of folklore in the fiction of Morrison and Marshall and the use of material forms of folklore in the visual representations of Ringgold and Saar. Offering a conceptual paradigm of a folk aesthetic to designate the practices these women use to revise and reverse meanings—especially meanings imposed on images such as Aunt Jemima and Sambo—Crossing Borders through Folklore explains how these artists locate sites of intervention and reconnection. From these sites, in keeping with the descriptive and prescriptive formulations for art during the sixties, Morrison, Marshall, Ringgold, and Saar articulate new dimensions of consciousness and creatively theorize identity.
Crossing Borders through Folklore is a significant and creative contribution to scholarship in both established and still- emerging fields. This volume also demonstrates how recent theorizing across scholarly disciplines has created elastic metaphors that can be used to clarify a number of issues. Because of its interdisciplinary approach, this study will appeal to students and scholars in many fields, including African American literature, art history, women's studies, diaspora studies, and cultural studies.
In Death’s Futurity Sampada Aranke examines the importance of representations of death to Black liberation. Aranke analyzes posters, photographs, journalism, and films that focus on the murders of Black Panther Party members Lil’ Bobby Hutton, Fred Hampton, and George Jackson to construct a visual history of the 1960s and 1970s Black Power era. She shows how Black radicals used these murders to engage in political action that imagined Black futurity from the position of death. Photographs of Hutton that appeared on flyers and posters called attention to the condition of his death while the 1971 documentary The Murder of Fred Hampton enabled the consideration of Hampton’s afterlife through visual meditations on his murder. Printmaking and political posters surrounding Jackson’s murder marked the transition from Black Power to the prison abolition movement in ways that highlighted the relationship between surveillance, policing, incarceration, and anti-Black violence. By foregrounding the photographed, collaged, filmed, and drawn Black body, Aranke demonstrates that corporeality and corpses are crucial to the efforts to shape visions of a Black future free from white supremacy.
Distinctionand Denial challenges conventional theories of race and art by examining the role early twentieth-century art critics played in marginalizing African American artists. Mary Ann Calo dispels the myth of a unified African American artistic tradition through an engaging study of the germinal writing of Alain Locke and other significant critics of the era, who argued that African American artists were both a diverse group and a constituent element of America’s cultural center. By documenting the effects of the “Negro aesthetic” on African American artists working in the interwar years, Distinctionand Denial shows that black artistic production existed between the claims of a distinctly African American tradition and full inclusion into American modernist culture—never fully inside or outside the mainstream.
“A major contribution to the scholarship of African American artists in the inter-war period. With scrupulous research and probing analyses, Calo’s study enables scholars, students, and those interested in the Harlem Renaissance to grasp the intellectual debates, institutional support, and art world promotion that advanced an emerging cohort of African American artists.”
—Patricia Hills, Boston University
“A careful, thorough, historically grounded study that builds a new and significant argument challenging conventional histories of African American art. Sure to become indispensable to any scholarly discussion of American art or African American cultural studies.”
—Helen Langa, American University
Mary Ann Calo is Professor of Art History and Director of the Institute for the Creative and Performing Arts at Colgate University. She is author of Bernard Berenson and the Twentieth Century and editor of Critical Issues in American Art: A Book of Readings.
In 1927, the Chicago Art Institute presented the first major museum exhibition of art by African Americans. Designed to demonstrate the artists' abilities and to promote racial equality, the exhibition also revealed the art world's anxieties about the participation of African Americans in the exclusive venue of art museums—places where blacks had historically been barred from visiting let alone exhibiting. Since then, America's major art museums have served as crucial locations for African Americans to protest against their exclusion and attest to their contributions in the visual arts.
In Exhibiting Blackness, art historian Bridget R. Cooks analyzes the curatorial strategies, challenges, and critical receptions of the most significant museum exhibitions of African American art. Tracing two dominant methodologies used to exhibit art by African Americans—an ethnographic approach that focuses more on artists than their art, and a recovery narrative aimed at correcting past omissions—Cooks exposes the issues involved in exhibiting cultural difference that continue to challenge art history, historiography, and American museum exhibition practices. By further examining the unequal and often contested relationship between African American artists, curators, and visitors, she provides insight into the complex role of art museums and their accountability to the cultures they represent.
A daughter of the poets Hettie Jones and Amiri Baraka, Kellie Jones grew up immersed in a world of artists, musicians, and writers in Manhattan’s East Village and absorbed in black nationalist ideas about art, politics, and social justice across the river in Newark. The activist vision of art and culture that she learned in those two communities, and especially from her family, has shaped her life and work as an art critic and curator. Featuring selections of her writings from the past twenty years, EyeMinded reveals Jones’s role in bringing attention to the work of African American, African, Latin American, and women artists who have challenged established art practices. Interviews that she conducted with the painter Howardena Pindell, the installation and performance artist David Hammons, and the Cuban sculptor Kcho appear along with pieces on the photographers Dawoud Bey, Lorna Simpson, and Pat Ward Williams; the sculptor Martin Puryear; the assemblage artist Betye Saar; and the painters Jean-Michel Basquiat, Norman Lewis, and Al Loving. Reflecting Jones’s curatorial sensibility, this collection is structured as a dialogue between her writings and works by her parents, her sister Lisa Jones, and her husband Guthrie P. Ramsey Jr. EyeMinded offers a glimpse into the family conversation that has shaped and sustained Jones, insight into the development of her critical and curatorial vision, and a survey of some of the most important figures in contemporary art.
The Julius Rosenwald Fund has been largely ignored in the literature of both art history and African American studies, despite its unique focus, intensity, and commitment. Spertus Museum in Chicago has organized an exhibition, guest curated by Daniel Schulman, that presents and explores the work of funded artists as well as the history of the Fund. Through it, and this accompanying collection of essays, illustrations, and color plates, we see the Fund’s groundbreaking initiative to address issues relating to the unequal treatment of blacks in American life. The book constitutes a veritable Who’s Who of African American artists and intellectuals of the first half of the twentieth century, as well as a roll call of modern contributors who represent the leading scholars in their fields, including Peter M. Ascoli, grandson and biographer of Julius Rosenwald, and Kinshasha Holman Conwill, deputy director of the National Museum of African American Art and Culture. With far-reaching influence even today, the Julius Rosenwald Fund stands alongside the Rockefeller and Carnegie funds as a major force in American cultural history.
Focusing on the years from 1922 to 1938, this book revisits an important moment in black cultural history to explore how visual elements were used in poems, novels, and photography to undermine existing stereotypes. Miriam Thaggert identifies and analyzes an early form of black American modernism characterized by a heightened level of experimentation with visual and verbal techniques for narrating and representing blackness. The work of the writers and artists under discussion reflects the creative tension between the intangibility of some forms of black expression, such as spirituals, and the materiality of the body evoked by other representations of blackness, such as "Negro" dialect.
By paying special attention to the contributions of photographers and other visual artists who have not been discussed in previous accounts of black modernism, Thaggert expands the scope of our understanding of the Harlem Renaissance and contributes to a growing recognition of the importance of visual culture as a distinct element within, and not separate from, black literary studies.
Thaggert trains her critical eye on the work of James Weldon Johnson, Nella Larsen, George Schuyler, Carl Van Vechten, James Van Der Zee, and Aaron Siskind—artists who experimented with narrative and photographic techniques in order to alter the perception of black images and to question and reshape how one reads and sees the black body. Examining some of the more problematic authors and artists of black modernism, she challenges entrenched assumptions about black literary and visual representations of the early to mid twentieth century.
Thaggert concludes her study with a close look at the ways in which Harlem and the Harlem Renaissance were reimagined and memorialized in two notable texts—Wallace Thurman's 1932 satire Infants of the Spring and the Metropolitan Museum of Art's controversial 1969 exhibition "Harlem on My Mind: The Cultural Capital of Black America, 1900–1968."
In Interplay of Things Anthony B. Pinn theorizes religion as a technology for interrogating human experiences and the boundaries between people and other things. Rather than considering religion in terms of institutions, doctrines, and creeds, Pinn shows how religion exposes the openness and porousness of all things and how they are always involved in processes of exchange and interplay. Pinn examines work by Nella Larsen and Richard Wright that illustrates an openness between things, and he traces how pop art and readymades point to the multidirectional nature of influence. He also shows how Ron Athey's and Clifford Owens's performance art draws out inherent interconnectedness to various cultural codes in ways that reveal the symbiotic relationship between art and religion as a technology. Theorizing that antiblack racism and gender- and class-based hostility constitute efforts to close off the porous nature of certain bodies, Pinn shows how many artists have rebelled against these attempts to counter openness. His analyses offer a means by which to understand the porous, unbounded, and open nature of humans and things.
In Mounting Frustration Susan E. Cahan uncovers the moment when the civil rights movement reached New York City's elite art galleries. Focusing on three controversial exhibitions that integrated African American culture and art, Cahan shows how the art world's racial politics is far more complicated than overcoming past exclusions.
The New Negro Artist in Paris analyzes the experiences and works of six African American artists who lived and worked in Paris during the Jazz Age sculptors Elizabeth Prophet and Augusta Savage, and painters Palmer Hayden, Hale Woodruff, Archibald J. Motley, Jr., and Albert Alexander Smith. More than 120 works of art are analyzed, many never before published.
These artists exhibited the works they created in Paris at prestigious salons in France and in the United States, winning fellowships, grants, and awards. Leininger-Miller argues that it was study abroad that won these artists critical acclaim, establishing their reputations as some of the most significant leaders of the New Negro movement in the visual arts. She begins her study with a history of the debut of African American artists in Paris, 1830–1914, then provides readers with rarely seen profiles of each of the six artists from their birth through the end of their time abroad. Finally, Leininger-Miller examines patterns and differences in these individuals’ backgrounds and development, their patronage in the United States and France, their shared experiences abroad, and the impact their study in Paris had on the rest of their careers.
Innovative and lavishly illustrated, Painting the Gospel offers an indispensable contribution to conversations about African American art, theology, politics, and identity in Chicago. Kymberly N. Pinder escorts readers on an eye-opening odyssey to the murals, stained glass, and sculptures dotting the city's African American churches and neighborhoods. Moving from Chicago's oldest black Christ figure to contemporary religious street art, Pinder explores ideas like blackness in public, art for black communities, and the relationship of Afrocentric art to Black Liberation Theology. She also focuses attention on art excluded from scholarship due to racial or religious particularity. Throughout, she reflects on the myriad ways private black identities assert public and political goals through imagery.
Painting the Gospel includes maps and tour itineraries that allow readers to make conceptual, historical, and geographical connections among the works.
While visitors to art and history museums may be there to simply enjoy the curated objects, the question of what is included (and excluded) in these collections and who has the power over this process echoes the struggle for inclusion that is so central to the African American experience. Since its inception, the Kinsey African American Art and History Collection® has played an important role in this struggle, seeking out objects that give voice to previously excluded experiences, and providing an alternative to the limits of institutional collections.
Among the first scholarly books dedicated to a private African American collection, Rethinking America’s Past: Voices from the Kinsey African American Art and History Collection both chronicles the reach of this important cultural collection and contributes to its project by sharing selected objects and stories with a broader audience. Essays range in subject from iconic African American artists, such as Loïs Mailou Jones and Beauford Delaney, to important historical figures such as Frederick Douglas and Martin Luther King, to individuals whose experiences might be lost to history but for the found objects that preserve their stories. Rethinking America’s Past demonstrates how the African American story, from slavery through the present, is represented and can be actively remembered through the act of collecting.
Rethinking America’s Past will appeal to audiences interested in African American history as well as art history, but its real power is in linking the two, showing how important collections are in constructing and repairing historical narratives, and how in the words of editor Tim Gruenewald, “Collecting overlooked aspects of our past and sharing such collections enables a deeper understanding of the present moment, and facilitates a more inclusive and just future.”
Since 1990, Grant Hill has thrilled sports fans with his artistry on the basketball court, first as an All-American player at Duke University and then as a six-time NBA All-Star for the Detroit Pistons and the Orlando Magic. During these years, Hill has amassed a collection of art by African Americans that he now shares with the public through this book, which accompanies a traveling exhibition. The forty-six pieces documented here include thirteen works that span the career of the great Romare Bearden, from his 1941 gouache painting Serenade to the important collages of the 1980s. Hill’s fascination with artists’ depiction of women is represented in Elizabeth Catlett’s lithographs, many of them from the 1992 series “For My People,” and her sculptures in stone, bronze, and onyx. In addition to these two giants of twentieth-century art, the Hill Collection features pieces by Phoebe Beasley, Arthello Beck Jr., John Biggers, Malcolm Brown, John Coleman, Edward Jackson, and Hughie Lee Smith. Hill began collecting art in the early 1990s after learning from his parents to appreciate artworks not only as objects of beauty but as expressions of heritage and culture. According to the internationally known curator Alvia J. Wardlaw, he is part of an emerging group of young African American collectors who have “raised the bar for others.” Hill writes, “Getting to know yourself means understanding your background and appreciating those who have come before you. My father has a saying he uses in speeches: ‘To be ignorant of your past is to remain a boy. ‘The interest in my heritage as an African American is reflected in this collection.” Something All Our Own features Wardlaw’s essay on the history of African American collecting. It also features articles about Bearden and Catlett by the scholars Elizabeth Alexander and Beverly Guy-Sheftall and reflections about Hill by the historian John Hope Franklin, Duke’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, and the sportswriter William C. Rhoden. Hill and his father, the NFL great Calvin Hill, contribute a dialogue that explores their motivations for collecting art. At the heart of the book are the exquisite color photographs of the forty-six artworks included in the exhibition, with commentary by Wardlaw and by Hill himself. As a star athlete, Grant Hill is well aware that African Americans who excel in sports and entertainment are more broadly recognized than their counterparts in artistic fields. He strives to inspire young people to explore their heritage and broaden their concept of excellence by learning more about African American art. By sharing his artworks with collectors and fans, Hill reminds us that while the jump shot is ephemeral, art is enduring.