Howard University Gallery Of Art To Loan Charles White Works To Renowned Museum Of Modern Art
September 4, 2018 | Written by Ramzey Smith
Two signature art works by Charles White from the Howard University Gallery of Art’s permanent collection, Five Great American Negroes (1939-1940) and Native Son #2 (1942), are headed to The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) for inclusion in an upcoming exhibition, Charles White: A Retrospective, on view from October 7, 2018 through January 13, 2019. These loans are exclusive to the MoMA presentation of this exhibition.
This retrospectiveis the first major exhibition in more than 30 years to highlight the life and creative works of artist, activist, and educator Charles White (1918-1979). Presented to mark the 100thanniversary of the artist’s birth, the exhibition will feature more than 100 paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, illustrated books, and record covers created during White’s forty-year career. Charles White: A Retrospectiveis organized by Esther Adler, Associate Curator, Department of Drawings and Prints, and Sarah Kelly Oehler, Field-McCormick Chair and Curator of American Art, Art Institute of Chicago.
“The Howard University Gallery of Art is honored to loan two significant Charles White works from our collection to The Museum of Modern Art,” says President Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick. “Mr. White left an indelible mark on Howard University, having served as an artist in residence in 1945 and as a distinguished professor in 1978. The two pieces which will be on display, Five Great American Negroesand Native Son 2, demonstrate his ability to capture the mood of a generation. To gather more than 100 pieces of White’s work together will truly be an unforgettable moment.”
Five Great American Negroes is White’s first public mural, which spans 5 feet x 12 feet 11 inches. The mural features five of the most prominent African American leaders at the time – Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver and Marian Anderson. It is both a commentary on African American history and accomplishments in the arts and sciences.
The subject of White’s 1942 ink drawing, Native Son #2, was derived from author Richard Wright’s 1940 fiction novel, Native Son. White captures the book’s protagonist, Bigger Thomas. The torn shirt and the figure’s bulging muscles further reference his physical strength, his battle against society, and the forces that attempt to restrain him. White’s image aligns Wright’s view of the character as symbolic of American life and a casualty of a dislocated society.
“Charles White’s influence on American and African American art is without comparison,” says Gwendolyn H. Everett, Ph.D., director of the Howard University Gallery of Art and associate dean for the Division of Fine Arts. “At a time when most images of African Americans were stereotypical and derogative, White felt compelled to make art that affirmed human dignity. He used his art as a weapon to fight against social and economic injustice.”
Everett says White explained his role by saying, “Paint is the only weapon I have with which to fight what I resent. If I could write I would write about it. If I could talk I would talk about it. Since I paint, I must paint about it.”
White’s influence at Howard is not only through the works housed in the gallery’s permanent collection, but also through his presence on campus. His residency at the University, between February and June of 1945, occurred two years before the Gallery of Art received Five Great American Negroes. In 1978, White received a three-year distinguished professorship within the Graduate School of the College of Arts and Sciences. In his wife’s memoir, Frances Barrett White refers to the professorship as the recognition that touched him most deeply, by one of the oldest and most prestigious black centers for academic excellence.
White was born in Chicago and found his love for the arts while growing up on Chicago’s South Side. He started his formal art education as a high school student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. From there, he continued his studies at the Art Institute of Chicago before spending much of his four-decade career living in New York and Los Angeles. His works have been included in numerous solo and group exhibitions, and are permanent features in museums and private collections across the world.
Charles White: A Retrospectivewill be on display at MoMA October 7, 2018 – January 13, 2019. MoMA is the only venue within the traveling tour where Five Great American Negroesand Native Son #2 will be displayed.
About the Howard University Gallery of Art
The Howard University Gallery of Art was established in 1928, by action of the Board of Trustees, “to make revolving exhibitions of contemporary arts and crafts available for visitation and study to students.” Two years later, the Gallery formally opened with a traveling exhibition of oil paintings, watercolors, and drawings assembled and circulated by the College Art Association of America. The success of this exhibition led to a policy and program to develop a permanent collection. Over the years, the permanent collection has grown to nearly 4,000 works of art, due to the generosity of private collectors, art foundations, various branches of the federal government, faculty and administrators of the university, and friends of the gallery. The collection features works by African American masters, as well as African artifacts bequeathed by collectors such as Alain Locke, the Irving Gumbel collection of European prints from the 16thto the 19thcenturies, and Italian Renaissance and Baroque paintings donated by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.
Photographed above: Howard University President Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick
Photographed above: (L-R) Howard University President Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederickand Gwendolyn H. Everett, Ph.D., director of the Howard University Gallery of Art and associate dean for the Division of Fine Arts beside Five Great American Negroes, at the Howard University Law Library
First work pictured above: Five Great American Negroes (1940)
Second work pictured above: Native Son #2 (1942)