20 MUST SEE EXHIBITS (Winter, 2022)
by Yvonne Bynoe
There are 20 must-see museum exhibitions focusing on African-American art happening this winter that we want you to know about. The exhibits are occurring throughout the country and range from major career retrospectives to historical surveys to contemporary art. Some of the exhibits are already on view, while others are opening soon, so be sure to check the dates.
1. African American Art in the 20th Century
Hudson River Museum
Closes: January 16, 2022
African American Art in the 20th Century is a presentation of 43 figurative and abstract paintings and sculptures by 34 African American artists who came to prominence during the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and the modern Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Drawn from the permanent collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the artists include Benny Andrews, Ellis Wilson,William H. Johnson, Jacob Lawrence, Frederick J. Brown, Sargent Johnson, Loïs Mailou Jones, Romare Bearden, and Sam Gilliam.
2. Visual Vanguard: An Exhibition of Contemporary Black Carolina Artist
Harvey B. Gantt Center For African American Art + Culture
Closes: January 17, 2022
Visual Vanguard: A Exhibition of Contemporary Black Carolina Artists is the inaugural biennial for The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Art + Culture located in Charlotte, North Carolina. The exhibition centers the work of 25 Black artists associated with North Carolina and South Carolina. Curators, Stephen Hayes and David Wilson, both artists from Durham, were intent on presenting Black artists in the region who were producing exemplary work but are still operating under the public’s radar.
See Full Review of Exhibit at Visual Vanguard: An Exhibition of Contemporary Black Carolina Artists
3. 30 Americans
Columbia Museum of Art
Closes: January 17, 2022
30 Americans showcases works by many of the most important African-American artists of the last three decades. The featured artists include Nick Cave, Glenn Ligon, Lorna Simpson, Mickalene Thomas, and Kehinde Wiley. The exhibition focuses on issues of racial, sexual, and historical identity in contemporary culture as it facilitates a cross-generational artistic dialogue. All of the artworks in the exhibition are from the Rubell Museum’s permanent collection, which has been traveling throughout the United States for a decade.
4. Alma Thomas: Everything is Beautiful
The Phillips Collection
Closes: January 23, 2022
Alma W. Thomas: Everything Is Beautiful is an important retrospective that traces her life from semi-rural Georgia to Washington, D.C. The Howard University graduate became the first Black woman given a solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art at age 81. Through Thomas’s artworks and archival materials, this exhibition shows how her artistic practices extended far beyond her studio and into other areas of her life such as community service, teaching, and gardening.
5. AFRO-ATLANTIC HISTORIES
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Closes: January 17, 2022
Afro-Atlantic Histories presents works by artists from 24 countries to examine the 450-year Atlantic Slave Trade. The exhibit explores changing viewpoints across time and geography through major paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures, photographs, time-based media art, and ephemera. The range extends from historical paintings by Jean-Baptiste Debret, Frans Post, and Dirk Valkenburg to work by Harlem Renaissance artist, Aaron Douglass, to contemporary art by Kara Walker. The exhibition premiered in 2018 at the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP) in Brazil.
Viewer discretion advised this exhibition
6. Sanford Biggers: Codeswitch
California African American Museum
Los Angeles, CA
Closes: January 23, 2022
Biggers began creating quilts in 2009 when he was commissioned by Hidden City Philadelphia to produce a work for the Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, a stop on the Underground Railroad. Sanford Biggers: Codeswitch is the first survey of quilt-based works by the New York-based interdisciplinary artist. The exhibit features nearly 50 pieces that reference contemporary art, African-American culture, sacred geometry, and more.
See also: LaToya Ruby Frazier exhibit that runs concurrently.
7. THERE IS A WOMAN IN EVERY COLOR: BLACK WOMEN IN ART
Bowdoin College Museum of Art
Closes: January 30, 2022
There Is a Woman in Every Color examines the representation of African-American women over the past two centuries. The exhibition brings together more than 60 works of art, objects, and artist books. Inspired by works in the BCMA’s permanent collection, the exhibition places art by Black women in conversation with one another, showcasing their exploration of personhood, issues of identity, and resistance to certain modes of representation or classification. Selected artists include Edmonia Lewis, Elizabeth Catlett, Alma Thomas, Carrie Mae Weems, Betye Saar, Faith Ringgold, Kara Walker, Mickalene Thomas, Ja’Tovia Gary, LaToya Ruby Frazier, and Nyeema Morgan.
8. The Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture, and the Sonic Impulse
Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston
Closes: February 6, 2022
The Dirty South presents more than 130 works and spans the entire museum. The exhibit makes visible the roots of southern hip-hop culture and reveals how the aesthetic traditions of the African-American South have shaped visual art and musical expression over the last century. Through its works, The Dirty South explores exchanges over the last 100 years between the visual and the sonic arts through a multi-generational group of artists working across a wide range of media, including sculpture, painting, film, photography, and sound. The Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture, and the Sonic Impulse is organized by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
9. Sepia: Past. Pride. Power
African American Museum, Dallas
Closes: February 15, 2022
Sepia: Past. Pride. Power features cover photographs from Sepia, a magazine targeting African-Americans that was influenced by Look magazine. Originally known as Negro Achievements, the Sepia magazine was founded in 1946 by Horace J. Blackwell, an African-American clothing merchant of Fort Worth. Sepia was occasionally described as the “poor man’s Ebony [magazine].” In 1991, the Sepia photograph collection was donated to the African-American Museum, Dallas, and is now part of its permanent collection. The Sepia exhibition showcases portraits of the leading Black figures from the past century in entertainment, politics, and culture, including Aretha Franklin, Huey Newton, Ray Charles, Althea Gibson, Cicely Tyson, James Earl Jones, and more.
10. The Obama Portraits
The High Museum of Art
On view from January 14 to March 20, 2022
Originally unveiled at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in February 2018, the museum’s official portraits of President Barack Obama and Mrs. Michelle Obama have become iconic. Kehinde Wiley’s portrait of President Obama and Amy Sherald’s portrait of the former First Lady have inspired unprecedented responses from the public. This exhibit is part of a five-city tour that began in June 2021 and concludes in May 2022.
11. Kinsey African American Art and History Collection
The Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art at Pepperdine University
On view from January 15 to March 27 2022
The Kinsey African American Art and History Collection is widely considered to be one of the most comprehensive surveys of African-American history and culture outside of the Smithsonian Institution. The award-winning collection features more than 150 paintings, sculptures, photographs, rare books, letters, manuscripts, and more, and celebrates the achievements and contributions of Black Americans from 1595 into the contemporary era. The traveling exhibition has been viewed by more than 15 million people and received national media attention.
12. Faith Ringgold: American People
New York, NY
On view from February 18 to June 2022
Faith Ringgold: American People is the most comprehensive exhibition to date of this groundbreaking artist’s vision, highlighted by the first full presentation of her historic French Collection in over 20 years, along with many other quintessential works that will be exhibited together for the first time in decades. Featuring Ringgold’s best-known series, this show examines the artist’s figurative style as it evolved to meet the urgency of political and social change. The exhibition also foregrounds her radical explorations of gender and racial identities, which the artist incorporates into the rich textures of her paintings, soft sculptures, and story quilts.
13. David Driskell: Icons of Nature and History
Cincinnati Museum of Art
On view from February 25 to May 15, 2022
David Driskell (1931–2020) was a revered art historian, curator and artist. He is recognized for his work as a painter and printmaker. The exhibition is the first major presentation of Driskell’s work since his death in April 2020 at the age of 88. The 58 works highlight his distinguished career; it surveys the artist’s practice from the 1950s forward. The exhibition explores themes of importance to Driskell, including nature to the Civil Rights era and identity as a person of African descent. Driskell also paid tribute to admired colleagues in pieces dedicated to Jacob Lawrence and Romare Bearden.
*Admission to David Driskell: Icons of Nature and History includes entry to the concurrent special exhibition, Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop.
14. Working Together: The Photographs of The Kamoinge Workshop
Cincinnati Museum of Art
On view from February 22, 2022 to May 15, 2022
Working Together is the first major museum exhibition about the Kamoinge Workshop, a groundbreaking African-American photographers’ collective founded in New York City in 1963 as the modern Civil Rights Movement was gaining momentum. The founders chose the name Kamoinge, which means “a group of people acting and working together” in the Gikuyu language of Kenya, to reflect their shared dedication to community, collective action, and a global outlook. While the group is still in existence, the exhibition focuses on the Workshop’s formative decades of the 1960s and 1970s.
15. Allie McGhee: Banana Moon Horn
Cranbrook Art Museum
Bloomfield Hills, MI
Closes: March 20, 2022
Allie McGhee: Banana Moon Horn is a retrospective of significant past works from McGhee’s extensive oeuvre. Additionally, it includes new works created specifically for this exhibit. Allie McGhee has been an important member of Detroit’s artistic community for more than five decades with a practice defined by his signature approach to abstraction. The title of this exhibition, Banana Moon Horn, is the name McGhee has given to the recurring arcing forms that he has explored throughout his career.
16. LaToya Ruby Frazier: The Last Cruze
California African American Museum
Los Angeles, CA
Closes: March 22, 2022
In The Last Cruze, LaToya Ruby Frazier chronicles the lives of workers at the General Motors plant in Lordstown, Ohio. After operating for more than 50 years, the plant was shut down in 2019. Workers were left with limited choices: relocate, sometimes leaving behind families and support networks, or find work elsewhere. Through 67 photographs, video, and an architectural installation that echoes the Lordstown assembly line, The Last Cruze extends Frazier’s long-standing commitment to visualizing how working-class people are impacted by industrial exploits, environmental injustice, and systemic racism.
17. Spell, Time, Practice, American, Body: The Work of RaMell Ross
Ogden Museum of Southern Art
New Orleans, LA
Closes: March 27, 2022
In 2018, photographer, filmmaker, and educator RaMell Ross released the documentary film, Hale County This Morning. Ross’s focus on Alabama and, by extension, the American South is an exploration of the birthplace of the African-American identity as well as the structures of racism that continue to shape the lives of Black people in the United States. In his exhibit Spell, Time, Practice, American, Body, this exhibition features a wide selection of Ross’s large-format photographic work in Hale County, familiarizing audiences with his aesthetics and vision. The exhibition also includes ceramic African-American Santa figures painted by Ross’s late mother, Gisele Ross, offering an intimate look at his early inspirations.
18. Black American Portraits
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Los Angeles, CA
Closes: April 17, 2022
Remembering Two Centuries of Black American Art, guest-curated by David Driskell at LACMA 45 years ago, Black American Portraits centers Black American subjects, sitters, and spaces, spanning over two centuries from approximately 1800 to the present day. This selection of 140 works draws primarily from LACMA’s permanent collection. The featured portraits highlight Black American portraiture from Emancipation and early studio photography through the Harlem Renaissance, the Civil Rights and Black Power eras, and into the 1990s. Black American Portraits documents the ways in which Black Americans have used portraiture to envision themselves in their own eyes and counter stereotypical mainstream narratives of Blackness.
19. Black Is Beautiful: Recent Gifts from BLACK ART IN AMERICA and Najee and Seteria Dorsey
Closes: April 10, 2022
In late 2020, Black Art in America (BAIA) and Seteria and Najee Dorsey presented The Columbus Museum with a donation of 15 objects in various media by 15 different African-American artists. An array of prominent master and contemporary African-American artists created the compelling works in the grouping. The gift strengthens the museum’s holdings of several artists, like David Driskell and Richard Hunt. In other cases, the donation provides the museum’s first example by legends like Elizabeth Catlett and Kerry James Marshall.
20. Jennifer Packer: The Eye is Not Satisfied With Seeing
Whitney Museum of American Art
New York, NY
Closes: April 17, 2022
The Eye Is Not Satisfied With Seeing is the largest survey of Packer’s practice to date, featuring over 30 works from the past decade. Her paintings, most recently seen at the Whitney in the 2019 Biennial, move fluidly between figuration and abstraction. Her renderings of friends, family, and flowers evoke the traditions of portraiture and still life, while also highlighting the politics of representation. Packer’s use employs both clarity and opacity in her paintings, reflecting the complexity she sees in the Black women and men sitters who appear in her work and in the broader world. “My inclination to paint,” Packer said, “especially from life, is a completely political one. We belong here. We deserve to be seen and acknowledged in real time. We deserve to be heard and to be imaged with shameless generosity and accuracy.”
Please be aware that many museum exhibits require you to acquire a ticket in advance, so check the museum’s website or call them directly for guidance. Additionally, find out the museum’s admission requirements as it relates to proof of vaccination. Lastly, given the current environment, confirm that the museum is open to visitors before traveling.
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Yvonne Bynoe is the founder of the online platform @shelovesblackart which highlights visual art from the African diaspora with the mission to encourage more people of African descent to collect art. She is a former attorney, cultural critic and author of several books.
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