Six museum exhibits in D.C. featuring Black artists
Museums in the District are featuring Black artists to educate visitors on history and culture
Reckoning with racial history in the United States leads us to explore the work of Black artists and other artists from diverse backgrounds. In an effort to be inclusive, six different exhibits featuring Black artists in D.C.’s major museums educate audiences on the cultural and political experiences of Black people.
The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden features an exhibit by Mark Bradford on Pickett’s Charge, which was the final charge of the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War. Bradford is a Los Angeles-based artist who won the MacArthur Genius Award in 2009 and the U.S. State Department’s Medal of Art in 2015. Pickett’s Charge is Bradford’s first-ever solo D.C. exhibit. The work is an installation of paper art 45 feet long depicting the battle. This exhibit is open through 2021.
Another exhibit, now part of the permanent collection, featured in this museum is titled “A Changing America” with a focus on 1968 and beyond. The exhibit covers the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., Barack Obama’s elections and the Black Lives Matter movement. In chronicling Black history, after the Civil Rights movement, the exhibit provides context linking key developments to each other. The historical analysis offered by the exhibit is enlightening as our country continues to face racial tensions and civil rights struggles.
The D.C. Public Library houses a Go-Go Archive available for public viewing. Go-Go music is a subgenre of funk that originated in D.C. The Go-Go Archive features commemorative artifacts from D.C.’s original music scene in memory of local musician Chuck Brown. Most of the archived material is CDs, audio recordings, photos, posters, flyers, videos, DVDs and concert ticket stubs. Anyone can contribute materials to the collection, so long as they are related to Chuck Brown or any other Go-Go musicians. The Archive can be accessed free of charge online.
The Phillips Collection’s exhibit “Riffs and Relations: African American Artists and the European Modernist Tradition,” open until Jan. 3, 2021, combines 20th and 21st century work by African American artists with the work of 20th century European artists. It highlights work by African American artists who have engaged through critique or inspiration with European modernist art. Artists adapt the recognizable styles of white European artists, like Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, to represent Black identity.
Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series, a multimedia exhibition at The Phillips Collection, focuses on the Great Migration through the lens of artist Jacob Lawrence. It features paintings that show Black migrants traveling to northern cities from the South as a result of segregationist laws and a lack of economic opportunities. The Great Migration is an important period in American history, since it was the beginning of a change in demographics as more than 6 million African American people migrated. Lawrence’s paintings show different points along the journey to the North and the conditions that the formerly enslaved were in. Lawrence’s paintings can be viewed online.
Despite these museums featuring Black art, a 2019 study by a Williams College professor found that museum exhibits are dominated by white artists. According to a USA Today article, some museums are now making more of an effort to include Black artists in their exhibitions. The 2019 article also explains that only six percent of the works at the National Gallery of Art are by Black artists. The Black Lives Matter movement is continuing to fight for racial justice in every form, and these exhibits are a start for museums to expand the representation of Black artists.