Published: February 4, 2003
NEW YORK CITY – The Studio Museum in Harlem will present “Challenge of the Modern: African American Artists 1925-1945,” an examination of the modernist concepts engaged by black artists in the United States and the Caribbean through March 30.
Drawing on cultural references germane to their experiences as individuals of African decent, these artists confronted vantage tendencies in the larger art world and created a ‘modernism’ that is, in the words of art historian Helen Shannon, “not always congruent with canonical histories of European and American Modernism.” More than 100 works, including paintings, sculptures and photographs, will fill the museum’s galleries.
According to Lowery Stokes Sims, SMH executive director and “Challenge of the Modern” curator, “the exhibit will demonstrate how artists captured the changes that occurred as populations of African Americans moved from rural to urban areas in the United States and the Caribbean in the 1920s, 30s and 40s and embraced modern life.”
In the context of more recent revisionist views of modernism, “Challenge of the Modern” will contribute to the presentation of Modernism as a multifaceted process rather than as a singular stylistic phenomenon, revealing the diversity of aesthetic options available to all artists in the first half of the Twentieth Century. It also will distinguish conventional views of this period in African American art history from those framed around the concept of the Harlem Renaissance.
“Challenge of the Modern” will focus on elements of modernity that produce more vanguard stylistic and conceptual themes: the engagement of African art; the production of the image of the “New Negro”; performance, sexuality and the black body; migration/immigration and the urban experience; elements of design and decoration and spirituality.
Modernism will be examined through the work of artists such as Aaron Douglas, Romare Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett, Sargent Johnson, William H. Johnson, Lois Mailou Jones, Jacob Lawrence, Norman Lewis and Bruce Nugent working in the United States; Teodoro Ramos Blanco and Wifredo Lam working in Cuba and Edna Manley in Jamaica. The exhibition will include photographic work from Robert McNeil, Morgan and Marvin Smith, and James VanDerZee.
Also included will be works by Euro Americans, such as Stuart Davis and Winold Weiss, to provide a contextual counterpoint to the elements addressed by the exhibition.
The Studio Museum in Harlem is at 144 West 125th Street, between Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard and Lenox Avenue. Hours are Wednesday through Friday, and Sunday from 12 to 6 pm and from 10 am to 4 pm on Saturdays. The Museum is closed on Monday, Tuesday and major holidays. Suggested donation for admission is $7. For information, 212-864-4500, or www.studiomuseum.org.
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