Smithsonian American Art Museum's exhibition, African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, the Civil Rights Era and Beyond gives a broad overview of 43 artists whose work spanned 8 decades of the 20th century. Over 40 photographs, as well as paintings, give a provocative picture of urban and rural life during the Depression, the age of segregation and the Civil Rights and later. Although there is some overlap with other 20th century art movements, the exhibition is mainly art focused on African-Americans and their lives. Both abstract and figural paintings are included, but also sculpture by Richard Hunt, Sam Gilliam, an important recent figure in the art scene of Washington, DC. The artists come from the South and North, with a large number from urban areas of Detroit, New York, St. Louis, Baltimore and Washington, DC.
The portraits give impressive concentrated views of individual personalities, particularly by Tony Gleaton and Earlie Hudnall, Jr. I especially liked the photographs of Ray DeCarava, for the artistic compositions with interesting value contrasts. Although the portrait photography is very interesting, I'm partial to DeCarava's staged compositions which look like film stills.
Ray DeCarava, Lingerie, New York, 1950, printed 1982, gelatin silver print, left.
Gleaton's works are part of series photos, such as Africa's legacy in Central America. But there is also a series from the WPA (Works Project Administration of the 1930s, part of the New Deal. Robert McNeill 's several photographs include those from his project entitled, The Negro in Virginia which has both interesting portraits and slices of life. The art of photojournalism really began at this time, during the 1930s.
Charles Searles was from Philadelphia and the Smithsonian's Celebration is actually a study for a mural done in the William H Green Federal Building in Philadelphia. Likewise, Community is a study for a mural Lawrence did in Jamaica, New York, 1986. It evokes a spirit of togetherness and cooperation.
Enchanted Rider by Bob Thompson, 1961
Lois Mailou Jones, Moon Masque, 1971