RETROSPECTIVE is a review of the latest news and happenings related to art by and about people of African descent. This week, highlights include the departure of the director of El Museo del Barrio; a network of public librarians and a collective black women artists rallying in support of Black Lives Matter; and announcements of significant donations to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Theaster Gates is staging a series of performances connecting sacred music with African and African American art, and the Detroit Institute of the Arts is exploring contemporary art and ritual in a daylong program. Finally, a Make/Time conversation with artist Sonya Clark about craft, history and culture, is recommended.


NMAAHC May 2016
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture continues to receive large donations. | Photo by Victoria L. Valentine



The Washington Post published a summary of the 19 top donors to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is slated to open Sept. 24. The list of large gifts of $5 million or more was topped by the Oprah Winfrey Charitable Foundation ($21 million), the Lilly Endowment $20 million), and Robert Frederick Smith ($20 million), chairman and chief executive of Vista Equity Partners, an Austin, Texas-based investment firm.

Artist Jordan Baker-Caldwell with his sculpture AscensionBasketball legend Michael Jordan gave $5 million to National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Smithsonian museum in Washington, D.C. The contribution will endow a sports gallery called “Game Changers Hall,” which will now be named in honor of Jordan.

In commemoration of its 30th anniversary, the Executive Leadership Council, an organization of top black executives, donated $1 million to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

> Earlier this week, “Ascension,” a public artwork by Jordan Baker-Caldwell, was installed at 36th Street and Ninth Avenue in New York City in partnership with the Hell’s Kitchen/Hudson Yards Alliance. According to the artist, who raised funds on Kickstarter to complete the project, the metal sculpture is the first permanent installation by an African American in Midtown Manhattan.

The Spencer Museum of Art has been awarded a $159,049 federal grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to organize two weeklong workshops for K-12 teachers. The sessions will “explore complex history of racial disparity and discrimination in U.S. education through the lens of cultural landmarks in Kansas.”

Four public librarians, located in four different states—California, Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois—have launched Libraries4BlackLives. A call to action, the new initiative “unifies library efforts and demonstrates [their] unequivocal professional commitment to social justice and equity” and calls on institutions and communities to “help define the role libraries can play.”


Harold Joseph Thomas - winner 2016 Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards
Harold Joseph Thomas’s painting won the 33rd Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award in Australia. | Photo by Fiona Morrison/NATSIAA 2016



“Tribal Abduction,” a large-scale painting by Harold Joseph Thomas that confronts historic race issues in Australia, won the 33rd Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards. A descendant of the Luritja and Wambai people, about 45 years ago when he was just 24 and a new art school graduate, Thomas designed what would become the Australian Aboriginal flag, which is now a powerful symbol of Indigenous Australia.



El Museo del Barrio near East Harlem announced the departure of Executive Director Jorge Daniel Veneciano. Two deputy directors will take the helm while a search is underway to identify a new leader of the museum which focuses on Latin American and Caribbean art and culture.



Simone Leigh convened a group of more than 100 black women artists to form a collective Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matter. The group is holding a public event on Sept. 1 at the New Museum, where Leigh’s exhibition “The Waiting Room” is on view.

The Hirshhorn Museum announced Theaster Gates is curating a series of four performances at the Washington, D.C., museum that “will introduce unexpected and unexplored connections between sacred music, African and African American culture and history, theater, world dance and chant.” Unfolding over the course of a year, the inaugural “Processions” performance debuts on Sept. 21, to coincide with the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (Sept. 24).

BWA for BLMAn artist in residence at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Michael Richards worked on the 92nd floor of the World Trade Center’s north tower in his council studio. He was killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack that leveled the towers. Brought out of storage, his works are being presented by the council on Governor’s Island. Eerily relevant to the era of Black Lives Matter, “Michael Richards: Winged” is on view at the Art Center at Governors Island through Sept. 25.

The Detroit Institute of the Arts has announced its “Art as Ritual Conference,” a daylong event on Sept. 12 “exploring the intersection of contemporary art and ritual,” organized by William Danaher, Oren Goldenberg and Taylor Renee Aldridge.

Nick Cave talked about the themes of race and gun violence in “Until,” his forthcoming exhibition at Mass MoCA. Opening Oct. 16, the “massive, immersive installation” will be on view in the largest space the artist has ever worked in, and is the museum’s “most costliest and most elaborate exhibition to date.”

The National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., has included a rare image of Mamout, an African American Muslim man and former slave, in its “American Origins” exhibition. Painted by James Alexander Simpson in 1822, the portrait is intended to help tell “the multifaceted story of America through the individuals who have shaped its culture.”


Artist Sonya Clark talks about her hair craft and the roots of her family’s creativity.



Make/Time features conversations about craft and the creative process. Sonya Clark, chair of the Craft and Material Studies Department at Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Richmond, Va., incorporates natural black hair in her works, which exploring history and culture. In “Needling the Thread” she talked about how her family background has influenced her practice.

In the New York Times book review, Claudia Rankine, a professor of poetry and author of Citizen: An American Lyric, assessed “Known and Strange Things: Essays,” a new collection of writings by Teju Cole. The U.S.-born, Nigerian-raised author, art historian and photographer’s essays “build connections between Western and African art.”

Alvia Wardlaw spent 40 years at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and now serves as director of the University Museum at TSU. A local magazine wondered why she is not better known.

For its Crime issue, ARTnews paid tribute to museum guards, reporting on their experiences, insights about the art they are watching over, and featuring images of guards at several institutions. CT


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