FOUR YEARS AFTER ACQUIRING “Black Pope (Sandwich Board Man)” by Charles White (1918-1979), the Museum of Modern Art in New York will display the signature work for the first time in a special exhibition conceived by artist David Hammons. “Charles White—Leonardo da Vinci. Curated by David Hammons” opens Oct. 7 and pairs “Black Pope” with a drapery study by Leonardo da Vinci, also on view at the museum for the first time.

“Displaying these two works together highlights the connections between their composition and draftsmanship, while also celebrating two artists who have had a lasting influence on subsequent generations,” the museum said in a statement. The presentation is part of MoMA’s Artist’s Choice, a series in which a contemporary artist is selected to organize an installation drawn from the museum’s collection.

A legendary draftsman, White is known for his social realist “images of dignity.” “Black Pope,” a 1973 oil wash on board, exemplifies the manner in which he depicted the strength, character and complexity of African Americans in his “visually compelling and intellectually ambitious” works. The painting was featured in the exhibition “Now Dig This! Art & Black Los Angeles 1960-1980.” MoMA acquired “Black Pope” in 2013.

CHICAGO-BORN WHITE was an instructor at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles and during his tenure mentored a number of African American students, including Hammons. The two artists participated in a three-person show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Presented in 1971, “Three Graphic Artists” featured White, Hammons, and Timothy Washington.

The catalog for “Three Graphic Artists” cites an interview with Hammons who took a drawing class with White. “He’s the only artist [White] that I really related to because he is black and I am black, plus physically seeing him and knowing him. Like, he’s the first and only artist that I’ve ever really met who had any real stature. And just being in the same room with someone like that you’d have to be directly influenced,” Hammons said.

“He’s the only artist [White] that I really related to because he is black and I am black, plus physically seeing him and knowing him. Like, he’s the first and only artist that I’ve ever really met who had any real stature.”
— David Hammons, Three Graphic Artists (1971)

In the same catalog, White talked about the themes he explores in his work. White said: “I am concerned about my Íellow man. I am concerned with the survival of man. I am concerned with the progress that man has made in relation to his fellow man, in relation to nature, in trying to find a more beautiful way of life. …I am trying to fulfill my responsibility to myself and to express my gratitude for the privilege that I’ve had of living with my fellow man. I want to pour something into life-perhaps a liltle bit more than l’ve gotten out of it. Now that sounds awfully platitudinous, but that’s really the way I Íeel about it.”

The MoMA exhibition precedes a survey of White’s career. “Charles White: A Retrospective” is co-organized by the Art Institute of Chicago and MoMA. The long-overdue consideration of White’s work and influence brings together a selection of his most important works drawn from public and private collections. The retrospective opens June 10, 2018, at the Art Institute of Chicago, and then travels to MoMA and LACMA. CT


TOP IMAGE: CHARLES WHITE, “Black Pope (Sandwich Board Man),” 1973 (Oil wash on board, 60 × 43 7/8″). | Richard S. Zeisler Bequest (by exchange), The Friends of Education of The Museum of Modern Art, Committee on Drawings Fund, Dian Woodner, and Agnes Gund. © 2017 The Charles White Archives


The Museum of Modern Art is publishing “Charles White: Black Pope” to coincide with the “Charles White—Leonardo da Vinci. Curated by David Hammons” exhibition. “Now Dig This! Art & Black Los Angeles 1960-1980” features works by White and Hammons, offering “the first in-depth survey of the incredibly vital but often overlooked legacy of Los Angeles’s African American artists.” Part of the David C. Driskell Series of African American Art, “Charles White” documents the artist’s practice.


LEONARDO DA VINCI, “The drapery of a kneeling figure,” circa 1491–94 (brush and black ink with white heightening on pale blue prepared paper, 8 ⅜ × 6 ¼ inches). | The Royal Collection/HM Queen Elizabeth II. Photo: Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017


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