A LARGE-SCALE RETROSPECTIVE of works by Charles White (1918-1979) debuts this summer in Chicago and will travel to New York and Los Angeles, cities where the artist spent key periods of his life. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) announced the exhibition today. “Charles White: A Retrospective” is organized by MoMA, where it will be on view this fall (Oct. 7, 2018-Jan. 13, 2019), after opening at the Art Institute of Chicago (June 8-Sept. 3, 2018). The retrospective travels to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in Spring 2019. Coinciding with the centennial of White’s birth, the exhibition is the first career-spanning examination of White’s work in more than three decades.

A master draftsman, White is recognized for his powerful realist works. His self-described “images of dignity” capture the truth, character, strength, and beauty of African American people.

The exhibition presents more than 100 works—drawings, paintings, prints, photographs—dating from the late 1930s through the end of White’s life in 1979. A comprehensive overview of the artist’s graphic oeuvre, the show spans 40 years of tumult and transformative change in the United States—from the end of the Great Depression and World War II to the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam War, and Black Power era.

According to MoMA, “The presentation reveals White as a responsive visual strategist who was open to exploring styles and techniques inspired by contemporary art and culture, and a savvy interpreter of an evolving political climate. White’s commitment to figuration, to directly addressing the social and political concerns of his time, and to mastering mediums that allowed for wide circulation of his art established him as a major figure, and one with significant influence on his peers and followers.”

[Charles] White’s commitment to figuration, to directly addressing the social and political concerns of his time, and to mastering mediums that allowed for wide circulation of his art established him as a major figure.
— Museum of Modern Art

Curated by Esther Adler, associate curator in MoMA’s Department of Drawings and Prints and Sarah Kelly Oehler, Field-McCormick Chair and curator of American Art at the Art Institute of Chicago, the exhibition is organized chronologically, with sections focusing on cities where White lived and worked and featuring related ephemera and supporting materials giving context to White’s works and various aspects of his life.


CHARLES WHITE, “Folksinger,” 1957 (ink on board, 52 × 34 inches). | Collection Pamela and Harry Belafonte © 1957 The Charles White Archives. Photo by Christopher Burke Studios


BORN IN CHICAGO, White was an artist, activist, and educator. He grew up on the South Side and graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1938. Shortly after, he started working with the Works Progress Administration. White married fellow artist Elizabeth Catlett in 1941 and they lived in New Orleans, where they both taught at Dillard University, and New York. He studied at the Art Student League in New York and connected with black artists and intellectuals including Jacob Lawrence, Langston Hughes, Gordon Parks, and W.E.B. Du Bois.

Drafted into the U.S. Army in 1944, White contracted tuberculosis, and the illness dogged him for years to come. When he initially recovered, White and Catlett visited Mexico, meeting master muralists including Diego Rivera. After the two artists divorced, White married Frances Barrett, a white social worker, in 1950. He was active with the Committee for the Negro Arts in New York where the couple remained until 1956, when they moved to Los Angeles seeking balmy weather to aid his health. In Los Angeles, White was represented by Heritage Gallery. Beginning in 1965, he taught at the Otis Art Institute where Alonzo Davis, David Hammons, and Kerry James Marshall, were among his students.

Marshall’s mentor is following in his footsteps. “Mastry,” Marshall’s 30-year survey (2016-2017) was also presented in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles. Similar to White, the three cities marked significant chapters in the younger artist’s life and work. CT


TOP IMAGE: CHARLES WHITE, “Sound of Silence,” 1978 (color lithograph on paper, 25 1/8 × 35 5/16 inches), Printed by David Panosh, Published by Hand Graphics, Ltd. | The Art Institute of Chicago. Margaret Fisher Fund. © 1978 The Charles White Archives


The Museum of Modern Art and Art Institute of Chicago are co-publishing a fully illustrated exhibition catalog to accompany the Charles White retrospective. The June publication will feature contributions by Kellie Jones and Deborah Willis. Last fall, MoMA published “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.


CHARLES WHITE, “Black Pope (Sandwich Board Man),” 1973 (oil wash on board, 60 × 43 7/8 inches). | The Museum of Modern Art, New York. 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. © 1973 The Charles White Archives. Photo by Jonathan Muzikar, The Museum of Modern Art Imaging Services


CHARLES WHITE, “Preacher,” 1940 (Tempera on board, 30 × 21 1/2 inches). | The Davidsons, Los Angeles, California. © 1940 The Charles White Archives. Photo by The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, California


CHARLES WHITE, “Harvest Talk,” 1953 (charcoal, Wolff’s carbon drawing pencil, and graphite, with stumping and erasing on ivory wood pulp laminate board, 26 × 39 1/16 inches). | The Art Institute of Chicago. Restricted gift of Mr. and Mrs. Robert S. Hartman. © 1953 The Charles White Archives


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