The following review of March 2018 presents a snapshot of the latest news in African American art and related culture:

NEWS | The Fifth Avenue building that housed the Studio Museum in Harlem when it was founded in 1968 is being razed. | Photo by Elizabeth Dee Gallery via Artforum


When the Studio Museum in Harlem opened in 1968 it was originally located at 2033 Fifth Avenue, between West 125th and 126th Streets. More recently, Elizabeth Dee Gallery has occupied the space at 2033 and 2037 Fifth Avenue. Now the gallery is vacating the property, according to Artforum. Fifty years after the Studio Museum was established there, the building is being razed by the owner.

The site of Grenfell Tower in West London where a fire killed 72 people last year, will be memorialized. The tragedy, which raised questions about the safety standards and fire prevention measures in the North Kensington public housing building, took the life of Khadija Saye, 24, a rising photographer of British-Gambian descent. The Kensington and Chelsea council is leaving decisions about the memorial site’s future in the hands of the community.

A statue of former U.S. Representative Shirley Chisholm (D-N.Y.) may soon stand in the U.S. Capitol Building. U.S. Senators Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and 11 of their Senate colleagues, have introduced a bill calling for Congress to commission a sculpture honoring Chisholm (1924-2005), the first black woman to be elected to Congress and the first black woman to run for President, seeking a major party’s nomination. A portrait of Chisholm by Kadir Nelson entered the collection of the U.S. House of Representative in 2009.

More than 800 people, including prominent artists and cultural figures—Kevin Beasley, Hannah Black, Heather Hart, Juliana Huxtable, Thomas J. Lax, Glenn Ligon, Sondra Perry, Martine Syms, and Sarah Workneh, among them—have signed a petition expressing their support for the parole of Herman Bell, a former member of the Black Liberation Army, an offshoot of the Black Panthers. He is one of three men convicted for the 1971 fatal shooting of two New York City police officers outside a Harlem housing project. After spending nearly five decades in Shawangunk Correctional Facility in upstate New York, Bell, 70, was granted parole and could be released as early as April 17. Many activists support the decision, but key city officials including Governor Mario Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and the police union, do not.

“This opportunity to think through what the next chapter of design and luxury will mean at a brand that represents the pinnacle of luxury was always a goal in my wildest dreams. And to show a younger generation that there is no one way anyone in this kind of position has to look is a fantastically modern spirit in which to start.”
— Virgil Abloh in New York Times

APPOINTMENTS | Virgil Abloh is Louis Vuitton’s new Men’s Artistic Director. He is presenting his first show for the luxury label in June 2018 during Men’s Fashion Week in Paris.


Luxury label Louis Vuitton named Virgil Abloh artistic director of menswear. He is founder and creative director of Off-White, the haute streetwear brand, and is a longtime collaborator with Kanye West. He won International Designer of the Year at the GQ Men of the Year Awards in 2017. Abloh, 37, is Louis Vuitton’s first black artistic director.

On March 13, the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art made two hires to staff a three-year African American Collecting Initiative supported by a $575,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation. Erin J. Gilbert was named curator of African-American manuscripts and Rayna Andrews is serving as an archivist. The goal of the initiative is to “build upon the Archives’ existing collections by and about African American artists.”

Pamela Joyner is rising to chair of the Tate Americas Foundation. Her term begins April 1. The philanthropist and collector has been a trustee of the foundation since 2015. Joyner’s extensive collection of African American art is currently being presented at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. “Solidary & Solitary: The Joyner/Guiffrida Collection” is on view through July 15, 2018.

The Brooklyn Museum recently announced two new curatorial hires for African art and photography. The choice for African art caused a stir on social media, with questions raised about the decision to hire a non-black curator. The suggestion is that all curators should stay in their own lanes and study their own heritage, as opposed to focusing on lack of widespread opportunities for curators of color who may wish, and should have the freedom, to concentrate on any area of art history or art practice. The museum provided a statement to the New York Post regarding the flap and later posted a more extensive response on Twitter.

After one year, Nicole J. Caruth left her position as artistic director of the McColl Center for Art + Innovation in Charlotte, N.C. Charlotte Magazine reported she was leaving to focus on independent projects and described her departure as “part of a broader shift in arts leadership in Charlotte’s museums.”

“As one of the world’s leading art institutions, Tate plays a critical groundbreaking role in casting a spotlight on the contribution of both established and under-represented artists to the evolution of visual art in the 20th and 21st centuries. This frame of reference is also consistent with my personal view of the best and highest purpose of arts institutions.”
— Pamela Joyner

ACQUISITIONS | The Virginia Museum of the Fine Arts recently announced new acquisitions approved by its board of trustees Dec. 14, 2017, including SANFORD BIGGERS’s “Overstood,” 2017 (sequins, canvas, fabric, tar, glitter, polystyrene, and Aqua-Resin). | Courtesy VMFA


The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond recently announced new acquisitions by three African American artists. The museum purchased “Town of Hope,” a 1927 painting by Archibald Motley; a Two-Handled Jug, by enslaved South Carolina artisan David Drake, dated 1840; and two works by Sanford Biggers, “Khemestry” (2017), a wall relief with antique quilts, and “Overstood” (2017), which features a monumental wall silhouette of Black Panther figures casting a shadow over diminutive African statuettes.

On March 14, the National Museum of Women in the Arts announced the acquisition of two works by abstract artist Mildred Thompson (1936-2003). The museum purchased a painting from Thompson’s “Magnetic Fields” series, for which a recent exhibition was named, and a circa 1970 sculptural assemblage or “wood picture.” A solo exhibition of Thompson’s work at Galerie Lelong in New York has been extended to April 21, 2018.

Gordon W. Bailey donated 32 works of art to the California African American Museum (CAAM) in Los Angeles on March 20. The gift from the collector, scholar, and advocate, includes works by Sam Doyle, “Missionary” Mary Proctor, and Purvis Young.


PROJECT/UNVEILING | Rendering for National Cathedral in Ghana designed by DAVID ADJAYE. See more images here | Courtesy Adjaye Associates


President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo marked the 61st year of Ghana’s independence by unveiling plans for a new National Cathedral of Ghana designed by British-Ghanaian architect David Adjaye. Sited on 14 acres of landscaped gardens near Osu Cemetery in Accra, the inter-denominational cathedral is envisioned as a “ceremonial landmark where all faiths will be welcomed to gather, worship, and celebrate in spiritual accord.” Described by President Akufo-Addo as a church of national purpose, the design features a series of chapels, a 5,000-seat two-level auditorium, a grand central hall, music school, art gallery, shop and multi-use spaces. Influencing the look and feel of the interiors, celebrated Ghanaian and African artists have been commissioned to make religious adornments and furnishings.

Sculpture Milwaukee is finalizing an agreement with Brooklyn-based artist Mickalene Thomas to contribute a 14-foot fiberglass sculpture to its second annual exhibition. About 23 artworks by local and international artists will be on display in downtown Milwaukee on Wisconsin Ave., from June to October. Chakaia Booker and Alison Saar were among the artists who participated in the inaugural exhibition in 2017. The commission would be Thomas’s first-ever public art work.

The Shed, a new 200,000-square-foot multidisciplinary performing arts space is opening on the High Line, the elevated New York City park, in 2019. The inaugural programming includes a collaboration between artist and filmmaker Steve McQueen and Quincy Jones. Titled Soundtrack of America, the project will celebrate “the unrivaled impact of African American music on art and popular culture over the past 100 years.” The live production is conceived by McQueen with Jones serving as developer and chief music advisor.

“It is an immense honour to be granted the opportunity to contribute something of this scale and import to my home country. I have sought to craft a building that not only understands its landscape but one that will be unique to Accra and the Ghanaian Nation.” — David Adjaye on design of National Cathedral of Ghana

AWARDS/HONORS | From left, Skowhegan is recognizing Los Angeles-based artist Betye Saar with a Metal for Sculpture, Photo Courtesy Skowhegan; Thelma Golden, director and chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem, is receiving at 2018 Getty Metal, Photo by Julie Skarratt


Skowhegan, the summer artist residency program in rural Maine, announced it is honoring Betye Saar with a Medal for Sculpture at its annual awards dinner on April 24 in New York City. Alison Saar is presenting the award to her mother. Chris Ofili is presenting the Medal for Painting to Peter Doig and Whitfield Lovell is co-presenting the Skowhegan Governors’ Award for Outstanding Service to Artists to the program’s former executive director Barbara Lapcek (1984-1996). The awards dinner is co-chaired by Nari Ward.

“Black Fashion Designers” (2016-17), an exhibition presented at The Museum at FIT will be recognized at the Museum Association of New York’s annual conference in Rochester, N.Y. Curated by Elizabeth Way and Ariele Elia, the exhibition is receiving an “Innovation in Collection Access Award” at an April 9 ceremony.

The Institute of Contemporary Art Los Angeles is hosting a brunch honoring artist Henry Taylor. Fellow Los Angeles artist Mark Bradford will give a tribute to Taylor at the May 12 event. Co-hosts include artist Charles Gaines and collector V. Joy Simmons, M.D.

Studio Museum in Harlem Director and Chief Curator Thelma Golden, Agnes Gund, philanthropist and president emerita of the Museum of Modern Art, and sculptor Richard Serra are receiving 2018 Getty Medals. The J. Paul Getty Trust made the announcement March 26. Honoring “their extraordinary contributions to the practice, understanding and support of the arts” the medals will be presented at a Sept. 24, 2018, dinner at the Getty Center in Los Angeles.

On March 29, Artadia announced the selection of EJ Hill and Clarissa Tossin for its 2018 Los Angeles awards. The honor includes a $10,000 unrestricted grant. Hill was a 2015-16 Artist-in-Residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem.


LIVES | Portrait of Jamaican artist Dorothy Hendriques-Wells by ALBERT HUIE. | via National Gallery of Jamaica


Dorothy Hendriques-Wells, whose work portrayed Caribbean life and was inspired by the florals and natural landscapes of her native Jamaica, died March 5 in Miami. She was 92. Hendriques-Wells made her mark early as the first black graduate of the Ontario School of Art (now OCAD University) in Toronto, Canada (1947-51). In 1968, she opened a commercial art gallery in Jamaica, was commissioned by Norwegian Cruise Lines to make 300 works on paper for display on three of its ships, and co-founded the Jamaican Artists and Craftsmen Guild. She lived in Barbados, visited Senegal, and moved to Washington, D.C., before settling in Miami. According to the Jamaican Observer, her last exhibition was in Wynwood in January 2016.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Les Payne died March 19 in Manhattan. He was 76. A reporter, editor, and columnist, who covered national, international, and racial justice issues, Payne retired as associate managing editor of New York Newsday in 2006. He co-founded the National Association of Black Journalists and served as the organization’s fourth president. Payne was working on a biography of Malcolm X and, last October, gave a lecture at Michael Rosenfeld Gallery that coincided with its exhibition of Barbara Chase Riboud‘s series of sculptures dedicated to Malcolm X. CT


ACQUISITION | The California African American Museum in Los Angeles announced a gift of 32 works from Gordon W. Bailey, including SAM DOYLE, “St. Helena’s Black Merry Go Round,” circa 1980-83 (house paint on metal, 26 x 48 inches). | Courtesy CAAM


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