Charles White: A Retrospective. | Video by Art Institute of Chicago


NEXT WEEK, THE LONG-AWAITED Charles White (1918-1979) retrospective opens at the Art Institute of Chicago. An artist, activist, and educator, Chicago-born White was a master draftsmen known for his powerful, realist images of African Americans. Featuring more than 80 paintings, drawings, and prints, spanning his entire career from the 1930s until his death in 1979, the exhibition is the first major retrospective of his work in more than 35 years.

It is fitting that the exhibition is debuting at the Art Institute of Chicago, before traveling to the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The Art Institute was a reliable fixture in White’s life as he came of age. As young as age 8, he wandered the galleries while his mother shopped nearby. He studied at the School of the Art Institute beginning in seventh grade. Years later, White graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1938.

In anticipation of the June 8 opening, a new video features White in his own words talking about his experiences growing up in Chicago and C. Ian White, his son, reflecting on the legacy of his father’s work and the Mississippi relatives, former slaves, who inspired some of the artist’s images.

“I’ve tried to deal with beauty, the beauty in man. Essentially, I feel that man is basically good. I have to start from this premise in all my work,” said White.

“I’ve tried to deal with beauty, the beauty in man. Essentially, I feel that man is basically good. I have to start from this premise in all my work.”
— Charles White

The video emphasizes the universality of White’s work. His images are unapologetically black and give voice to the African American experience, but they are less about race, and more about humanity and dignity.

His son said: “We all face these kinds of things of feeling like our voice isn’t heard. Feeling shut down, individually. I don’t feel that when I look at my father’s work.” CT


The Museum of Modern Art and Art Institute of Chicago are co-publishing a fully illustrated exhibition catalog to accompany the Charles White retrospective. Published later this month, the catalog will feature contributions by Kerry James Marshall, 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.


To help offset a small portion of the countless hours and expense required to research, report, write and produce the content on this website, Culture Type participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate program designed to help sites earn commissions by linking to When you make ANY merchandise purchase from Amazon, and the many independent booksellers and vendors that partner with Amazon, via a link from this site, Culture Type receives a minute percentage of its price. Your support is much appreciated.


Do you enjoy and value Culture Type? Please consider supporting its ongoing production by making a donation. Culture Type is an independent editorial project that requires countless hours and expense to research, report, write, and produce. To help sustain it, make a one-time donation or sign up for a recurring monthly contribution. It only takes a minute. Many Thanks for Your Support.