Artist Tavares Strachan’s work paying tribute to a pioneering African American astronaut was launched into into space on Dec. 3. (Liftoff begins at 19:40).

The following review of the past week or so presents a snapshot of the latest news in African American art and related culture:

After a couple of delayed lift-off dates, spacecraft manufacturer SpaceX launched a rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Hawthorne, Calif., on Dec. 3 at 10:34 a.m., local time. The Falcon 9 rocket was carrying a pair of sculptures by artists Tavares Strachan and Trevor Paglen. Strachan’s project is an homage to Robert H. Lawrence Jr., the first African American astronaut selected for any national space program. Lawrence died in 1967 during pilot training and never made it to space. In collaboration with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Strachan created Enoch, a 24-carat gold canopic jar (similar to an urn) featuring a bust of Lawrence. By launching the work into space, the Bahamian-born, New York and Nassau-based artist seeks to honor his pioneering legacy and highlight his under-recognized story. According to the museum, “The name Enoch refers to a biblical figure (present in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim sacred texts) who never experienced mortal death, instead ascending directly into the afterlife.” (Watch the launch, coverage begins at 5:00, final prep at 16:50, countdown and lift-off at 19:40.)

Rashid Johnson‘s feature film adaptation of Richard Wright’s novel “Native Son” was selected for the 2019 Sundance Film Festival (Jan. 24-Feb. 3, 2019). Marking its world premiere, the film is entered in the Dramatic Competition and is slated to be screened on day one of the festival. A visual artist who works in a variety of mediums, Johnson is making his directorial debut with “Native Son.” Suzan-Lori Parks, who wrote the screenplay, is also attached to the project, and the cast includes Ashton Sanders (“Moonlight”) and Sanaa Lathan.


Installation and detail views of sculptor Richmond Barthé’s damaged frieze in Brooklyn. | via Michele Bogart @urbaninsideout on Twitter


In the late 1930s, sculptor Richmond Barthé (1901-1989) was commissioned to design a series of decorative panels for an amphitheater planned for the Harlem River Houses, a public housing project for African American residents. When the amphitheater was never realized, the 80-foot long frieze was installed at the nearly all-white Kingsborough Houses in Brooklyn. More than seven decades later, Barthé’s weather-worn work is in disrepair and, as first reported by AM New York, Michele Bogart, a professor of public art and urban design at Stony Brook University and former vice president of what is now the city’s Public Design Commission, is championing support for its restoration. Since the need has been publicized in the media, Swann Auction Galleries has stepped forward to fund an assessment to determine the costs of repair.

Hauser & Wirth announced the launch of a nonprofit dedicated to art historical scholarship and the preservation and accessibility of artist archives. The Hauser & Wirth Institute will operate independent of gallery operations under the leadership of executive director Jennifer Gross, who formerly served as chief curator and deputy director of deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, Mass. A nine-member advisory board, including scholar Darby English and artist Charles Gaines, will provide guidance.

The Frieze Los Angeles art fair has commissioned a dozen artists for Frieze Projects, including Kori Newkirk and Karon Davis, co-founder and president of The Underground Museum. Spanning installation, sculpture and performance, the commissions will be realized on a backlot at Paramount Pictures Studios, a cinematic recreation of a New York City street. The inaugural edition of Frieze Los Angeles is Feb. 15-17, 2019.

A mural in the Crenshaw neighborhood of Los Angeles was defaced with swastikas. Titled “Our Mighty Contribution,” the mural depicts African American figures, including Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, and several Black Panther figures whose faces were obscured by the swastika symbols.


Makeeba McCreary is joining MFA Boston. | Photo Courtesy MFA; Curator Naima J. Keith accepted an Expo Chicago appointment. | Photo by Cristina Gandolfo for Expo Chicago


Naima Keith has been tapped to curate the Exposure section at Expo Chicago, the International Exposition of Contemporary & Modern Art (Sept. 19–22, 2019). The section focuses on one- and two-person presentations by young galleries that have been in business for eight years or less. Keith, who is deputy director and chief curator at the California African American Museum (CAAM) in Los Angeles, is also serving as co-artistic director of Prospect.5 in New Orleans.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA) named Makeeba McCreary chief of learning and community engagement. The post is a newly created position designed to prioritize and champion the experience of MFA visitors. McCreary is managing four departments at the museum: Education; Volunteer and Community Engagement; Lectures, Courses and Concerts; and Film. She previously served as managing director and senior advisor of external affairs for Boston Public Schools.

The Crystal Bridges Museum of America Art is establishing a new satellite venue called The Momentary. Opening in early 2020, the multi-disciplinary space will present visual and performing arts, artist residencies, culinary experiences, and festivals. A new team has been hired to lead the experimental space. Lauren Haynes, curator of contemporary art at Crystal Bridges, will also serve as curator of visual art at The Momentary.


LOUIS DRAPER (American, 1935-2002), “Untitled (Black Muslim),” 1960s (gelatin silver print). | Gift of Louis H. Draper Trust, 2013.156


With the help of a 2018 Bank of America Art Conservation Project grant, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is conserving, stabilizing and digitizing 146 photographs by African American photographers Louis Draper, Anthony Barboza, Adger Cowans, Roy DeCarava, Beuford Smith, Ming Smith and Shawn Walker. The images are from the museum’s Kamoinge Workshop collection, which it describes as the most complete of its kind. From 1973-80, Kamoinge members published their work in four volumes of the Black Photographers Annual. VMFA has been presenting examples from the publications in a series of exhibitions. The latest, “Truthful Witnessing: The Black Photographers Annual, Volume 3,” is on view through May 12, 2019.

Creative Capital and the Andy Warhol Foundation announced recipients of the 2018 Arts Writers Grants. The program awarded $725,000 to 21 writers, grants ranging from $15,000 to $50,000 in four categories—articles, blogs, books and short-form writing. Recipients include Ashley Hunt for an article about The Political Economy of the Prison in Contemporary Art Exhibitions; Essence Harden and Olivia K. Young for a blog called Speculative: Black Art Practices of the West; Malik Gaines for a book titled “Future Ruins: The Art of Abstractive Democracy”; and Claire Tancons for a book titled “Roadworks: Processional Performance in the New Millennium.”

Bloomberg Philanthropies announced Jackson, Miss., is a 2018 Public Art Challenge winner. Jackson will receive $1 million to support “Fertile Ground: Inspiring Dialogue About Food Access,” a citywide exhibition and public programming project intended to bolster awareness and access to healthy food in the community.

The Women’s Caucus for Art (WCA) announced its 2019 award recipients. Gladys Barker Grauer who is credited with opening the first art gallery in Newark, N.J. (Aard Studio Gallery in 1971) is among four recipients of Lifetime Achievement Awards. Aruna D’Souza, author of “Whitewalling: Art, Race, and Protest in 3Acts,” is one of two receiving the 2019 President’s Art & Activism Award. The honorees will be celebrated on Feb. 19 at the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT). WCA was founded in association with the College Art Association in 1972. The inaugural lifetime achievement awards were presented in 1979 in the Oval Office of the White House by President Jimmy Carter to Selma Burke, Isabel Bishop, Alice Neel, Louise Nevelson, and Georgia O’Keeffe.

Lauren Halsey has been named the first artist-in-residence at the Los Angeles Athletic Club. The opportunity includes workspace and club membership, which means Halsey, who loves basketball, doesn’t have to stray far from her studio to get in a game. More than a century old, the historic downtown club is looking to revive its reputation as a gathering place for artists.


New York City’s transit system has an open Call for Artists. MTA Arts & Design is commissioning new public art installations for locations in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Long Island. Application deadlines are Dec. 7, 2018, and Jan. 3, 2019. CT


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Artist Lorna Simpson and her daughter Zora Simpson Casebere grace The Gap’s Fifth Avenue window in New York City. | via @doctorkelliejones on Instagram


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