BLACK HISTORY MONTH coincides with a number museum and gallery exhibitions marking new milestones for African American artists. On-the-rise talents such as Jordan Casteel, Eric N. Mack, and Amy Sherald are presenting their first major solo museum exhibitions this month. Nari Ward and Kevin Beasley are having their first New York museum shows.

Mid-career artists are staging inaugural international exhibitions, including Mickalene Thomas who has her first solo museum show in Canada at Art Gallery Ontario and Theaster Gates whose exhibition at Palais de Tokyo is his first in France.

In Jacksonville, Fla., an exhibition at the Cummer Museum of Art assesses the contributions of pioneering sculptor Augusta Savage. Meanwhile, the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., announced it was extending the schedule for “Between Worlds: The Art of Bill Traylor” due to more than a month of exhibition days lost during the recent partial federal government shutdown. Herewith, a selection of notable exhibition moments in black art history:


BILL TRAYLOR, “Untitled (Radio),” circa 1939–1942 (opaque watercolor and pencil on printed advertising cardboard). | Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment. Courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum

Between Worlds: The Art of Bill Traylor @ American Art Museum | Sept. 28, 2018-April 7, 2019

A prolific artist, Bill Traylor (1853-1949) left rural Alabama and settled in Montgomery where he made more than 1,000 works of art primarily on discarded cardboard. Featuring more than 150 paintings and drawings, this show is “the first major retrospective ever organized for an artist born into slavery, and the most comprehensive look at Bill Traylor’s work to date.” Originally scheduled to close March 17, “Between Two Worlds” has been extended to April 7 to account for the museum’s closure during the government shutdown.

READ MORE about Bill Traylor’s retrospective on Culture Type


AUGUSTA SAVAGE at work on “The Harp,” 1935-1945, New York World’s Fair (1939-1940). | Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.

Augusta Savage: Renaissance Woman @ Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, Jacksonville, Fla. | Oct. 12, 2018-April 28, 2019

Bringing long overdue attention to the life and work of Harlem Renaissance-era sculptor Augusta Savage (1892-1962), this hometown museum exhibition is the first to reassess her contributions “in light of 21st-century attention to the concept of the artist-activist.” Florida-born Savage mentored two generations of artists—Charles Alston, Romare Bearden, Robert Blackburn, Selma Burke, Norman Lewis, Jacob Lawrence, Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence, and Ernest Crichlow, among them—and campaigned for equal treatment and opportunity for African Americans in the arts. The exhibition features nearly 80 works of art, including sculptures, paintings, and works on paper, by both Savage and the artists she influenced.


JOHN DUNKLEY, “Three Spanish Jars,” n.d. (mixed media on canvas, 18 1/8 x 29 5/16 inches). | Private collection, Photo by Randall Richards

John Dunkley: Neither Day Nor Night @ American Folk Art Museum, New York, N.Y. | Oct. 30, 2018-Feb. 24, 2019

Describing John Dunkley (1891–1947) “as one of Jamaica’s most important artists,” the American Folk Art Museum is presenting the first exhibition of his work outside his home country. Dunkley’s work reflects the social, political, and cultural climate of his times, an era of Pan Africanism and a push for an independent Jamaica. Organized by the Pérez Art Museum Miami, the exhibition features 45 works, including landscape paintings made in the 1930s and 40s and wood and stone sculptures.


GORDON PARKS, “Washington, D.C., Mrs. Ella Watson, a government charwoman, with Three grandchildren and Her adopted daughter,” July 1942 (gelatin silver print, 18.3 x 23.7 cm / 7 3/16 x9 5/16 inches). | Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Gordon Parks: The New Tide, Early Work 1940–1950 @ National Gallery of Art | Nov. 4, 2018-Feb. 18. 2019

In the 1940s, Gordon Parks (1912–2006) “grew from a self-taught photographer making portraits and documenting everyday life in Saint Paul and Chicago to a visionary professional shooting for Ebony, Vogue, Fortune, and Life.” Featuring 150 photographs and ephemera, this is Parks’s first exhibition to focus on his early career during the formative decade.


EBONY G. PATTERSON, “Dead Tree in a Forest…,” 2013 (mixed media on paper, 87 x 83 inches). | Collection of Monique Meloche and Evan Boris, Chicago. Courtesy the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago

Ebony G. Patterson:…while the dew is still on the roses… @ Pérez Art Museum Miami | Nov. 9, 2018-May 5, 2019

Jamaican-born Ebony G. Patterson, lives and works in Kingston and Lexington, Ky. Her embellished works—drawings, tapestries, sculpture, and site-specific installations—explore visibility, invisibility and violence in youth culture. Billed as the “most significant presentation of the artist’s work to date,” Patterson has created an immersive garden environment, referencing both beauty and mourning, that serves as a backdrop for displaying works produced over the past five years.

ALSO ON VIEW “Ebony G. Patterson: …for little whispers…” at the Baltimore Museum of Art


MICKALENE THOMAS, Detail of “Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe: Les trois femmes noires,” 2010 (rhinestones, acrylic, and enamel on wood panel, 304.8 x 731.5 cm.). | The Rachel and Jean-Pierre Lehmann Collection. © Mickalene Thomas

Mickalene Thomas: Femmes Noires @ Art Gallery Ontario, Toronto, Canada | Nov. 29, 2018-March 24, 2019

Drawing on art history and popular culture, Mickalene Thomas‘s powerful images of black women explore issues of race, representation, sexuality, and beauty. The first large-scale solo exhibition in Canada of the Brooklyn-based artist features her rhinestone-embellished paintings, along with silkscreens, photographs, collages, video and site-specific installations.


KEVIN BEASLEY, “Rebuilding of the cotton gin motor,” 2016. | Courtesy of the artist and Casey Kaplan, New York. Image courtesy of Carlos Vela-Prado

Kevin Beasley: A View of a Landscape @ Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, N.Y. | Dec. 15, 2018-March. 10, 2019

For his first solo exhibition at a New York museum, Kevin Beasley considers the symbolism of cotton and its legacy in terms of race, labor, and industry, Southern history and the African American experience. Beasley salvaged an electric cotton gin motor in use from 1940 to 1973 on Maplesville, Ala. Designed to separate cotton seeds from cotton fiber, he has connected the machine to a microphone, synthesizer, and mixer, transforming it into an instrument of musical sound. He gives visitors an audio and visual experience. Also on view are three “slab” sculptures. The works look like large-scale mixed media-paintings, but are actually resin-sealed displays of personal and historic materials that reference the life of the motor, backed by pounds and pounds of cotton sourced from near where Beasley’s family is rooted in Lynchburg, Va.


Artist Eric N. Mack (left) installing his work in the Great Hall of the Brooklyn Museum. | via Brooklyn Museum tumblr

Eric N. Mack: Lemme walk across the room @ Brooklyn Museum, Brookly, N.Y. | Jan. 11-July 7, 2019

Bringing variety of materials into conversation, including fabric, photographs, and magazine images, Eric N. Mack work approximates abstract painting. For his first solo exhibition New York City, he created a site-specific installation that responds to the architecture of the Brooklyn Museum’s Great Hall. The New York-based artist has draped and suspended new and existing textile-based works in the grand space. The work “explodes the boundaries of painting, sculpture, and fashion, dynamically reflecting and framing the rich visual experiences of the everyday.”


Installation view, from left, GLENN LIGON, “Notes for a Poem on the Third World (chapter one),”2018 (neon and paint, 84 x 155 inches) and “Debris Field (Red) #2,” 2018 (etching ink and acrylic on canvas, 114 x 88 inches), at Regen Projects, Los Angeles. | via Regen Projects

Glenn Ligon: Untitled (America)/Debris Field/Synecdoche/Notes for a Poem on the Third World, Regen Projects, Los Angeles | Jan. 12-Feb. 17, 2019

New York-based Glenn Ligon works in a variety of mediums, most prominently making text paintings and neon works that speak to issues of identity, history, and culture. This exhibition features new works, red paintings made using a silkscreen process that is new to the artist and several neon installations. While language is central to his practice, for the first time he is presenting a figurative neon sculpture. “Notes for a Poem on the Third World” replicates Ligon’s hands (raised in an “ambiguous gesture of greeting, protest, or surrender”) and is inspired by a project from Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922-1975) that was never made.


AMOAKO BOAFO, “In Yellow with Malcolm,” 2018 (oil on paper, 70.87 x 59.05 inches / 180 x 150 cm) and Krystal 1,” 2018 (oil on paper, 39.37 x 27.56 inches /100 x 70 cm). | Both Courtesy the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles

Amoako Boafo: I See Me @ Roberts Projects, Los Angeles | Jan. 17-Feb. 16, 2019

Roberts Projects is presenting a series of portraits by painter Amoako Boafo. “I See Me” is Boafo’s first solo exhibition with the gallery. Through his works, the artist seeks to “create a new vernacular, reframing his own experience and that of his subjects to include a more variegated understanding of the black experience.” Born in Accra, Ghana, Boafo is pursuing his MFA at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna.


MCARTHUR BINION, Detail of “hand:work,” 2018 (oil paint stick and paper on board, 48 x 40 x 2 inches / 121.9 x 101.6 x 5.1 cm). | Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul

McArthur Binion: Hand:Work @ Lehmann Maupin, West 24th Street, New York, N.Y. | Jan. 17–March 2, 2019

Macon, Miss.-born, Chicago-based McArthur Binion joined Lehmann Maupin last year and this is his inaugural exhibition with the gallery. Over the past four decades, he has developed a singular, minimalist style. His new mixed-media grid paintings expand upon his well-known DNA Series. These latest oil stick, wax crayon and paper works are embedded with his personal history through layered images of his hand and the home where he was born.

READ MORE about McArthur Binion joining Lehmann Maupin on Culture Type


Installation view of “Contemporary Focus: Trenton Doyle Hancock,” The Menil Collection, Houston. | Photo by Paul Hester, Menil Collection

Contemporary Focus: Trenton Doyle Hancock @ The Menil Collection, Houston | Jan. 25-May 19, 2019

Site-specific drawings cover the walls surrounding a shed structure installed at the center of this exhibition where a series of 30 narrative works on paper are displayed. The practice of Houston-based artist Trenton Doyle Hancock is driven by a universe of connected characters. This presentation features Torpedoboy—one of Hancock’s alter egos—who acting as a good samaritan ends up surrounded by Ku Klux Klansmen. The artist addresses racial hate directly for the first time in this show, drawing on “anecdotes from his upbringing in North Texas, the political history of racism in the American South, and art historical references to the hooded and masked figures in the work of modern American painter Philip Guston.”

COMING SOON Another Trenton Doyle Hancock exhibition, “Mind of the Mound: Critical Mass,” opens at MASS MoCA March 9


TSCHABALALA SELF, “Sunday,” 2016 (fabric, Flashe, and acrylic paint on canvas, 56 x 64 inches). | Courtesy of the artist and Thierry Goldberg Gallery, New York

Tschabalala Self @ Frye Art Museum, Seattle | Jan. 26-April 28, 2019

Tschabalala Self‘s first-ever solo museum exhibition in the United States is on view at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle. Self’s practice is centered around the black female body and the exploration of the interconnected nature of race, gender, and sexuality. A 2018-19 artist-in-residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem, she is recognized for her use of mixed fabrics to create multilayered characters with distorted and contorted figures. The survey exhibition features paintings, drawings, sculpture, and video, drawn from the arc of her emerging practice.


From left, AMY SHERALD, “a clear unspoken granted magic,” 2017 (oil on canvas, 54 ×43 inches). | Collection of Denise and Gary Gardner. Courtesy the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago; and “She had an inside and an outside now and suddenly she knew how not to mix them,” 2018 (oil on canvas, 54 x 43 inches). | Courtesy the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago

Amy Sherald @ Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, Atlanta | Jan. 31-May 18, 2019

Known for her imaginative portraits, Baltimore-based Amy Sherald is presenting a series of new paintings in her first-ever major museum exhibition. Organized by the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, Spelman is the show’s final venue and it has particular significance. An alum of Clark Atlanta University, Sherald took her first collegiate painting classes at Spelman.


JORDAN CASTEEL, “Benyam,” 2018 (oil on canvas; 90 x 78 inches). | The Komal Shah & Gaurav Garg Collection. Image courtesy the artist and Casey Kaplan, New York © Jordan Casteel and “Joe and Mozel (Pompette Wines),” 2017 (oil on canvas, 90 x 78 inches). | Collection of Lonti Ebers. Image courtesy of the artist and Casey Kaplan, New York © Jordan Casteel

Jordan Casteel: Returning the Gaze @ Denver Art Museum | Feb. 2-Aug. 18, 2019

Jordan Casteel‘s hometown museum is hosting her first major museum exhibition. The Denver-born artist is presenting nearly 30 paintings made between 2014 and 2018 at the Denver Art Museum. Now based in Harlem, where she was a 2015-16 artist-in-residence at the Studio Museum, Casteel is recognized for her portraits of young men and people she’s drawn to in the community the surrounds her.

READ MORE about Jordan Casteel’s exhibition on Culture Type


NARI WARD, “We the People,” 2011 (shoelaces, 96 x 324 inches / 243.8 x 823 cm). | Speed Art Museum, Gift of Speed Contemporary. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul

Nari Ward: We The People @ New Museum, New York, N.Y. | Feb. 13-May 26, 2019

The New Museum is hosting the first New York museum survey of Nari Ward. The Jamaican-born, Harlem-based artist works in a variety of mediums exploring the dynamics of race, power, politics, consumerism, immigration, and diasporic identity. The exhibition features 30 early and recent works—sculptures, paintings, videos, and large-scale installations.


“Amalgam,” the title of Theaster Gates’s Paris exhibition, means a blend or mixture, reference racial, ethnic and religious mingling. | Image via Palais de Tokyo

Theaster Gates: Amalgam @ Palais de Tokyo, Paris, France | Feb. 20-May 12, 2019

Chicago-based Theaster Gates is currently a distinguished visiting artist and director of artist initiatives at Colby College’s Lunder Institute for American Art in Waterville, Maine. His time there has influenced his first solo exhibition in France which takes as its starting point the 1912 expulsion of a poor, mixed-race population ordered by the state’s governor. For the show, Gates expands the lens of his practice to address issues of black subjugation, race mixing, forced migration, and land ownership in the Northeastern region of the United States. These histories “and their material realities have given rise to new cinematographic, sculptural and musical perspectives” in his oeuvre.

ALSO ON VIEW The first exhibition of Theaster Gates with Gagosian, “a panoramic sweep” of his artistic practice presented at the gallery’s Paris location CT


Accompanying Bill Traylor’s historic retrospective, the fully illustrated catalog “Bill Traylor: Between Two World” is authored by exhibition curator Leslie Umberger and features an essay by Kerry James Marshall. A comprehensive catalog, “John Dunkley: Neither Day nor Night,” was published to accompany John Dunkley’s first exhibition outside Jamaica. “Augusta Savage: Renaissance Woman” documents the pioneering sculptor’s life, work and the historic exhibition guest curated by Jefreen M. Hayes. Lavishly illustrated, “Gordon Parks: The New Tide, Early Work 1940–1950” coincides with the rare look at the legendary photographer’s early years, on view at the National Gallery of Art. “Mickalene Thomas: Femmes Noires” accompanies the artist’s first museum exhibition in Canada. “Nari Ward: We the People,” accompanies Nari Ward’s first New York museum show and features an interview with the artist conducted by Lowery Stokes Sims. Amy Sherald’s exhibition coincides with the release of her first monograph, a brief 36-page volume with text by Hammer Museum curator Erin Christovale. Catalogs have also been published to accompany the milestone exhibitions of Jordan Casteel and Tschabalala Self.

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