In 1974, Linda Goode Bryant founded Just Above Midtown gallery in New York City. | Photo by Oresti Tsonopoulos

 

THE FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR of Just Above Midtown (JAM), Linda Goode Bryant “has had a massive effect on the trajectory of countless artists and has changed the course of art history in the process.” For this reason, United States Artists announced today that Bryant is the recipient of the 2020 Berresford Prize. The $25,000 award recognizes a cultural practitioner who has made an invaluable contribution to the advancement and support of artists.

“Linda Goode Bryant is a visionary. Full stop. Her work changed the game for both artists and audiences,” USA President & CEO Deana Haggag said in a statement. “Whether as a gallerist, filmmaker, or community organizer, Linda has pushed our field to expand and we are all better for it. It is our privilege to honor her in this way.”

“Whether as a gallerist, filmmaker, or community organizer, Linda has pushed our field to expand and we are all better for it. It is our privilege to honor her in this way.” — Deana Haggag, USA President & CEO

Bryant is the founder and president of Active Citizen Project and Project EATS, a neighborhood-based urban agricultural partnership that has developed a series of urban farms in economically challenged New York City neighborhoods. She has also been a documentary film director and producer. Her portfolio includes “Flag Wars” (2003) with Laura Poitras, “The Vote” (2004), Mustafa (2004), and “Timepiece: Can You See Me Now?” (2006).

She is best known for founding JAM, the gallery and nonprofit artist space she took on after a fellowship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and serving as education director at the Studio Museum in Harlem.

“I was motivated to pursue a way to change the conditions that were causing Black artists I interfaced with every day to say, ‘They won’t let us, they won’t let us, they won’t let us.’ I got tired of hearing that, and I said, ‘Fuck them! Let’s start a gallery!’ So that’s how JAM got started. It was never about being included,” Bryant recollected in the catalog for “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power.”

With few resources other than vision and determination, Bryant first established Just Above Midtown at 50 West 57th Street in New York. From 1974 to 1986, JAM was a gallery, gathering place, and incubator for talented black artists whose options for showing their work were profoundly limited. The artists she worked with then, including David Hammons, Maren Hassinger, Lorraine O’Grady, Howardena Pindell, Adrian Piper, Lorna Simpson, Ming Smith, and Fred Wilson, are leading artists today.

The art featured at JAM “caused a seismic shift in the conversation around the kinds of work being made and exhib­ited by Black artists,” photographer Dawoud Bey told Frieze.

The “work bypassed the conventions of modernism and any rhetorical or di­dactic expectations around black art production, favoring an idiosyncratic approach to art making that was nothing if not unconventional and materially ambitious,” said Bey, who showed his work at JAM.

“The work was not without precedent, but without JAM, would just not have been a part of the prevailing conversation among black East Coast artists at that time. As such, Linda’s program was a dynamic and powerful blast of fresh air that forever changed the conversation in New York.”

“The work was not without precedent, but without JAM, would just not have been a part of the prevailing conversation among black East Coast artists at that time. As such, Linda’s program was a dynamic and powerful blast of fresh air that forever changed the conversation in New York.”
— Dawoud Bey

The groundbreaking and historic contributions of Bryant and JAM have received renewed attention in recent years, from the exhibitions “Soul of a Nation” and “We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85,” and a special tribute section curated by Pérez Art Museum Miami Director Franklin Sirmans at the Frieze New York art fair in 2019. In addition, the inaugural issue of Ursula, the magazine published by Hauser & Wirth gallery, featured a lengthy conversation between Bryant and her good friend, artist Senga Nengudi, about the gallery and the time period. (Nengudi also presented her work at Just Above Midtown.)

A forthcoming exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art is dedicated to JAM. Curated by Thomas J. Lax, “Just Above Midtown: 1974 to the Present” was originally planned for fall 2022, which may shift given programming adjustments due to COVID-19.

The USA honor is the latest recognition. USA’s focus has been annual fellowships for artists across disciplines, providing unrestricted $50,000 awards. The Berresford Prize was first introduced in 2019 and is unique in that it celebrates those who nurture artists and are dedicated to their betterment, offering them opportunities to share their work and thrive. Bryant is the second recipient.

“I am so honored to receive an award that recognizes the people who have dedicated their lives to the magical process of generating new ideas with artists,” Bryant said in a statement. “Receiving the Berresford Prize is a testament to all the enduring and amazing relationships that have made my work possible. Art is essential and no matter the medium, it is what helps us relate to one another and the world around us. I am forever grateful that I belong to a vast family of makers and creatives who have helped me to imagine the ways art can transform a community.” CT

 

FIND MORE about Project EATS

 

READ MORE about Linda Goode Bryant and JAM on Culture Type

READ MORE Rujeko Hockley interviewed Linda Goode Bryant for BOMB magazine’s oral history project

 

BOOKSHELF
Linda Goode Bryant wrote about Just Above Midtown gallery in the “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power” catalog. Two volumes were published to accompany the exhibition “We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85”: “New Perspectives” and “A Sourcebook.”

 

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