FROM MANHATTAN to Brooklyn and Queens, art museums are presenting important exhibitions of African American artists this spring. At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “The Harlem Renaissance and Transatlantic Modernism” offers a rare opportunity to see an array of works by prominent 20th century figures, including Aaron Douglas, Laura Wheeler Waring, William H. Johnson, Archibald Motley, and James Van Der Zee, among others. “Monuments of Solidarity” at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is the first museum survey of LaToya Ruby Frazier. In addition, MoMA is the latest venue to present “Lessons of the Hour,” Isaac Julien’s ode to Frederick Douglass. Traveling exhibitions of Sonya Clark and Lyle Ashton Harris can also be seen in New York City. At El Museo del Barrio, Cuban artist Carlos Martiel is presenting his first solo museum exhibition in his adopted hometown. The private collection of Swizz Beatz and Alicia Key is on public display at the Brooklyn Museum. Finally, about one-third of the participants in the 2024 Whitney Biennial are Black—emerging, mid-career, and long-established artists:


KWAME BRATHWAITE (Brooklyn, New York, 1938–2023, New York, New York), Untitled (Model who embraced natural hairstyles at AJASS photoshoot),” circa 1970, printed 2018 (archival pigment print, 60 × 60 inches / 152.4 × 152.4 cm). | The Dean Collection, Courtesy Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys. © Kwame Brathwaite, Photo by Joshua White /

Giants: Art From the Dean Collection of Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys @ Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, N.Y. | Feb. 10–July 7, 2024

The first major museum exhibition of the collection of Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys features nearly 40 works by “giant” figures, including Ernie Barnes, Kwame Brathwaite, Jordan Casteel, Barkley L. Hendricks, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Odili Donald Odita, Ebony G. Patterson, Deborah Roberts, Jamel Shabazz, Amy Sherald, Malick Sidibé, Lorna Simpson, Henry Taylor, and Kehinde Wiley. Among the highlights: iconic photographs by Gordon Parks and large-scale paintings by Nina Chanel Abney, Derrick Adams, Titus Kaphar, and Meleko Mokgosi, and a massive sculpture by Arthur Jafa. Curated by Kimberli Gant, the exhibition is accompanied by a new catalog.


Installation view of “The Harlem Renaissance and Transatlantic Modernism,” Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, N.Y., 2024. Shown, from left, AARON DOUGLAS, “Aspects of Negro Life: From Slavery through Reconstruction,” 1934; and AARON DOUGLAS, “Aspiration,” 1936. In the background, center, LAURA WHEELER WARING, “Marian Anderson,” 1944. | Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photo by Marie Kellen

The Harlem Renaissance and Transatlantic Modernism @ Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, N.Y. | Feb. 25–July 28, 2024

Millions of African Americans moved away from the segregated South during the Great Migration. This much-anticipated exhibition explores the way in which artists who landed in Harlem, Chicago, and other “new Black cities,” portrayed modern life in the 1920s-40s. About 160 paintings, sculptures, and drawings by the likes of Charles Alston, Aaron Douglas, Meta Warrick Fuller, Palmer Hayden, Bert Hurley, William H. Johnson, Archibald Motley, Jr., Winold Reiss, Augusta Savage, James Van Der Zee, and Laura Wheeler Waring are featured. Their work is presented in context with European counterparts whose work portrayed Black subjects, including Henri Matisse, Edvard Munch, and Pablo Picasso, as well as Germaine Casse, Jacob Epstein, Nola Hatterman, and Ronald Moody, a Jamaican-born British artist. A significant portion of the works on view were drawn from the collections of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Curated by Denise Murrell, the exhibition is accompanied by a new fully illustrated catalog.


Clockwise, from top left, MARY LOVELACE O’NEAL, “Self Portrait: She Now Calls Herself Sahara (from the Two Deserts, Three Winters series),” circa 1990s. | Courtesy Karen Jenkins-Johnson; SUZANNE JACKSON, “Rag-to-Wobble,” 2020. | Courtesy Ortuzar Projects, New York; KIYAN WILLIAMS, “Ruins of Empire II or The Earth Swallows the Master’s House,” 2024. | Courtesy Whitney Museum of Art; and ISAAC JULIEN, “Once Again… (Statues Never Die),” 2022. | Courtesy the artist

Whitney Biennial 2024: Even Better Than the Real Thing @ Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, N.Y. | March 20- 2024

Co-curated by Chrissie Iles and Meg Onli and themed “Even Better Than the Real Thing,” this year’s biennial includes 69 individual artists and two collectives. Twenty-one of the artists are Black, representing about 30 percent of the participating artists. The overwhelming majority of the Black artists are women, including pioneers Suzanne Jackson, Mary Lovelace O’Neal, and Mavis Pusey (1928-2019). The artist list also includes Isaac Julien, Towkwase Dyson, JJJJJerome Ellis, Nikita Gale, Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich, Dionne Lee, Ligia Lewis, Karyn Olivier, Tourmaline, and Charisse Pearlina Weston, among others. Most of the artists are presenting their work in the galleries and several are featured in special film and performance programming available at the museum and online. Collaborating with Iles and Onli, the performance program is guest curated by Taja Cheek, and the film program is guest curated by Korakrit Arunanondchai, asinnajaq, Greg de Cuir Jr, and Zackary Drucker.


SONYA CLARK, “The Hair Craft Project: Hairstyles on Canvas,” 2013 (silk threads, beads, shells, and yarn on eleven canvases). | © Sonya Clark, Courtesy Museum of Arts and Design

Sonya Clark: We Are Each Other @ Museum of Arts and Design, New York, N.Y. | March 23-Sept. 22, 2024

A textile and social practice artist, Sonya Clark explores an array of themes in her work, including race, labor, language, cultural heritage, and American history. Employing traditional fiber techniques, she works with human hair and other symbolic materials and common objects tied to identity and power, including hair combs, currency, beads, sugar, cotton, and flags. The first comprehensive survey of her large-scale, community-based and communal projects, this exhibition presents key highlights of Clark’s 30-year practice. Featured projects include The Beaded Prayers Project (1998-ongoing); The Hair Craft Project (2014), a collaboration with hair stylists focused on the artistry of their hair braiding designs; Unraveling (2015-present), which invites visitors to help unravel a Confederate battle flag one thread at a time; Monumental Cloth Series (2019), which brings attention to a plain dish towel used by Confederate forces to signal a truce at Appomattox (1865); and her most recent, Solidarity Book Project (2020-present). The presentation at MAD is organized by Elissa Auther.


CARLOS MARTIEL, “Continente [Continent],” 2017. Documentation of performance at Y Gallery, New York, with Brendan Mahoney. | Photo by Walter Wlodarczyk Courtesy El Museo del Barrio

Cuerpo: Carlos Martiel @ El Museo del Barrio, New York, N.Y. | May 2-Sept. 1, 2024

Carlos Martiel is presenting his first solo museum exhibition in New York City, where he lives and works. His two-decade performance-based practice explores race, labor, and migration through the lens of colonialism. Martiel’s body serves as his primary medium. Organized by Rodrigo Moura and Susanna V. Temkin, the exhibition surveys a selection of key projects documented by preparatory drawings, photography and video. Born in Havana, Cuba, Martiel is the inaugural recipient of the Maestro Dobel Latinx Art Prize from Maestro Dobel® Tequila in partnership with El Museo del Barrio. The $50,000 award includes this presentation in the museum’s Room 110 multidisciplinary space.


LATOYA RUBY FRAZIER, Sandra Gould Ford Wearing Her Work Jacket and Hard Hat in Her Meditation Room in Homewood, PA, from On the Making of Steel Genesis: Sandra Gould Ford, 2017. | © 2023 LaToya Ruby Frazier, Courtesy the artist and Gladstone gallery

LaToya Ruby Frazier: Monuments of Solidarity @ Museum of Modern Art, New York, N.Y. | May 12–Sep 7, 2024

Blending documentary photography and activism, LaToya Ruby Frazier‘s work brings attention to the specific experiences of communities in crisis and more universal socio-political issues, such as access to affordable healthcare, livable wages, and clean air and water. Her first museum survey presents several bodies of work, across photography, text, moving images, and performance, dating from 2001 to 2024. The featured series include, among others, The Notion of Family (2001–14); Flint Is Family in Three Acts (2016–20); On the Making of Steel Genesis: Sandra Gould Ford (2017); More Than Conquerors: A Monument for Community Health Workers of Baltimore, Maryland (2022); and The Last Cruze (2019), from the collection of MoMA. Shown for the first time, a “monument” to labor union leader and worker’s rights activist Dolores Huerta will also be on view. The exhibition is curated by Roxana Marcoci with Caitlin Ryan and Antoinette D. Roberts and is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalog.


ISAAC JULIEN (British, born 1960), “Lessons of the Hour,” 2019 (10-channel 4K video and 35mm film transferred to high-definition video (color, sound: 28:46 minutes) and 10 projection screens, dimensions variable. | The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Acquired through the generosity of the Ford Foundation. © 2024 Isaac Julien. Installation view, Metro Pictures, New York, 2019

Isaac Julien: Lessons of the Hour @ Museum of Modern Art, New York, N.Y. | May 19-Sept. 28, 2024

Isaac Julien‘s “Lessons of the Hour” creates an immersive portrait of Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), the orator and statesman who was born enslaved and obtained his freedom in 1838. The nonlinear narrative dramatizes a series of episodes in his life across 10 video screens. Key speeches shape the work, including “Lessons of the Hour,” “What to the Slave Is the 4th of July?,” and “Lecture on Pictures,” in which Douglass, the most photographed figure in his era, discusses the power of photography and its ability challenge racial stereotypes and advance the fight for Black freedom and civil rights. “Lessons of the Hour” has been shown at many venues. Organized by Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi with Erica DiBenedetto, MoMA’s presentation marks the first time the film installation will be accompanied by historic objects related to the work, including photographs of Douglass, pamphlets of his speeches, and first editions of his memoirs.


LYLE ASHTON HARRIS, “Succession,” 2020 (Ghanaian cloth, dye sublimation prints, and artist’s ephemera). | © Lyle Ashton Harris. Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Mortimer and Sara Hays Acquisition Fund, 2023.4. Courtesy the artist

Lyle Ashton Harris: Our first and last love @ Queens Museum, Queens, N.Y. | May 19-Sept. 22, 2024

New York-based artist Lyle Ashton Harris has documented his own experiences and those of his community over the past 35 years, through a lens of self-presentation, self-preservation, and Black and queer identity. Co-curated by Lauren Haynes and Caitlin Julia Rubin, this exhibition presents key photographs and installations alongside lesser-known series, anchored by more recent works in his Shadow Works series: “In these meticulous constructions, photographic prints are set within geometric frames of stretched Ghanaian funerary textiles, along with shells, shards of pottery, and cuttings of the artist’s own hair.” CT


New exhibitions catalogs have been published to accompany The Harlem Renaissance and Transatlantic Modernism, and Giants: Art from the Dean Collection of Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys. El Museo de Barrio is also publishing a new bilingual volume to accompany “Cuerpo: Carlos Martiel.” Publications also document “Sonya Clark: We Are Each Other” and “Isaac Julien: Lessons of the Hour – Frederick Douglass,” which appears on Culture Type’s list of Best Black Art Books of 2022. “LaToya Ruby Frazier: Monuments of Solidarity” is available now at the MoMA Design Store and more widely in May. “Lyle Ashton Harris: Our first and last love” is forthcoming in July.


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