Black is a Color: African-American Art at the Corcoran Gallery of Art
Drawn predominantly from the Corcoran's permanent collection of paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints and photographs by African American artists, this exhibition features works made since the 1960s whose palettes are predominantly black and white. Punctuated with a few paintings, photographs and prints of intense color, Black is a Color will include such prominent artists as David Driskell, Raymond Saunders, Lorna Simpson, Kara Walker, Sam Gilliam, Robert Colescott, Renee Stout, Martin Puryear, Radcliffe Bailey, and Mel Edwards.
Pioneering with exhibitions such as Facing History: The Black Image in American Art 1710-1940, Black Folk Art, Rhapsodies in Black: Art of the Harlem Renaissance, and Half Past Autumn; the Art of Gordon Parks, the Corcoran has continued to celebrate the contributions of African Americans within the mainstream of American art through its acquisitions as well. Conscious of its role as” Washington’s hometown museum”, the Museum’s collection includes a significant number of regional artists. In 1996 the extraordinary gift of works of art and archival materials from Thurlow Evans Tibbs, Jr significantly enhanced the historical component of the Museum’s collection. Shortly thereafter, Gordon Parks donated approximately 300 of his finest photographs to the Corcoran. This strong core of work representing more than 100 artists continues to attract new gifts and important loans. Focus installations such as Black is a Color provide an opportunity to reassess our holdings – particularly the more contemporary additions - and to consider the individual works within a variety of contexts, and from a number of different perspectives.
In addition to the overarching aesthetic focus of the exhibition, the featured works will be organized into thematic groupings to address issues that have historically occupied African American artists: racial and cultural heritage and identity, history, spirituality and religion and class, protest (Civil Rights), narrative. Many of the works in the exhibition, both representational and abstract, pose recurring questions that cut across the thematic groupings: Is there black art? How much should such art reflect African American identity?
In his 1967 pamphlet titled Black is a Color, artist Raymond Saunders asserted that "[R]acial hang-ups are extraneous to art," arguing that African American artists should be able to express themselves without being restricted to representational art that celebrates blackness. By showcasing predominantly black-and-white works and a number of abstract pieces, this exhibition offers new ways of exploring this issue.