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Back You are here: Home Global News News U.S.A. American Art Museum gives a peek at vast collection of African American art

American Art Museum gives a peek at vast collection of African American art

In 1966, IBM donated Sargent Johnson’s sculpture “Mask” to the Smithsonian American Art Museum, then called the National Collection of Fine Arts, marking the museum’s first receipt of a gift of African American artwork.

Today, the institution says it has the largest collection of African American art in the world, some 2,000 works by 200 artists, and a portion of those holdings are on view in “African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era and Beyond,”

Johnson’s “Mask” marks the beginning of this 100-work exhibition. The copper bust of a girl’s head from the early 1930s, rendered in the style of African sculpture, also speaks to the history of Harlem. It was crafted when conversations about the foundations of black art were being held in New York and being circulated by figures such as Howard University professor Alain Locke, who influenced Johnson by calling for a reclamation of African heritage.

That is a powerful legacy, but it is only a moment in the cacophony of history stitched together for the exhibition — a wide mix of voices from artists who emerged from different cities and traditions. The exhibition does not seem to build a grand narrative, but to indulge the museum’s desire to bring these works out of storage, even if the result is disjointed and without a clear message. What the exhibition produces instead is a look at the heart of this museum, through its history of acquisitions.

The collection began with the help of groups that made sure works by African American artists were landing in museums — such as IBM, which was actively collecting work by black artists starting in the 1940s. The Harmon Foundation, an organization established in 1922 to support African American arts, donated works in 1967, including Claude Clark’s “Resting.” The 1944 painting depicts a worker at rest in expressive outlines and heavy paint, evoking Clark’s beginnings as the son of a Georgian tenant farmer, but also the influence of artists such as Henri Matisse and Maurice Prendergast, whom he studied while taking classes in 1939 at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia.

Read More -- Washington Post