The Metropolitan Museum plans major Harlem Renaissance exhibition

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced today that it will open an exhibition on the Harlem Renaissance in February 2024—the first New York survey of the art movement since 1987. The Harlem Renaissance and Transatlantic Modernism (25 February-28 July 2024) will include around 160 works, Black artists’ portrayals of everyday life in the post-Great Migration “new Black cities” of the 1920s to the 40s, including Harlem in New York City and Chicago’s South Side. The exhibition will frame the Harlem Renaissance as the “first African American-led movement of international Modern art”, foregrounding the radically Modern works of Black artists as “central to our understanding of international Modern art and modern life”.

Denise Murrell, the show’s curator, has been thinking about staging an exhibition like this for years, she told Zachary Small of The New York Times, and she is particularly excited about highlighting the influence these artists have had on Modernism at large. “It was an act of radical modernity, for example, to make portraits of an elder Black woman who would have been born into enslavement,” she said. “And to make them in such a dignified way—those images simply did not exist in previous periods.”

This new exhibition cannot help but evoke the failures of the Met’s 1969 Harlem on My Mind, which was famously boycotted by Black artists and intellectuals for excluding paintings, drawings and sculpture, and instead focusing on documentary photography and ephemera (all of the show’s curators were white, and the Harlem community was not consulted). More than 50 years later, The Harlem Renaissance will make a point of including paintings and sculpture, as well as film works and illustrations by some of the era’s most revered artists.

The Harlem Renaissance will also call attention to the importance of the movement for artists on both sides of the Atlantic. Many of the movement’s artists “spent extended periods abroad and joined the multiethnic artistic circles in Paris, London and Northern Europe that shaped the development of international Modern art”, Murrell said in a statement. “The exhibition underscores the essential role of the Harlem Renaissance and its radically new modes of portraying the modern Black subject as central to the development of transatlantic Modern art.”

Featured artists will include Charles Alston, Miguel Covarrubias, Aaron Douglas, Meta Warrick Fuller, William H. Johnson, Archibald Motley Jr., Winold Reiss, Augusta Savage and Laura Wheeler Waring. The exhibition will also present photography from The Met’s recently acquired James Van Der Zee Archive. Many of the works will be on loan from the collections of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)—a fact that puts into perspective just how late major American museums began collecting works by Harlem Renaissance artists. Murrell told the Times that she hopes the Met’s relationship with the colleges continues to grow well after the exhibition ends in July 2024.

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