Cleveland Museum of Art surveys America’s racial history through powerful works by modern, contemporary Black artists


Cleveland, Ohio — The Cleveland Museum of Art, once a conservative fortress of contemporary art, has the courage to showcase the powerful works of deep-rooted black artists in the heightened cultural war over American racial history. I am working on it. Its history.

At the museum’s latest exhibition, Currents and Constellations: Black Art in Focus, which opened a week ago, the leading black artists of the 20th and 21st centuries showcase a myriad of ways to respond to racial divisions in the United States. ..

The show can be seen as part of a wave of exhibitions at museums across the country focusing on race and diversity after George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis in 2020. In fact, the Cleveland Museum of Art is a 2013 African-American artist. Introducing William H. Johnson, a 20th century expressionist and folk art-influenced painter.

However, the new exhibition is one of the four exhibitions currently being seen that highlights the work of women, minorities, and artists across those categories. The show is particularly timely, given that it is in line with the increasingly fierce national debate on how to teach the history of slavery and racism.

Conflicts over the teachings of its history include racial politics that led to the recent recall of San Francisco left-wing school board members. Meanwhile, conspiracy theories ban books from school libraries and force citizens to be given university-level teachings on critical race theory, despite speculating on the left-wing cancellation culture. We are working to sue the school district over the theory.

Organized by Key Jo Lee, the new promotion from Director of Education and Deputy Curator of Special Projects to Deputy Curator of American Art at the Museum, “Currents and Constellations,” shows how Cleveland is an African-American artist. We are in a position to be ready to consider whether we have approached. A topic that keeps making noise in the country.

A print exploring the expression of the black family by Elizabeth Catlet and Cleveland artist Darius Steward, a work by photographer Daud Bay and painter Torkwase Dyson that evokes a journey from bondage to freedom, by Norman Lewis and Jack Whitten. Paintings and sculptures by Richard are on display Hunting to explore whether the black experience in America can be conveyed through abstraction.

Other works are verbal as a way to deal with police violence against unarmed blacks, deep cultural reactions to sexual freedom by slaves against black women, and cultural erasure and denial of education against enslaved blacks. You can think of it as a consideration of the permanence of tradition. American.

The exhibition focuses on 17 works in the museum’s focus gallery, but in four permanent collection galleries in a way to show how the works of black artists can reveal a new understanding of the museum as a whole. Includes another 9 points installed in.

Most of the show’s objects come from a collection of museum works by African-American artists, and there are currently over 700 objects. Major works are also rented out by artists and collectors.

The artistic perspectives expressed in the exhibition are very diverse, from social realism to abstract expressionism, conceptual and beyond. Virtually all major works on display represent a school or approach of thinking that may be the subject of a unique exhibition. In that sense, Lee’s exhibition feels like a sketch of something bigger and more comprehensive.

One installation provides a particularly vivid demonstration of Lee’s approach. At Gallery 204, dedicated to colonial and revolutionary art, the curator set up the “Shadows of Liberty”. This is a 2016 painting by MacArthur’s “Genius Grant” winner Tita Scuffer, who also participates in the museum’s current “Motherhood”. “Exhibition.

The newly installed Kafar painting is a reinterpretation of George Washington’s hackney riding portrait by the lesser-known artist John Faed at the Tuscaloosa Museum in Alabama in 1899. ..

While visually quoting a portrait of Fade worshiping a hero, Kaffer was in Washington behind a tea-dyed canvas with the names of the more than 300 slaves he owned. It overturns its meaning by largely covering its face and upper body.

The canvas ribbon is a rusty nail, attached to a painting like a traditional nail-studded African powerhouse, or nkisi nkondi. An example is on display in a nearby glass case.

Kaffer’s paintings are also displayed next to Charles Willson Peale’s 1779 portrait and his workshop on Washington at the Battle of Princeton.

Kaphar’s paintings literally “fix” the injustice of slavery to the face of the founding father.

By showing this provocative image, the museum with protesters demanding that buildings and institutions named after slaves be renamed and that the Southern Army monument be removed from the southern city. Does not match.

Instead, by exhibiting Kafar in the context of Peel’s portrait and the figure of an African powerhouse, the museum takes the position that it can be a safe place to explore the complexities of American racial history. ..

The open conversation continues in the Focus Gallery. There, Lee organized two groups of black women’s portraits, among other things, depending on whether the black women were facing or turning their backs on the viewer.

In other words, Lee’s reading of these works is a depiction of a black woman facing the other side of the audience, in a culture where white slaves once granted the right to rape black women, liberation, privacy, and autonomy. , And make up a claim of physical self-control. How to increase their human “capital”.

“Face-to-face” themes include a variety of styles, including Charles Sally’s 1940 paintings, “Bedtime,” and a gentle and intimate portrait of his wife. And Lorna Simpson’s 1992 photo screen print “Cure / Heal” shows high-heeled shoes facing away from the viewer in a mysterious, dark room.

For the “face-to-face” theme, Lee chose Mario Moore’s rebellious semi-nude portrait. In this portrait, the artist’s wife, Daniel Ellis Karail, is shown in panties, looking down on the viewer calmly while standing proudly in the idyllic landscape she sees. Exercise control. The painting is a rebellious declaration of racial and sexual power.

The 2021 work by Ferrandas Thames, “The King of Africa of Suspicious Origin,” provides a commentary on police violence against blacks as a form of martyrdom. Thus, it is strong against the turmoil following the cancellation of the 2020 Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, an exhibition of drawings by New York artist Shaun Leonardo depicting the police killings of unarmed black men and boys, including Tamir Rice in Cleveland. It is related.

MOCA canceled the show in order not to hurt members of the Cleveland community who experienced police violence again, so when and what art can reopen the spiritual wounds, even intentionally. It raised the question of whether it would be acceptable to exhibit in the situation.

Felandus Thames’ work provides the answer to that question. A close-up photo of Rodney King, composed of a girl’s hair beads stretched over a coated wire and taken after being savagely beaten by the Los Angeles Police Department in 1992, evokes violence without morbid details. Convert to a shimmering pixelated curtain.

Among the numerous art history and cultural references, the “King of Africa” ​​was miraculously imprinted with a statue of Christ after St. Veronica wiped blood and sweat from his face on Via Dolorosa at Station 6. It is reminiscent of the tradition of painting Veronica’s veil. cross.

Finally, “Currents and Constellations” is a space in the East Wing dedicated to abstract expressionist paintings, Gallery 227, by exhibiting a wonderful drawing of Norman Lewis (1909-1979) next to his paintings. , Especially realizes poetic notes.

In 2017, the museum acquired Lewis’s 1960 masterpiece “Alabama”. It conveys the violence of the civilian era through black flickering strokes on a white background reminiscent of the horrific fires of the night forest, but the cross is not specifically depicted. Burn or Lynch.

Next to the painting, the museum now hangs “Winter Branch, # 4”, a 1953 ink painting lent by Lewis from his mansion. It uses calligraphy strokes to create a thorny linear pattern that looks shimmering.

The text on the wall describes this painting as evidence of Lewis’ interest in Chinese calligraphy, a passion shared with other modern Abstract Expressionists. It can also be read as a depiction of the annoying nature of American black life.

No matter how you look at it, this drawing is a stunning demonstration of simplicity and invention in pursuit of striking and abstract beauty. And there is another strength of the museum show.

The exhibition talks about beauty, pride, resilience, and some very powerful visual thinking, as well as the suffering caused by racism in American life. In doing so, it becomes a vibrant and compelling package that shows that a deeper understanding of American history is a source of curiosity, gratitude, and understanding, not fear or division.


What’s wrong: “Flow and Constellation: Focused Black Art”

venue: The Cleveland Museum of Art.

where: 11150 East Blvd.

when: Until Sunday, June 26th.

Admission fee: free. Call 216-870-7350 or visit


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