In an effort to solidify gaps in its African American, American, and contemporary art holdings, the Brooklyn Museum has acquired 44 works by 26 artists that are part of the Black Arts Movement of the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s.
Purchased from former Chicago dealers David Lusenhop and Melissa Azzi, the collection includes works by Benny Andrews, Cleveland Bellow, Kay Brown, Marie Johnson Calloway, Jeff Donaldson, Ben Hazard, Jae Jarrell, Wadsworth Jarrell, Ben Jones, Carolyn Lawrence, Dindga McCannon, John T. Riddle, Lev T. Mills, and other associated with a pivotal movement that a 1968 essay by Larry Neal called the “aesthetic and spiritual sister of the Black Power concept.”
According to the Brooklyn Museum, Azzi and Lusenhop selected works for their collection that addressed issues of Black identity and Black liberation while exemplifying distinctive formal modes used by proponents of the Black Arts Movement, including appropriation, photo-screen printing, and collage. It’s interesting to note that half of the works in the collection were purchased by Lusenhop and Azzi directly from the artists, and a large portion are from artists who work in the Chicago area.
The Blacks Arts Movement, or Black Aesthetics Movement, was started by writer Amiri Baraka who lived at the time in Manhattan’s Harlem neighborhood, and many people know the movement more for its literature, music, dance, and theatrical productions rather than its visual arts component. The Black Arts Movement grew out of a time when the Black Power Movement was a strong national force, and many consider it the aesthetic companion to the political movement.
In Neal’s seminal 1968 essay, “The Black Arts Movement,” which shies away from discussing the visual artist directly, he writes:
The Black Arts Movement is radically opposed to any concept of the artist that alienates him from his community. This movement is the aesthetic and spiritual sister of the Black Power concept. As such, it envisions an art that speaks directly to the needs and aspirations of Black America. In order to perform this task, the Black Arts Movement proposes a radical reordering of the western cultural aesthetic. It proposes a separate symbolism, mythology, critique, and iconology. The Black Arts and the Black Power concept both relate broadly to the Afro-American’s desire for selfdetermination and nationhood. Both concepts are nationalistic. One is concerned with the relationship between art and politics; the other with the art of politics.
The Brooklyn Museum’s latest acquisition will certainly generate discussion around the exact role of the visual arts in the Black Arts Movement, and how it influenced the contemporary art world in the US and beyond.
For those eager to see the newly acquired works, the museum announced that Nelson Stevens’s print “Uhuru” (1971) will be on display in the Museum’s American Identities galleries beginning March 2013, and a selection of at least five works will be included in the upcoming exhibition Art, Activisim, and Civil Rights in the 1960s (March 7—July 6, 2014), which will be co-curated by Dr. Kellie Jones, Associate Professor, Department of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University, and Teresa A. Carbone, Andrew W. Mellon Curator of American Art at the Brooklyn Museum.