Status and Presence

African American Art in the International Arena

Authored by: Richard Hylton

The Routledge Companion to African American Art History

Print publication date:  December  2019
Online publication date:  November  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138486553
eBook ISBN: 9781351045193
Adobe ISBN:


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From the postwar period to the present day, ‘African American’ and ‘American’ art have played key but notably different roles and occupied radically different positions within the international arena. A litany of exhibitions staged between the 1950s to the 1990s represent the routine ways in which African American artists were emphatically excluded from otherwise official definitions of ‘American’ art. Exhibitions such as ‘Modern Art in the United States: A selection from the Museum of Modern Art, New York’, Tate Gallery Jan 5–Feb 12, 1956, and ‘The New American Painting: arranged by the Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Arts Council of Great Britain’, Tate Gallery, London, Feb 24–March 22, 1959 (Figure 24.1) are notable examples because along with others, they coincided with one of the most vital periods for African American artists in postwar activity. Neither exhibition included artists such as Charles White, Elizabeth Catlett, Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence and Norman Lewis et. al. A decade later, Tate Gallery hosted ‘The Art of the Real: U.S.A. 1948–1969’ April 24–June 1, 1969, featuring thirty-three white American artists. Support for ‘American’ art that was both wilful and pathological in its exclusion of African American art was not without precedent in Britain. Tate Gallery (now Tate Britain) and the Arts Council of Great Britain, grateful recipients of these exhibitions, were already well versed in denying black British artists recognition in postwar British art. A rare concession to this was ‘American Painting from the eighteenth century to the present day’ at Tate Gallery in June–July 1946, which included Horace Pippin’s, John Brown going to his Hanging 1942 and four paintings from Jacob Lawrence’s series the Migration of the Negro 1940–41 (later renamed the Migration Series). However, despite being described as “perhaps the most representative collection of American painting ever assembled,” 1 earlier pioneers such as Robert Scott Duncanson (1821–1872) and Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859–1937) were conspicuously absent from the exhibition. Figure 24.1 <i>The New American Painting</i> exhibition catalogue cover, 1959. Cover illustration <i>Burst</i>, 1957 by Adolph Gottlieb 1903-1974. Credits: © Tate, London 2019. © Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation/VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY and Design and Copyright Society (DACS), London 2019.

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