Brooklyn Museum Acquires Important Collection of Works from Black Arts Movement

Brooklyn Museum Acquires Important Collection of Works from Black Arts Movement

The Brooklyn Museum has acquired an important collection of works of art created in conjunction with the revolutionary Black Arts Movement of the late 1960s to mid-1970s. The group of forty-four works by twenty-six artists was assembled by former Chicago dealers David Lusenhop and Melissa Azzi, whose goal was to preserve and promote works by leading African American visual artists involved in the movement. The acquisition was made by purchase directly from Lusenhop and Azzi as private collectors with a combination of funds devoted to the collection of American art at the Brooklyn Museum.

"This remarkable acquisition, which represents a pivotal moment in American art and culture, adds a new breadth and dimension to the late twentieth-century American holdings of the Brooklyn Museum, and continues to proudly distinguish the Museum in its long-term commitment to African American art," comments Brooklyn Museum Director Arnold L. Lehman.

"As the Brooklyn Museum works to build its collection of precontemporary African American art, with recent purchases of work by John Biggers, Sargent Johnson, and Lois Mailou Jones, this acquisition provides a telling bridge between those earlier generations and the contemporary African American artists represented in the collection today. After decades of finding no market for their art, which they placed largely among friends, the visual artists of the Black Arts Movement are receiving the scholarly attention that will dramatically reconfigure our understanding of their significance," states Teresa A. Carbone, Andrew W. Mellon Curator of American Art at the Brooklyn Museum.

For a decade, beginning about 2001, the dealers worked at locating and acquiring powerful and pivotal works that had been among the most visible and influential examples of the Black Arts Movement. Pieces such as Wadsworth Jarrell's large-scale acrylic Revolutionary (1971), Jeff Donaldson's watercolor Wives of Shango (1969), and Jae Jarrell's politically charged Urban Wall Suit (1969) are now recognized as icons of the movement. Half of the works in the collection, including these three famous examples, were purchased directly from the artists.

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. They chose works by those who had matured as artists during the sixties and seventies and whose work had been praised by art historians, critics, activists, and others within the Black community. They also directed particular attention to the numerous women who were pivotal to the movement. Electric color is central to many of the works in the collection, from the AfriCOBRA prints by Barbara Jones-Hogu to paintings and prints by Wadsworth Jarrell that used Day-Glo colors. The urban environment is subject matter in many of the works, such as the brick-embossed prints by Caspar Banjo and quilted garments by Jae Jarrell.

Among the other artists represented in this collection are Benny Andrews, Cleveland Bellow, Kay Brown, Marie Johnson Calloway, Ben Hazard, Ben Jones, Carolyn Lawrence, Dindga McCannon, John T. Riddle, and Lev T. Mills.

The Black Arts Movement grew out of the Black Power Movement and encompassed visual arts, literature, theater, poetry, music, and dance. In Chicago, where many of the artists represented in this collection worked, the movement was ignited by the creation of the Wall of Respect (1967), a collaborative work of activist public art, which inspired a drive for Black self-definition, self-determination, and nationhood. The Black arts collective AfriCOBRA, in which many of the artists in this collection participated, called for the creation of new visual images of Blackness.

The Nelson Stevens print Uhuru (1971), from this collection, will be on display in the Museum's American Identities galleries in 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, on view March 7 through July 6, 2014, and 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.

David Lusenhop founded Lusenhop Fine Art, in which Melissa Azzi is a principal, in 1989 after leaving the Richmond Art Museum in Indiana, where he served as Assistant Director. Following thirteen years based in Cincinnati, Lusenhop relocated to Chicago, where he directed Robert Henry Adams Fine Art from 2002 to 2006, after which he ran a public gallery space. An independent scholar and lecturer, he is known for his research on aspects of African American Art History.