NewsMetropolitan Museum Of Art Is Having Its Blackest Moment Ever

Metropolitan Museum Of Art Is Having Its Blackest Moment Ever

The Metropolitan Museum of Art revisits a major movement in American history and art in the Blackest exhibition the institution has seen

“This landmark exhibition celebrates the brilliant and talented artists behind the groundbreaking cultural movement we now know as the Harlem Renaissance,” Ford Foundation president Darren Walker said in a press statement. 

BLACK ENTERPRISE caught up with Murrell to discuss her curation and Harlem Renaissance and Transatlantic Modernism. Aptly so, the show begins with portraiture of thinkers who were in conversation with one another and Locke’s philosophy—in particular—a portrait of Zora Neal Hurston, Murrell told BE. 

“She’s not only a varied literature writer, the portrait is by Aaron Douglas, who is not only one of the leading Harlem Renaissance artists and the loan of that portrait is from Fisk University. So, we wanted to stress the importance of loans from historical Black colleges and universities.”
BLACK ENTERPRISE: Talk about your decision to include non-African Americans in this show about Black art and expression? 

Denise Murrell: [Alain Locke] was open to the idea that the movement should be African American lead, but it was never exclusively African American.  There were also West African Caribbean writers and artists and dancers and performers who were part of this … He believed that if an artist like Picasso was working with African aesthetics and was making modern, non stereotypical portrayals of a Black French person, or a Black Dutch person, or a Black British, then they’re all part of the same [movement]. As a curator trying to reconstruct the history to the extent that I have white European artist in the show, almost all of them were named by a Alain Locke as European artist who he thought were worthy of admiration because they were doing the same thing in Europe making modern, dignified, portrayals of Black European subjects.
Harlem Renaissance history is epic in proportion. The same goes for its art history. How were you able to narrow down the artists who would be exhibited?

It was a challenge, of course. I had very authoritative guidance. I had an advisory committee that included Mary Schmidt Campbell, who was the former president of Spelman College, but before that, she was director of the Studio Museum in Harlem and she was the curator of the Studio Museum show in 1987, which is the last New York City Museum show about the Harlem Renaissance. Then there were other scholars, Rick Powell, Bridget Cook, Emilie Boone as well as various European scholars of Black Europe … and some of the period publications—looking at covers of Crisis, NAACP and Urban League’s publication, Harmon Foundation and HBCU’s. 
Courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art
Many are not familiar with the work of Laura Wheeler Waring. What about this work earned your favor?

As an art historian, you’re always intrigued by this body of work that’s overlooked. I accepted [Roberta’s] invitation to come see these paintings in person, and I was just astounded and amazed at the virtuosity, her style, her capability to render Black people—mostly Black women— from all walks of life. I just felt the beauty and the dignity and the artistic virtuosity that I saw in these portraits that no one else had seen before merited bringing a half dozen of them into the exhibition. 
Who is this show for? Is this show accessible? 
It is for everyone. We want as many people as possible to see the show. We want a diverse audience. We want to bring in younger generations. We want to reintroduce this material. We’re hosting lots of student groups from HBCUs to all public universities in New York City and the high schools and even junior high schools.

How does it feel to be Black and woman and purveyor of this body of work? 

I feel gratitude as well. I’m just appreciative. It has taken a village. Within the broader art world, the advisers, the 11 members of the advisory committee, as well as all of the museums, who gave us loans, the museums and the private collectors, colleagues, supporters and the donors who funded The Ford Foundation, Denise Sobel and so many others, all of this was absolutely necessary to get the show done. I’m just really appreciative of all of that. I feel excited about the prospect that it will draw a large and diverse audience.

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Source: Black Enterprise


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