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African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era, and Beyond offers a rich vision of twentieth-century visual culture. An essay by Richard Powell sets the stage: his analyses of works by Sargent Johnson, Renée Stout, Eldzier Cortor, and Alma Thomas give the reader a rubric for considering other works that range from the Harlem Renaissance to the decades beyond the civil rights era, a period that saw tremendous social and political change. The forty-three artists included here worked in every style current during those decades, from documentary realism to abstraction, from expressionism to postmodern assemblage. They consistently touch universal themes, but they also evoke specific aspects of the African American experience—the African Diaspora, jazz, and the persistent power of religion.
Virginia Mecklenburg, curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, assembled engaging entries on the one-hundred paintings, sculptures, and photographs by forty-three black artists that comprise catalogue of this exhibition. All of the artworks in the exhibition are drawn from the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s rich collection of African American art.