African American art is considered relatively young in the world’s view. You’ll struggle to find many art pieces by African American artists from the first half of the 20th century. The art scene took off during the 1970s. “30 Americans” highlights the contemporary art of 30 prominent artists in a special exhibit at Joslyn Museum that runs through May 5. The museum offers free admission to the exhibit on the first weekend of each month during its run.
On loan from the Rubell Family Collection, a privately-owned collection in Miami, the exhibit explores a variety of styles, exploring political and social situations. With most of the pieces from the 21st century, the exhibit does take a look at some art from the ‘70s, such as “Noir.” The painting by Barkley L. Hendricks of Philadelphia features a sharply dressed African American male.
The contemporary pieces take on some serious subjects. Nina Chanel Abney took a controversial look at society in her graduate school painting, “Class of 2007.” Noting that there is a substantially low number of African American students in art school, while blacks are incarcerated in prisons at a rate five times that of whites. Abney switched roles in putting classmates as inmates while she wore a guard’s uniform. The piece created a conversation.
Omaha’s Malcolm X
A 2008 painting celebrates Omaha-native Malcolm X. Glenn Ligon created the painting as part of a series recognizing important Civil Rights-era figures.
Controversy surrounded one of the exhibits shortly after “30 Americans” opened. “Duck, Duck, Noose” took its name from the childhood game “Duck, Duck, Goose.” However, with its difficult look at racism and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan from the 1880s through the 1960s, some people voiced concerns to the museum staff. However, after discussion, the museum believed the message was important and decided to keep the exhibit on display. It matches artist Gary Simmon’s vision, because he believes the exhibit is relevant with the rise of white nationalism and an uptick of racism in recent years.
The “30 Americans” exhibit – which got people talking about the exhibits during our visit – includes painting, photographs and sculptures. The artwork is well-done and needs to be viewed. We strongly recommend “30 Americans” at Joslyn.
For more information on the exhibit and the museum, please visit www.joslyn.org.