African American Art in the 20th Century

This traveling exhibition presents 45 artworks by 34 African American artists from the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s collection. The artists featured came to prominence during the period bracketed by the Harlem Renaissance and the Civil Rights movement. The means of these artists varied–from representational to modern abstraction to stained color to the postmodern assemblage of found objects–and their subjects are diverse. These works were created at a significant social and political moments in America.

Benny Andrews, Ellis Wilson and William H. Johnson speak to the dignity and resilience of people who work the land. Jacob Lawrence and Thornton Dial, Sr. acknowledge the struggle for economic and civil rights. Sargent Johnson, Loïs Mailou Jones, and Melvin Edwards address the heritage of Africa, and images by Romare Bearden celebrate jazz musicians. Sam Gilliam, Felrath Hines and Alma Thomas conducted innovative experiments with color and form. These artists created an image of America that recognizes individuals and community and acknowledges the role of art in celebrating the wide-ranging nature of American society.

To learn more, read an exhibition overview article by our Chief Curator Barbara Jones and peruse articles featuring specific artists and their artworks from this exhibition in our blog posts!

African American Art in the 20th Century is organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum.  The C.F. Foundation in Atlanta supports the museum’s traveling exhibition program, Treasures to Go.  The William R. Kenan Jr. Endowment Fund provided financial support.