We tend to define key visual art moments through seminal shows that seek to define, map, and place an artist’s work in a historical context. In Los Angeles, many of these moments revolve around large-scale exhibitions like the Hammer’s Made in L.A. biennial or the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time. When they are executed well, these exhibitions galvanize the entire museum and gallery network, offering diverse communities with opportunities to participate in a critical cultural movement.
Two highly anticipated shows have been on my radar since 2018, the Tate Modern’s robust survey of Black art created between 1963-1983 in Soul of a Nation:Art in the Age of Black Power now showing at the Broad, and Charles White’s traveling retrospective that’s currently on view at LACMA. These critically acclaimed shows and their concurrent programming has triggered an additional wellspring of shows that are equally compelling. As I looked at my April art calendar today, I had an ah-ha moment:
Los Angeles has reinvigorated its support of Black art in ways we haven’t seen in decades. There are a ton of exciting shows opening this month, and we aren’t talking about them enough.
Here’s a calendar of some highlights. Having too much to see is the best problem to have, and this is by no means an exhaustive list.
Skirball Cultural Center
Black is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite
The Skirball Cultural Center explores the origins of the 1960s phrase “Black is Beautiful” through the photography of Kwame Brathwaite who used portraiture to celebrate African roots and expand mainstream standards of beauty.
“Brathwaite’s son, Kwame S. Brathwaite—who co-curated the exhibition with Aperture Foundation’s Michael Famighetti and Skirball managing curator Bethany Montagano—remarked, ‘My father preserved the legacy of the ‘Black Is Beautiful’ movement, which is not merely a slogan, but a template for the way that art and activism can propel us toward equity and inclusion.’”
Programming: Black is Beautiful: Then and Now
Date: 4/11 8:00 p.m.
Organized by Aperture Foundation
Art + Practice
Time is Running Out of Time: Experimental Film and Video From the L.A. Rebellion is an inter-generational cinematic dialog between Los Angeles filmmakers whose work meditates on the 1965 Watts Rebellion and its aftermath. The show provides complimentary contextual guidance and historical reference to themes presented in the Broad’s group show, Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power 1963-1983.
Programming: Documenting Los Angeles: A Conversation with Alima Lee and Kya Lou
Date: 4/25, 7:00-8:30
Kara Walker in Conversation with Jamillah James
Date: 4/1, 7:00-9:00
The ICA’s Jamilla James sits down with artist Kara Walker to discuss how her work is used to in the dialog and reckoning with our collective legacy of slavery. This conversation coincides with CAAM’s exploration of California’s connection to slavery and reconstruction in California Bound: Slavery on the New Frontier, 1848-1865.
Roy DeCarava: The Work of Art
Roy DeCarava’s photography has inspired multiple generations of contemporary street photographers who brilliantly harmonize environment and portraiture in emotionally evocative images. DeCarava’s work is prominently featured in Soul of a Nation, and for those wanting to learn more about his photographic legacy, the Underground Museum is presenting a solo show of his work.
Annenberg Space for Photography
Contact High: A Visual History of Hip Hop
Photography shifts its lens to the history of Hip Hop in this exhibit that examines the imagery that shaped a cultural movement. In this show, photographers’ contact sheets take center stage, sharing secrets and new stories that are far removed from the mythologies that sprung from this genre.
This is the show I would loved to have done myself.
If all of these shows received the collaborative scholarship and financial support from the Getty and Bank of America (PST: LA/LA), maybe L.A. could have exerted a PST-esque effort to promote regional programming. Until then, let’s start small. Promote these shows, visit them, talk about them, and write about them. Make a case that successful, inclusive programming deserves more voices and equitable support.
April should be Black Art History Month.
Along these lines, I’m resurrecting #BlackArtHistoryMonth, which is a hashtag that I must credit to Black Visual Impulse’s Jessica Owens. I realize this may be a crusade of one, and I’m totally fine with that, but my goal has been to center the voices of Black artists in Los Angeles; it’s been the focus of my blog and my writing for the last 5 years. So, let’s keep this dialog going. If you’re in L.A. and see any of these shows, tag me and tell me what you think! Tag me @cultureshockart on IG and Twitter and tell me about the gallery shows in L.A. featuring Black artists that you are excited about! Be sure to tag #BlackArtHistoryMonth too. Let’s turn this moment into a movement.