The Brooklyn Museum has acquired an important collection of works of art created in conjunction with the revolutionary Black Arts Movement of the late 1960s to mid-1970s. The group of forty-four works by twenty-six artists was assembled by former Chicago dealers David Lusenhop and Melissa Azzi, whose goal was to preserve and promote works by leading African American visual artists involved in the movement. The acquisition was made by purchase directly from Lusenhop and Azzi as private collectors with a combination of funds devoted to the collection of American art at the Brooklyn Museum.
"This remarkable acquisition, which represents a pivotal moment in American art and culture, adds a new breadth and dimension to the late twentieth-century American holdings of the Brooklyn Museum, and continues to proudly distinguish the Museum in its long-term commitment to African American art," comments Brooklyn Museum Director Arnold L. Lehman.
"As the Brooklyn Museum works to build its collection of precontemporary African American art, with recent purchases of work by John Biggers, Sargent Johnson, and Lois Mailou Jones, this acquisition provides a telling bridge between those earlier generations and the contemporary African American artists represented in the collection today. After decades of finding no market for their art, which they placed largely among friends, the visual artists of the Black Arts Movement are receiving the scholarly attention that will dramatically reconfigure our understanding of their significance," states Teresa A. Carbone, Andrew W. Mellon Curator of American Art at the Brooklyn Museum.
For a decade, beginning about 2001, the dealers worked at locating and acquiring powerful and pivotal works that had been among the most visible and influential examples of the Black Arts Movement. Pieces such as Wadsworth Jarrell's large-scale acrylic Revolutionary (1971), Jeff Donaldson's watercolor Wives of Shango (1969), and Jae Jarrell's politically charged Urban Wall Suit (1969) are now recognized as icons of the movement. Half of the works in the collection, including these three famous examples, were purchased directly from the artists.
Azzi and Lusenhop selected works for their collection that addressed issues of Black identity and Black liberation while exemplifying distinctive formal modes used by proponents of the Black Arts Movement, including appropriation, photo-screen printing, and collage. They chose works by those who had matured as artists during the sixties and seventies and whose work had been praised by art historians, critics, activists, and others within the Black community. They also directed particular attention to the numerous women who were pivotal to the movement. Electric color is central to many of the works in the collection, from the AfriCOBRA prints by Barbara Jones-Hogu to paintings and prints by Wadsworth Jarrell that used Day-Glo colors. The urban environment is subject matter in many of the works, such as the brick-embossed prints by Caspar Banjo and quilted garments by Jae Jarrell.