Looking Back to The Sixties: Two Exhibitions 

Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite (August 19, 2022 – January 15, 2023) New-York Historical Society 

This is a small but wonderful exhibition. It brings back an era in New York and Black history that has been largely overlooked, if not forgotten, through focusing on the life and work of Harlem photographer, Kwame Brathwaite. 

Brathwaite Self Portrait

If you loved “Summer of Soul,” a documentary of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival in Marcus Garvey Park, then you will enjoy “Black is Beautiful,” which covers a similar time in Harlem, but from a different perspective. Brathwaite embraced the ideas of Marcus Garvey, promoted a Pan African vision of Black economic liberation and freedom, and did so in a variety of ways, including through his exquisite portraits of Black men and women.  

Jazz Musicians Abbey Lincoln and Max Roach

Brathwaite was a man with a mission. He also helped to found the African Jazz-Art Society & Studios (AJASS), whose band performed in and around Harlem, and the Grandassa Models, who embodied a “Black is Beautiful” ideal through their clothes and natural Afros. 

Marcus Garvey Day Parade, Harlem, 1967

Grandassa Models at the Merton Simpson Gallery, 1967

Radiah Frye wearing a natural hairstyle, Harlem, 1970

New York: 1962 – 1964. (Through January 8, 2023) The Jewish Museum

Welcome to New York

Across town, at the Jewish Museum, an exhibition purportedly focused on “a pivotal three-year period in the history of art and culture in New York City,” is actually a diffusely-focused exhibition on a dramatic three-year period in America, one which included the assassination of President Kennedy, the March on Washington and the Cuban Missile Crisis. It is also an homage to the Jewish Museum’s director during those years, Alan Solomon, who recognized and exhibited “the new art,” and brought many of its practitioners to the Venice Biennial. 

To those of us who lived through those years, the exhibition regurgitates many of the art works and artists who dominated that decade – from Rauschenberg , Larry Rivers and George Segal to Louise Nevelson, Faith Ringgold and Marisol. To those – a decade or two younger (our children and grandchildren) – the exhibition is informative and captivating. 

There are artifacts from the sixties, such as toasters, and old-fashioned black-and-white television sets running mesmerizing scenes from those years: Martin Luther King orating, Walter Cronkite announcing Kennedy’s assassination. There is an array of print magazines from the era for visitors to thumb through. The show certainly indulges our appetite for nostalgia. Whether  it is memorable as an art exhibition is highly subjective. 

In fairness, New York 1962 -1964 received rave reviews from most major art critics, but it left me feeling disappointed, as if I’d been promised a four-star meal and eaten lunch at Schrafft’s.  Judge for yourself. 

Text and Images by Eleanor Foa Dienstag 

About Eleanor Foa Dienstag (35 Articles)
Eleanor Foa Dienstag is a veteran author, journalist, photo-journalist and award-winning corporate writer. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Harper's, the New Republic, the New York Observer, Ms., Travel & Leisure, and many other websites and publications. Eleanor is the author of three books. Her most recent, available on Amazon and Centro Primo Levi is MIXED MESSAGES: Reflections on an Italian Jewish Family and Exile. It is a multi-layered memoir about Eleanor’s personal journey, her father’s exile from Fascist Italy and the Foa Family journey, whose Italian-Jewish roots go back to the 1500s in northern Italy where her ancestors were famous printers. WHITHER THOU GOEST: The Story of an Uprooted Wife, also a memoir, was acclaimed by Business Week for its insights into corporate life. Her third book, In Good Company: 125 Years At The Heinz Table, offered a unique view of a quintessential American company. Eleanor served as staff speechwriter to the Chairman and CEO of American Express. In 1983, she founded Eleanor Foa Associates (www.eleanorfoa.com). It provides a wide variety of corporate writing and marketing services. Eleanor is past president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), received speechwriting awards from IABC, and was awarded literary residencies at Yaddo, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA). She resides in Manhattan.