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