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1939: Exhibiting Black Art at the BMA

Location: Baltimore Museum of Art and online
Dates: June 13, 2018 to October 28, 2018



In 1939, the BMA presented one of the first major exhibitions in the U.S. to feature African American artists. Contemporary Negro Art (CNA), served “as a declaration of principles as to what art should be in a democracy and as a gauge of how far in this particular province we have gone and may need to go…,” wrote renowned African American philosopher and art critic Alain Locke in the exhibition brochure. In 2018, the BMA pays tribute to Contemporary Negro Art with a new exhibition of 14 prints and drawings by African American artists who were included in the 1939 show.

Accompanying the exhibition is a website prepared by students in Jennifer Kingsley’s Fall 2017 class Black Artists in the American Art Museum. The site shares biographies of people and artworks that shed light on the historical experiences of African American artists from the generations professionally active starting in the 1920s -1940s.

Students used CNA as a springboard to study the historical relationship of black artists to art museums in the United States. They dug into archival materials at the BMA, Howard University, NARA and the Smithsonian to research the biographies of people and artworks involved in CNA and to investigate historical patterns of acquiring and displaying the work of African-American artists.