Aaron Douglas: African American Modernist is the first nationally touring retrospective to celebrate the art and legacy of Aaron Douglas (1899-1979), a Kansas native considered the foremost visual artist of the Harlem Renaissance. In paintings, murals, and book illustrations, Douglas produced powerful artistic forms that incorporate music, dance, literature, and politics and had a lasting impact on American art history and the nationís cultural heritage. Working from a politicized concept of personal identity, he combined angular Cubist rhythms and seductive Art Deco dynamism with traditional African and African American imagery to develop a radically new visual vocabulary that evoked both current realities and hopes for a better future.
September 28, 2007
With over ninety works of art, plus several by Douglasís contemporaries and students, the exhibition focuses on the artistís career from the 1920s through the 1940s in relation to American modernism, bringing together many rarely seen works from public and private collections. Douglasís collaborations with writers such as Langston Hughes and James Weldon Johnson, and his skill at combining art and text, created a socially engaged vision of optimism and self-expression that has influenced generations ever since. The exhibition and accompanying book argue that Douglasís bold work opened doors for many and invited a dialogue with modernism that put African American life, labor, and freedom, along with African traditions and motifs, at its center.The Spencer Museum has worked closely with Fisk University and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, as well as an outstanding national advisory group, to prepare this exhibition. Planning for the project began at the time of Douglasís 100th birthday in 1999. The exhibition tour follows Douglasís trajectory with three of its venues closely related to the artistís career: northeast Kansas, where he grew up; Nashville, where he taught for 29 years; and New York, where he took center stage in the Harlem Renaissance. The exhibition was organized by Susan Earle, Ph.D., and coordinated by Stephanie Fox Knappe.