Top 10 Resources for Black Art History

In honor of black history month, we have compiled our Top 10 resources for exploring black art history. As the first week of black history month closes, we wanted to provide reliable sources for all who want to create a beautiful African American art collection from an informed eye. We believe art collecting should be an affordable and accessible option for all. Below you will find resources discussing exhibition displays, black personhood and the importance of the black model. As you visit art institutions this month that discuss black bodies, we hope these resources will assist you going with a new perspective.

  1. Travel & See: Black Diaspora Art Practices since the 1980s (English and Spanish Edition)

“Mercer provides nothing less than a counter narrative of global contemporary art that reveals how the “dialogical principle” of cross-cultural interaction not only has transformed commonplace perceptions of blackness today but challenges us to rethink the entangled history of modernism as well.”

2. Black Womanhood: Images, Icons, and Ideologies of the African Body

This catalogue was created for the Black Womanhood exhibition at Dartmouth College Hood Museum. Black Womanhood is a must read if you seek to better understand the historical black icons that have inform contemporary explorations of black woman today. Eight art historians collaborate to craft articles that discuss the experiences of black woman in Africa and in the West across three intersecting timeframes and experiences: the colonial, the present and the traditional. Amazingly, this collection takes on discussions beauty, fertility and sexuality, maternity, and women's roles and power in society.

3. Posing Modernity: The Black Model from Manet and Matisse to Today

Black woman were essential in the development of modern figural representation. Posing Modernity: The Black Model from Manet and Matisse to Today investigates the many ways depictions of black woman shaped modern art as we know it today. “Featuring over 175 illustrations and profiles of several models, Posing Modernity proposes that a history of modernism cannot be complete until it examines the vital role of the black female muse within it.”

4. A Century of African American Art: The Paul R. Jones Collection

Paul Raymond Jones, a civil rights activist and politician, is considered one of the top art collectors of the 20th century. He began collecting art in the 1960s after seeing an absence of African American artwork in art museums. Jones challenged what it meant to be a collector and supporter of the arts by using the works as a tool for building community. No matter what he always collected on a middle class budget, truly showing that art does not need to be an exclusive space. This volume of works brings together ten essays that address four issues of American art: portraiture in relation to abstract expressionism, implications of color, role of narrative, and concepts of individuality. His collection includes works from Romare Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett, Jacob Lawrence, Henry Osawa Tanner, James Van Der Zee, Carrie Mae Weems, and Hale Woodruff.

5. Exhibiting Blackness: African Americans and the American Art Museum

American art museums have established a long history of neglecting to display African American artists in a way that benefits the black community and overall population. Art historian Bridget R. Cooks analyzes the curatorial strategies, challenges, and critical receptions of the most significant museum exhibitions of African American art.” Exhibiting Blackness exposes the issues of ethnographic and recovering narrative approach in displays of African American display. This is a text that everyone should read, from the curator trying to do display correctly  to the black visitor who wants to better understand why some exhibits don’t feel like it is for them in spite of the content.

“By further examining the unequal and often contested relationship between African American artists, curators, and visitors, she provides insight into the complex role of art museums and their accountability to the cultures they represent.”

6. Fired Up! Ready to Go!: Finding Beauty, Demanding Equity: An African American Life in Art. The Collections of Peggy Cooper Cafritz

This catalogue is in memory of  the Collections of Peggy Cooper Cafritz. Within minutes, decades worth of artwork were destroyed in the largest residential fire in Washington DC History. Peggy Cooper Cafritz, humanitarian and founder of the August Duke Ellington School of Arts, amassed hundreds of extraordinary works from many American artists of color. The pioneering collection included art by Kara Walker, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas, Yinka Shonibare, Nick Cave, Kehinde Wiley, Barkley L. Hendricks, Lorna Simpson, and Carrie Mae Weems, among many others. In this lovely collection of remembrance you will find works lost, works gained and the many artists and curators who contributed in the process.

7. Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power    

Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power overlooks a time where young black artists sought to create work without compromise. From 1963-83, radical change from acts of activism to racial tension were on the hearts and minds of black artists.  Mark Godfrey and Zoe Whitley dive deeply into the significance of abstraction and figural representation for black artists.

8. Collecting African American Art: Works on Paper and Canvas

Halima Taha creates a practical guide to help anyone become an informed black arts collector. From advice of estate planning and framing to a growing list of current African American artists, Collecting African American Art provides the resources needed to confidently enter art spaces with a more informed eye and personal vision.

9. Black Post-Blackness: The Black Arts Movement and Twenty-First-Century Aesthetics (New Black Studies Series)

“Margo Natalie Crawford argues that we have misread the Black Arts Movement’s call for blackness. We have failed to see the movement's anticipation of the "new black" and "post-black." Black Post-Blackness compares the black avant-garde of the 1960s and 1970s Black Arts Movement with the most innovative spins of twenty-first century black aesthetics.”

10. Black Art: A Cultural History (Second Edition) (World of Art)
“Richard Powell's study concentrates on the works of art themselves and on how these works, created during a time of major social upheaval and transformation, use black culture as both subject and context.”

We highly recommend these literary works as a point of reference throughout your art viewing endeavors. Each one offers something new whether it be consideration of spaces or attention to portrait composition. Black artists and figures have heavily shaped the art world and it is time we understand why.