Charles White. Love Letter #1, 1971. Lithograph with documents. 22 3/16 x 30 in. (56.4 x 76.2 cm). Private Collection.
David Hammons. America the Beautiful, 1968. Lithograph and body print. 39 x 29 1?2 in. (99.1 x 74.9 cm). Oakland Museum, Oakland Museum Founders Fund.
“Now Dig This,” the Hammer Museum’s most significant exhibit of African American art in its brief history, opened to acclaim over the week-end at the Westwood venue.
Scheduled to run through January 8, 2012, “Now Dig This” is part of a collaboration of more than 60 cultural institutions across Southern California whose aim is “to tell the history of the birth of the art scene in Los Angeles.”
The collaboration, operating under the umbrella of Pacific Standard Time, is funded by The Getty Foundation.
An estimated 2,000 people flowed through the Museum, located at Westwood and Wilshire Boulevard, on Saturday. A much larger than expected number of Angelenos, according to museum officials, waited in long lines on Sunday for walk-throughs led by Kelli Jones, Ph.D, the exhibit’s curator.
Many of the Angelenos waiting patiently in the long lines were African Americans, whose presence betrayed the myth that substantial numbers of black Americans have little interest in the elevated arts or only a passing one.
In her walk-throughs, Jones, an associate professor of art history at Columbia University, said the exhibit encompasses 140 works created by 35 Los Angeles-based artists from 1960 to 1980. A small number of the 35 artists are white, black and Latino.
Among the more well known African American artists counted among the 35 who created outstanding works in that period are: Charles White, Betye Saar, John Outerbridge, Dale Brockman Davis, Maren Hassinger, David Hammonds, Senga Nengudi, Fred Eversley, Melvin Edwards, Alonzo Davis and Noah Purifoy.
In describing them and their niche in the nation’s artistic and cultural history, Jones explained that “the artists who been included in this exhibit represent a vibrant group, whose work is critical to a more complete understanding of twentieth century American art. Their influence goes far beyond their immediate creative circles and their legacy is something we are only now beginning to understand.”
Moreover, Jones said, “the exhibit expands the historical record by presenting an array of artists not widely recognized by a broad public and connecting their work to the movements, trends and ideas that fueled the arts in Los Angeles during this period.”
Douglas Fogle, the Hammer’s deputy director of exhibitions and programs and its chief curator, said, “this generation of African American artists from one of the most significant periods of our history has not previously been addressed at this level by any institution in the United States.”
The Hammer, Fogle declared, “is known for looking at art and artists in periods of history that have been overlooked or forgotten and bringing them back to the surface.” Jones, he declared, “has been amazing in putting this back in play, not only in the cannon of the history of Los Angeles, but that of the United States as well.”
Naima Keith, an assistant curator at the Studio Museum who researched the artists and their histories for the exhibit, told The Sentinel that this exhibit reveals “friendships and relationships between black, white, Asian and Latino artists that the time period might not have suggested.” Keith said she hopes these relationships “will encourage people to consider that art doesn’t have a race, that it transcends race.”