“Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power 1963-1983”

Art, Contemporary art
Soul of a Nation
Photograph: Courtesy the Broad

Time Out says

This exhibition flips the idea of ‘black art’ on its head, tracing an under looked 20-year period of creative innovation among African-American artists.

Trying to condense decades of diverse contributions from communities around the country into the amorphous banner of “black art” is a preposterous pursuit. William T. Williams’s hard-edge abstract canvases have little in common aesthetically with Alice Neel’s expressionistic portraits, which look nothing like Betye Saar’s ritual-inspired sculptures.

“Soul of a Nation” shatters that indefinable umbrella term by shining a light on the grassroots thought, leadership and art movements that arose out of communities in cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles over a two-decade period in the 1960s, ’70s and early ’80s. You’ll walk away from the exhibit not talking about “black art,” but the power of particular artists and pieces, like Barkley Hendricks’s eye-catchingly crimson Blood (Donald Formey), David Hammons’s X-ray–like “body prints” and the legacy of local institutions and movements like Spiral, BAM, JAM and AfriCOBRA (Wadsworth Jarrell’s psychedelic word clouds of activists are a colorful standout).

Disagreements surrounding pieces at the time of their creation are still uncannily relevant to social discourse today: whether works were too radical or not “black enough,” if they should cater to a black audience or a universal one, and how they were often relegated to second-tier status in institutions.

Though not organized by the Broad—London’s Tate Modern first hosted the exhibition two years back—it feels well-suited for the Downtown museum’s diverse, young audience (you can pull up a Quincy Jones-curated Apple Music playlist within the gallery, with tracks from Gil-Scott Heron, James Brown, Nina Simone and Funkadelic, among others). There are plenty of local ties, too, with works from L.A. artists like Hammons and Saar, plus seven loans from the California African American Museum.

Tickets cost $18 and include same-day admission to the rest of the museum. In addition, the Broad will offer free admission to the exhibition all-day every Thursday.

The exhibition will mark its opening day with the off-site Soul of a Nation Symposium, a day of artist talks, poetry and conversations at Little Tokyo’s Aratani Theatre ($20, includes exhibit admission). The following day, the Broad will host the latest edition of its Un-Private Collection conversation series with insight from curators Mark Godfrey and Zoe Whitley ($18, includes exhibit admission).


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